Toward a Theology of Special Education

One of the largest tasks a teacher of special education students in Christian schools has today is that of integrating not only faith and learning, but faith and life for the students in his/her care in ways that promote individual and communal flourishing. Having a solid Christian worldview undergirds that task, but deep reflection on living it out is much more difficult than agreeing with a precept. David Anderson challenges that difficulty in this book, while also giving consideration to the complex web of difficulty that classroom teachers must face.

Anderson’s book is a collection of thematic chapters and some previously published papers that explore the theology and practice of special education. From a solid scriptural foundation, the popular myths and realities of inclusion in the classroom are debunked, and newer considerations for true inclusion are posited. Since the book is a collection of papers, the format provides good fruit for staff discussion; as a “whole read,” the book does repeat many key concepts and drives them home.

For those unfamiliar with Christian education and its principles, this is an easy read that does not leave theology in the territory of church service, as a noun, but rather sees Christians as educators who offer different reasons for how and why they equip students to live life, seeing theology as a verb. Arguments around current inclusion practices as being “non-inclusive,” distinctions between jobs, calling, and mission as terms of practice, and themes of spiritual warfare, reconciliation, inclusion, interdependence, hospitality, and justice become the landscape for discussion.

A theology of special education is not something on which most Christians who teach children with special needs have given serious thought. . . . Reflecting theologically on how their faith informs special education—or on being a special educator—is not something at the forefront of their thinking. . . . We live in a culture that tends to define people by what they do rather than by who they are (Anderson xiii).

The quote above serves as an introduction to the purpose and tone of Anderson’s work. For teachers and teacher candidates interested in being informed regarding the battles surrounding special education, this is one of the books that falls into the inspiration category as a “must read” rather than a “could read.” It raises the issues many books omit.

As in a movie trailer, I shall not spoil the ending for the reader, but will comment on some of the key thoughts in the book that resonated with me as a professor in a Christian university, and also provoked further thought on my behalf.
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