Professor Keith Mayes's (Department of African American & African Studies, College of Liberal Arts) recent book The Unteachables: Disability Rights and the Invention of Black Special Education (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2023) examines the overrepresentation of Black students in special education over the course of the twentieth century. Excavating the deep-seated racism embedded in both the public school system and public policy, it explores the discriminatory labeling of Black students, and how it indelibly contributed to special education disproportionality, to student discipline and push-out practices, and to the school-to-prison pipeline effect.
On his recent book, Professor Mayes shares, “The pages that follow historicize how race shaped ideas about disability and then in turn how disability shaped ideas about race in a reinscribing feedback loop. Black students were not placed in special education because they were incontrovertibly disabled; they were placed there because they were incontrovertibly black. Far from being undeniably disabled, placement practices consigned black students to a resegregation scheme under the auspices of special education.”
“The Unteachables offers a bold, highly insightful, and meticulously documented analysis of the racist underpinnings of special education. Keith A. Mayes shows how special education grew from white attempts to ‘protect’ white children from a racially integrated education. Drawing on his extensive background in African American history, Mayes brilliantly peels back the layers of an education system that purports to advance rights, even while it thwarts those of Black and Latinx students. The Unteachables should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand how special education came to be structured as it is.” — Christine Sleeter, coauthor of Transformative Ethnic Studies in Schools: Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Research