(Special) Education is Political; (Special) Education is Social Justice

  • Lilly Padia (New York University)
  • Rachel E Traxler (New York University)


Though treated as neutral and apolitical by schools, teachers, scholars, and administrators, special education is fraught with inequality and loaded language, and can function to segregate and disempower students. The debate over who is worthy of education–and what kind of education–is intimately tied to conceptions of dis/ability. Special education, despite all this, has potential as a site for social justice. The implementation of special education is political, considering the policies that teachers, schools, and parents must follow, skirt, and reproduce in order for dis/abled children to receive services. In this article, we discuss the history of special education, the social model of dis/ability and ableism in schools and beyond, and how these constructs permeate schools and the systems students operate within. We call for an intersectional approach, where the field of special education and its stakeholders reckon with the reality that special education is not neutral. We offer examples and recommendations for how educators can commit to transforming schools--and special education services--into sites of justice for all learners.

Keywords: social justice, intersectionality, special education, disability

How to Cite:

Padia, L. & Traxler, R. E., (2020) “(Special) Education is Political; (Special) Education is Social Justice”, Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis 10(1). doi:



Published on
04 Nov 2020
Peer Reviewed