- Cripping the ClassroomDisability as a Teaching Method in the Humanities
Disability pedagogy is a growing and vibrant topic for educators and for scholars of disability studies. Debates range at the K-12 level from reshaping classes to include students with all types of disabilities, instead of marginalizing them in special education classes (Liasidou 171–174, Ware 108), to debates at all levels over the importance and limits of identity politics and disability embodiment (Linton 152–156). Disability in the classroom, both literally and conceptually, is transforming how we think about the normative goals of education and the requirements of an accessible classroom. These debates are important to understand, and they succeed in pushing disability pedagogy. This essay, however, considers disability as a method for approaching texts and facilitating engagement in the classroom. I will focus on methods of “cripping the classroom” in a humanities and humanistic social sciences college setting when the class is not explicitly oriented around issues of disability. Cripping the classroom entails developing a political understanding of disability as a socially constructed category that focuses attention on questions of accessibility as central normative concerns for interpersonal, intellectual, and social relations.
Cripping the classroom can enrich the use of disability pedagogy to spur thinking about disability and about the world. “Disability“ here refers to the complex of embodied difference rendered pathological by discursive and material practices. “Impairment“ marks particular embodied differences, such as being hard of hearing or paralyzed or autistic, but disability refers to the social life of those embodied differences—how people and the world interpret, react to, integrate, and exclude those impairments and the people who have them. Disability as an identity becomes a pressing concern for anyone interested in creating social justice in the humanities classroom because ableism, or the norms and structures of society that work to exclude or diminish the life chances of people with disability, is written into the canons of philosophy, European and American history, political science, and literature. People with disabilities are excluded from the college classroom because of admission requirements that foreclose interacting with students with various intellectual disabilities, or campuses with buildings grandfathered in under the Americans with Disabilities Act that make dorms and classrooms only minimally accessible to people with mobility impairments. Beyond these exclusions, the formative nature of disability oppression in how we think [End Page 114] about our worlds and who belongs in them requires integrating disability into our teaching, especially outside of the disability studies classroom.
Cripping as an activity grows out of disability studies’ recognition that many norms and institutions of modern life take as their departure the abnormal body, requiring either exclusion or correction. Cripping highlights the category of disability as necessary to understand the myriad investments in ableist assumptions that operate in the everyday. In this way, cripping shares similar motivations to queering, a method of inquiry dedicated to taking seriously the necessity of the category of sexuality for understanding the world and the desirability of disrupting heteronormative assumptions (see Eichstedt 384, Jimenez 172–174, Koschoreck et al. 10–12). Cripping, similarly, is dedicated to the concept of disability as necessary for making sense of the world and to making classrooms accessible to distinctly embodied subjects through disrupting ableism. Cripping the classroom requires deep reflection on the part of the educator in designing the classroom environment as well as a dedication to introducing disability as a routine part of analyzing other subjects and concepts. For instance, a dedication to disability as a pedagogical method would require any teacher to make decisions related to attendance policies, modes of assessment, inclusive class activities, and class procedures. Attendance procedures that are inflexible may communicate to students with chronic impairments that they cannot participate. Assignments that consist only of written work or independent work reinforce a restrictive mode of non-collaboration that extols particular autonomous learning styles. A teacher may decide, however, that the goal of constructing a well-written argument is worth the sacrifice in inclusivity. Alternatively, individual class days could be designed with means of communication that are accessible to students of different learning capabilities, so a teacher must decide if course content can be presented in multiple...