Smith Article

Mystery or Typical Teen? The Social Construction of Academic Engagement and Disability

Author: Robin M. Smith

Smith’s paper describes “strategies of student participation and non-participation, and teacher perceptions observed during a qualitative study of academic engagement of five high school students; the student were non-veral or inarticulate, and labelled mentally retarded. These students function in an environment of competing formal and informal assessments of their participation and understanding in the academic environment” (Smith, 910).


Regular education teachers had varying “perceptions of academic competence” (Smith, 909) in regards to these five students. One student in particular, Tyrone was described by his teachers as follows:

Biology teacher said Tyrone was “doing better than most of his classmates on tests” (Smith, 909)

Social Studies teacher found Tyrone as a “‘mystery’ and had few grades for him” (Smith, 909)

special education teacher said Tyrone was “‘smart’, but considered his class participation only in context of social skills” (Smith, 909)

Smith brings for the example that “many educators consider that those labelled mentally retarded cannot progit from the regular academic curriculum (Lieberman, 1985; Kaufman, 1993) and would recomment technical support in teh form of ‘treatments’ and ‘interventions’ for their deficits by special education teachers (Fuchs et al., 1994; Jenkins & Pious, 1991). Others assume that all students can profit from the academic curriculum in meaningful ways (Biklen, 1992; Biklen & Duchan, 1994; Falvey, 1995; Jorgensen, 1997; Kliewer, 1998)” (Smith, 911).

Using People-First Language Handout

Let’s discuss some great points when looking at our responsibility as educators to presume competence.

PFL booklet

7 Tenets for Presuming Competence Activity from Inclusive Happenings Blog

  1. Read through all 7 Tenets for Presuming Competence
  2. As a group, discuss and rate all 7 Tenets for Presuming Competence from 1-7 (1 being most important for educators and 7 less important – but still important of course!)
  3. Be prepared to explain why you have rated them accordingly 🙂

Just before we move on … Remember we must always presume the competence of all students – especially when it comes to homework


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