His First Chapter

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A special interest in special education pays off.

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By Meg Kimmel

Paul Bennett ’11 just picked up his degree in political science, but he is on his way to being a published author. A paper begun three years ago in a class taught
by Assistant Professor Hilton Kelly has evolved into one of nine chapters in Power, Privilege and Education: Pedagogy, Curriculum and Student Outcomes, a book edited by Greg Wiggan, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Bennett’s chapter, “Mapping Social Relations in Special Education Classrooms: Power, Pedagogy, and Ruling Relations,” concerns his research on the challenges of special education in a middle school.

For Kelly’s course in Social Inequality in Education, Bennett undertook a project on special education in public schools, a special interest of his. He spent eight weeks and many hours observing special education classes in an area middle school, and found 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.

“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 were basic life skills.”

Anticipating a career in special education law, Bennett 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.”

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