Born and raised as a self-described "lower middle class girl," Sally Tomlinson became cognizant of and fascinated by social positioning in terms of who were considered 'above' and 'below' her family within the social hierarchies of British society, as well as how certain children were separated into special schools. These earlier experiences with social class and disability set the foundation for Tomlinson's career-long interests as an education researcher in these and other related areas such as race and ethnicity.

The Politics of Race, Class and Special Education: The Selected Works of Sally Tomlinson is published within the World Library of Educationalists, a series in which prominent scholars choose representative works that span an influential career, allowing connections among their contributions to be made over time. In this particular case, Tomlinson selects and comments upon thirteen chapters culled from over 30 years of professional publications around the intertwined aspects of disability, race, and education. The selections are largely from previous books and prominent journals. As Tomlinson herself describes the purpose of this collection:

Looking back at my research and writings over the years and making a selection which I hope indicates what I thought needed saying about the politics and polices which have shaped education, especially special education, over the years and the relationships to social class, race and ethnicity, gender and labor markets, I hope, as academics usually do, to have some influence in causing people to think about what's going on (p. 9).

Perhaps Tomlin's role in educational research can arguably be seen as that of a socially conscious agitator, dissatisfied with what existed and hopeful as to what can come into existence. As she noticed early in her career, "There is, in special education as in all other social institutions, a tendency to inertia and favor the status quo" (p. 84). In the world of academic education it is not an exaggeration to state that Tomlinson's work has served as a blade slicing through a powerful patina of gentility and benevolence of disability and schooling. In many respects, Tomlinson's ideas were/are considered radical and shocking, as she sought to provide alternative, critical interpretations to decontextualized and mechanistic approaches to the education of students with disabilities. Tomlinson was not content to examine what was swept under the carpet of special education; she sought to tear up its floorboards and replace them with a different foundational perspective based within sociology.

In writing about special education from a sociological perspective, Tomlinson made transparent the politics of disability and schooling practices. Furthermore, influenced by the critical sociologist John Rex, she also wove together politics and history, revealing the interconnectedness of social structures, policies, and cultural beliefs and how they impacted on individuals and groups. In doing this, Tomlinson's work countered pseudo-scientific, psychological, technical, and administrative views of special education, making her a pioneer of emphasizing social frameworks to understand disability as primarily a contextual phenomenon. It was researchers such as Tomlinson—along with Len Barton, Tom Skrtic, Lous Heshusious, and Douglas Biklen, among others—that constituted a constellation of voices seeking to redefine disability in ways other than traditional special education had done. In other words, the field of Disability Studies in Special Education is deeply indebted to Tomlinson and her peers.

In 1982 Tomlinson published a landmark text called A Sociology of Special Education that became the most cited book on special education for the following decade, influencing scholars and researches around the world. It also received major criticism from Britain's influential philosopher and educator Baroness Warnock who charged Tomlinson had "unfolded a horribly fascinating alternative tale" (p. 4). This comment reveals exactly why Tomlinson's work is so important in offering a persuasive counter-story to the master narrative of special education. Chapter 2 of this volume features Tomlinson's introductory chapter from her classic text, in which she writes:

All over the world, powerful social groups are in the process of categorizing and classifying weaker social groups, and treating them unequally and differentially. The rationalizations and explanations which powerful groups offer for their actions differ from country to country and the ideologies supporting systems of categorizations differ (p. 15).

Tomlinson has a habit of asking difficult but important questions such as: "In whose interests did special education actually develop? Do the social origins lie more in the interests of ordinary education?" Using a sociological lens, Tomlinson's foci of social class, disability, and race converge, enabling her to question shifting and expanding "official histories," disability categories, educational structures, and policies. She argues:

Phenomenologists stress the way in which social reality is a creation of social participants, and that social categories and social knowledge are not given or natural, but are socially constructed—a product of conscious communications and actions between people (p. 25).

This early work also noted the connection between race and social class and special education, when she claimed, "… to be categorized as mildly educational subnormal, was more of a legitimation of low social status than the treatment of an educational need" (p. 19). One of Tomlinson's abilities is to show ways in which educational social arrangements impact the experiences of all children, but particularly those who are from working class and poor backgrounds and/or racial minorities. She explains one of the benefits of a sociological perspective in researching disability is "… to help people understand the interrelationship between history and individual lives, between the so-called private and the public" (p. 29). In addition, she offers hope because, "Sociological perspectives can indicate that education systems and their parts do, in fact, change because of power struggles and invested interests" (p. 29).

Written over thirty years ago, Tomlinson's work offered groundbreaking ways to gain insights into the world of special education, horrifying traditionalists who sought to maintain the status quo. In Chapter 3, originally published in the Oxford Review of Education, she critiques the seemingly unfettered expansion of special education as a professional field. She calls attention to its ideological obfuscation of whose needs are being served, writing, "The whole concept of special needs is ambiguous and tautological. It has become part of a rhetoric that serves little educational purpose" (p. 41). In Chapter 4 she again observes the apolitical positioning of special educators noting, "Despite working within organizations, most professionals dealing with those regarded as special or disabled have clung on to an image of the professional as a humanitarian agent" (p. 48). In sum, Tomlinson charges that special education presents itself as a "humanitarian bureaucracy," but when a student identified as disabled can possibly be "supported" by over thirty professionals, it becomes clear who benefits the most from it. These themes of who benefits are revisited thirty years later in Chapter 5, The Irresistible Rise of the Special Education Needs Industry, also reproduced from her 2012 article in the Oxford Review of Education.

In Chapter 6, The Radical Structuralist View of Special Education and Disability Tomlinson describes how a structural analysis "… paradigm takes a large-scale or macroscopic, objective, and realistic view of the social world, assuming that there is a real social world in which conflict, domination, and coercion predominate" (p. 75). Instead of viewing deficits and flaws within students, Tomlinson focuses on deficits and flaws within educational systems. Once again she stresses how students who did not or could not fit satisfactorily into the education system "…posed a problem, and the changing terminology of defect, disability, handicap, retardation, or special needs is an indication that such terms are social constructs developed within particular historical contexts" (p. 80). In addition, Tomlinson notes how medical and psychological discourses inform the grounding of educational personnel, and how this, in turn, perpetuates deficit-based professional understandings of disability.

In Race and Special Education, Chapter 7, Tomlinson takes on a variety of phenomena. For example, she chronicles rates and types of referrals to special education for minority students in the UK that echo patterns within the US. She links this information to how teachers' ideological orientation toward students affects their own effectiveness as teachers. Tomlinson also broadens the concept of inclusion to explicitly address race noting that, "Popular assertions of belief in 'inclusive education' do not yet include the descendants of citizens of African-Caribbean origin in Britain, or of many black citizens in the United States" (p. 96).

Issues of race also come into play in the subsequent Chapter 8, titled British National Identity, in which Tomlinson explores social cohesion. Here, she openly challenges "unproblematic" nostalgic portrayals about the British Empire, instead calls attention to "…military conquests, appropriation of land and wealth, subjugation of peoples, slavery, forced labor, forced migration, oppression and denial of human rights" (p.102). At the same time, she recognizes how "…immigration of former imperial subjects has from the 1950s demonstrated systematic discrimination, denial of rights and a conspicuous lack of a tradition of tolerance" (p. 102). The unidimensional portrayal of history, she asserts, and reluctance to acknowledge discrimination are related to the historical meta-narrative of Anglo-Saxon superiority—biologically, economically, politically, linguistically, and culturally—over colonized races. In brief, Britain continues to wrestle with its national identity crisis due its diminished world influence in which it has shifted from a dominant force to being a (sometimes reluctant) partner within a global economy. Tomlinson illustrates the limitations of "educational nationalism," and ways in which minorities are used as scapegoats for economic and social problems.

Chapter 9 addresses Educational Reforms: Ideologies and Visions, and sees Tomlinson critique then (1990s) current conservative trajectories, before making an appeal for scholars in the field of education to be more forward thinking. Her concern lies in the lack of clear principles and weak value base of policies, the need for greater research and deeper analysis, and improved collaboration with the implementers of educational policies.

Home School Links is the title of Chapter 10, reconnecting to Tomlinson's previous work in which she observes how "… the whole coercive framework of special education continues to make nonsense of a rhetoric of parental involvement and partnership" (p. 51). She believes coercion is enabled through the exertion of professional power that flows through personnel and the technological instruments used by school personnel. As Tomlinson observes, "Without the mystique of professional judgment—particularly psychological assessments—it is doubtful whether many parents would accept that their children had 'special needs' which ordinarily means that they are excluded from a fully typical education" (p. 79).

In Chapter 11, Education in a Post-Welfare Society, and Chapter 12, Low Attainers in a Global Knowledge Economy, Tomlinson's work continues to foreground issues of social class in relation to education through an analysis of past and current governmental policies. At the heart of Tomlinson's interest lies the labor market and its implications for students who don't "fit" in educational structures. These chapters contain more recent writings that reverberate with concerns she shared in earlier works, such as how "The role of special education in preparing large numbers of young people for a workless future or at least one of sporadic, low-skilled employment needs research and analysis" (p. 39).

Low Attainers provides an example of how Tomlinson grew to cast a wider net as she explored her interests in education and the results of its policies through a comparative analysis of England, Germany, Finland, Malta, and the USA. In this chapter she reveals ways in which competition in the global knowledge economy has created new social strata by advantaging some citizens through disadvantaging others. An international focus is maintained in Chapter 13, Disability in Somaliland, in which Tomlinson addresses disability and education in a developing country, including the complexities involved. The chapter features powerful testimonies from research participants who share stories of congenital conditions and acquired disabilities through illness, accidents, and war—and ends with Tomlinson's suggestions for raising awareness of disabilities in context to counter the forms of cultural oppression experienced.

Having read this edited volume, I was struck by how Tomlinson has always written about deeply rooted interests—social class, disability, race (and gender)—over a long period of time, enabling not only consistency in focus but the opportunity to gain greater depth through momentum. It also became apparent that her interests have always been intersectional before the term was "officially" developed and used by Feminist African-American scholars. This observation is not intended to detract from the brilliant theoretical and analytical work of Kimberle Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins, but rather acknowledge Tomlinson's recognition of the interconnected elements of identity that shape a particular group's experiences.

Ultimately, Tomlinson's contribution is to provoke a greater social awareness about issues and topics that many people wish to shy away from. However, instead of downplaying or ignoring them, she places them square on the table, inviting readers to engage and become critical thinkers. As a sociologist of education, she is able to see ways in which a myriad of forces are connected. As Tomlinson recognized, social class, race, and gender have a played major role in who is identified as disabled, and who is stigmatized through an alarming growth of labels and medically framed "defects" (p. 22). She has chronicled how social reproduction includes disability reproduction within schools, and consistently asserted how the middle class professionalized employment benefits from them more than the fellow citizens that they serve.

Being unafraid to articulate ideas that trouble the social order and the place of disability, race, and social class within that order, has earned Tomlinson both respect within the field of education and some formidable critics such as Lady Warnock. Tomlinson commented on her detractors stating, "those who produce critiques are quickly labeled as socialists or Marxists" (p. 10), not allowing them to intimidate her through what they consider to be slurs.

In sum, it is Tomlinson's directness and unequivocal pursuit of a better understanding about the complexities of disability, race, and social class that has defined her long and productive career. This book, representing a lifetime of invigorating work, is testimony to her status as one of the most influential scholars on which the discipline of Disability Studies in Education rests.

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