Exploring the Construction/Deconstruction of Learning Disabilities in an Urban School: Revisiting Sleeter's Essay

Jean Wong


Building on the ideas presented in Sleeter's (1987) work, this article explores contemporary discourses of learning disabilities (LD) circulating in an urban middle school for students from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) backgrounds. Sleeter challenges the biological conceptualization of LD, and a legacy of her article is to broaden the unit of analysis, moving beyond the individual locus. In this article, I present examples from an ethnographic study focusing on the classroom discourses in which LD is constructed and deconstructed. Two special education teachers reveal how the dominant LD discourse informs their behaviorist and authoritative beliefs. In contrast, a general education teacher demonstrates how she positions a disabled student as competent and encourages the student to exercise agency during a writing conference.

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