Distribution of Educational Space

In a recent blog post, Beth shared an article from the 1908 Ladies Home Journal titled “I Want to Build a House” by George Edward Barton. It was the “frank” advice of an architect to anyone intending to build a home. Well, not everyone exactly. It was specifically oriented toward people who had a servant serving their meals, describing in detail that in some cases it is simply not economical to create a separate passage for the servant from the kitchen to the front door. The square footage of the home could be better distributed. Another example of how space might be saved was by not including a guest room, of which Barton wrote, “It is a crime to waste a fifth of your floor area and not give your children all the light and air you can afford them.” This article serves as a reminder that how we distribute space matters, with this quote bringing attention specifically to how we distribute space to children. After all, even in 1908 it was considered “a crime” to limit a child’s space.

At the Teach-In on April 7, Dr. Linda Ware from the Ella Cline Shear School of Education spoke explicitly regarding how space is distributed to children with disabilities in education. For example, many schools use self-contained classrooms for students receiving special education services. This means that students with disabilities are in a classroom together, separate from students in general education. Many general education students who attend public schools will recall some of their peers disappearing to another part of the building around third grade; well that’s where they went. And the sad truth is that this separation leads to a general sentiment of “otherness” with regards to students with disabilities. That friend from recess isn’t around anymore. Now I only see them with that group of people who walk, talk, and think different from me. They must also be different. I am normal and they are not. That is the harmful line of reasoning that results from separating students based on ability, and the physical separation contributes to the pervasive misconception that people with disabilities are somehow the opposite of normal.

Additionally, appointing separate spaces to students based on ability has a direct negative impact on the performance of students with disabilities. First, they too are receiving the message that they are different. It can deplete self esteem and manifest so that they identify with the identity projected onto them by society. Nobody expects me to go to college, so why even apply? Additionally, there is the well-known civil rights maxim, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” from the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case (link here). When you give students separate rooms, curriculum, materials, and perhaps most importantly, socialization, they will have drastically different outcomes.

There is now a shift within education to correct this social justice issue by forming inclusive classrooms. In an inclusive classroom, there are students of all abilities in natural proportion (i.e. if 10% of the school’s population has a disability then about 10% of the class should be students with disabilities). Find more information about how this works here. However, not all teachers are certified to teach students with disabilities, making it difficult to entirely roll out inclusive education. Here at SUNY Geneseo, there are three programs available to people in the School of Education, and only one of them provides certification to teach special education. That means that the people taking the other two tracks have not gone through important professional development to work successfully in an inclusive classroom upon completing their undergraduate work of study. This structurally limits and confines student with disabilities.

As an education major this is an issue dear to my heart, but the distribution of space is important across multiple disciplines. For example, when housing is segregated by race or income, it causes similar harm. This can be seen in The Turner House at the point when Francis Turner was living in a narrow strip of Detroit that had been apportioned for black workers. It was the only place he was allowed to reside, as contracts to live elsewhere would not be given to him because of his race. It was cramped and dirty, and despite his good intentions, Francis fell into bad habits while living there. He also faced racism in Detroit, which both caused and was fueled by the housing situation. When Francis finally amassed the ambition to leave that territory for a mostly white, high end establishment, he was stopped by mistrusting police. Simply by being from “the wrong part of town” so to speak, he was a suspected criminal. When the physical space is separated, it allows for further prejudice and social separation as still seen in many cities today. Another ongoing issue in equal access to space is the current contention over whether people who are transgender should be allowed to use the bathroom for the gender they identify with. At many schools, there are not family or individual bathrooms accessible throughout the building. Students have to walk from their classroom potentially across the school to find a bathroom where they are both comfortable and allowed to relieve themselves. In some cases the nurse’s office may have the only individual bathroom that students may use. As with a self-contained classroom, this may cause negative feelings within the person and may cause their peers to see them as the divergent “other”. We must be mindful of the spaces that we allow people, especially young people, as separation will always be a social justice issue.

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