Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Janette K. Klingner

Second Advisor

A. Susan Jurow

Third Advisor

David J. Connor

Fourth Advisor

Kris D. Gutiérrez

Fifth Advisor

Robert T. Craig


The conceptualization of normal in schools is problematic. It mediates perceptions about ability, achievement and behavior. Normal implies a hierarchy, naturalizing the idea that some students can achieve better than others. This practice places the blame on the student by locating the problem within the child while failing to consider ways to make educational contexts more responsive. Those seen as deviating from normal are often characterized by race, language use, socioeconomic status or perceived ability. Historically, this has led to educational inequities. Equating difference with deficits is problematic as US schools are growing in diversity daily.

In this social design experiment, I combined Disability Studies in Education and Cultural Historical Activity Theory to examine: (1) how normal was conceptualized for my participants and within the contexts of their schools, and how this influenced their role as special educators; and (2) how to shift the meaning of normal to be more encompassing of diversity and what this means for the future of special education. My participants were graduate level, practicing teachers enrolled in EDUC 7105. Participants read critical literature, engaged in audio-recorded small group discussions, and wrote personal written reflections pertaining to how normal is conceptualized in the activity systems of their schools and to consider ways to expand the meaning of normal to be more encompassing of diversity. I then analyzed my data using qualitative, grounded theory methodology.