|Professor Helps Guide Classroom Project on Special Education to Published Paper
March 14, 2011
Contact: Bill Giduz
|(l-r) Paul Bennett '11 worked with Assistant Professor Hilton Kelly for about three years before his paper was accepted as a book chapter.
A paper by Paul Bennett, a senior political science major, is being published as one of nine chapters in a book titled Power, Privilege and Education: Pedagogy, Curriculum and Student Outcomes by UNC-Charlotte Professor Greg Wiggan. Bennett's chapter is titled "Mapping Social Relations in Special Education Classrooms: Power, Pedagogy, and Ruling Relations," and concerns his research and analysis of the challenges of special education in a middle school.
His mentor throughout the three-year path to publication was Hilton Kelly, assistant professor of education. Bennett enrolled as a first year student in Kelly's writing course on "Growing Up Jim Crow," and then he signed up in his spring term for Kelly's class on "Social Inequality in Education."
Students had to write a research paper and Bennett developed one around his interest in special education in public schools. Bennett got approval for his project from the college's Institutional Review Board, and approached the subject through the research method of "institutional ethnography."
Bennett then spent four hours a day, three days a week for eight weeks observing three special education classes in an area middle school. He sat in on classes, went to lunch with students, and talked with their teachers. He recorded everything he could that had bearing on the children's educational experience.
That extensive observational time allowed him to observe a wide range of challenges and problems in schools. Special education students were divided into three groups. Those with the highest abilities were integrated into classes with regular students. Students with moderate learning challenges spent part of the day in regular classes, and part of it in their own classrooms. The most challenged students, called "exceptional" students, were assigned to their own classrooms.
In his chapter, Bennett contends that students are often designated to classes based on their behavior rather than their ability. Quiet, well-behaved students were placed in higher level classes regardless of their ability to handle the material, while students with behavioral problems were often placed in the lower level groups. He also observed that the curriculum for students appeared inappropriate for their cognitive abilities.
"The lowest performing students were being taught things like Peruvian culture because it was mandated in the curriculum," he said. "But what they really needed to be learning was basic life skills."
Bennett also argues that better student outcomes in special education could be derived through much greater emphasis on appropriate placement for students based on ability and support needs in either inclusive classrooms or in separate classrooms.
Bennett refined his research through an independent study project with Kelly during spring semester of his sophomore year. During his junior year, Bennett submitted his article to several special education journals, but it was not accepted for publication.
Then UNC-Charlotte Professor Greg Wiggan reviewed the paper and decided to include it as a chapter in his book. He sent Bennett an outline of additional information and edits he wanted for publication. Having only a week to complete the changes, Bennett said, "Dr. Kelly dropped everything to help me. We spent a couple hours going over the corrections. "
With his professor's help, Bennett was able to submit the final 45-page chapter in time, and it will be published this spring by Nova Press.
As a political science major, Bennett hopes to work in the field of special education law after graduation. He is grateful for an outstanding professor who supported him in earning a rare undergraduate publishing credential. He said, "I have learned at Davidson not only how to write, but also how to think critically about the real world impact of the concepts we learn in the classroom. I hope this book, and especially my chapter, can highlight problems in special education, spur reforms to the system, and give students with learning differences better lives."
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,900 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.