An investigation of Agency and Marginality in Special Education

Robert C. McOuat
Director, Program for Exceptional Children Davidson County Schools


A qualitative case study design was used to investigate the extent that special education program serves the student or serves the organization. If special education serves the student, then a researcher should be able to identify resulting agency and emancipation among the students. However, if special education is serving the organization, then a different picture could be painted. Special education could be serving the functionalist needs of sorting and tracking students. An unintended finding of the study was the apparent neglect and subsequent isolation and marginality of special education teachers, especially teachers who work in self-contained classes. Responses clearly reflect a deficit in social capital.  With regard to students, most responses reflect a functionalist approach to serving students in the special education program in that the program sorts challenging students from the mainstream who might impede the progress of other children. These findings are discussed relative to reform for special education, including learning communities.

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