The desperate need for humanization and new definitions of normal in education

I went to school with all of my treasures, including my Spanish language, Mexican culture, familia (family), and ways of knowing. I abandoned my treasures at the classroom door in exchange for English and the U.S. culture; consequently, my assimilation into U.S. society was agonizing… I was overwhelmed with feelings of shame over the most essential elements of my humanness. As a result, my experience in the U.S. educational system was marked by endless struggles to preserve my humanity.” -Maria del Carmen Salazar (2013)

This is a great example of how society sets expectations upon individuals and try to make them fit into a certain mould or shape. Should students with special needs be “shaped” or “normalized” or should the educational system change shape so that everyone fits in?

Salazar discusses in her article, A Humanizing Pedagogy: Reinventing the Principles and Practice of Education as a Journey Toward Liberation, the desperate need for humanization in education. For example, when students of color experience academic difficulties, their struggles are often associated with their language, culture and home environment. This behavior results in an expectation among these students that they should “act, speak and behave as much as possible like the White middle class”. In other words, they are stripped of their own cultural resources because the environment around them wants them to live up to their expectations. (Salazar, 2013.)

In this sense humanizing pedagogy can be seen to discuss with the approaches that point out that social environments, attitudes, pedagogies and teaching spaces are the original source of disabilities and restricted understanding of one’s possibilities, be it the colour or any kind of dis/ability of the student. In this sense, disability is something that the society ”does” to a person. For example, people in wheelchairs, deaf people or autistic people are disabled not because of their problems with moving, hearing or understanding situations but because the environment in is not set up in a way that would support them, thus disabling them.

Creating a truly inclusive environment and accessible spaces that enable everyone seems to be one of the trickiest questions when it comes to balancing with the inclusiveness and special arrangements. Placing pupils with disabilities to own spaces is usually an attempt to meet the special needs better. But no matter how necessary separated spaces may be in special education, separation is well known to trigger social stigma.

Could it be possible to lessen that stigma by redefining our understanding of “the normal”? The underlying concepts of normality encompass the categories of the white, the able and the middle class, that define not only our understanding of each person’s possibilities, but also determine the standards by which regular spaces are constructed. Redefining the normal would therefore mean taking the inclusiveness as an unquestionable standard. That way the nondominant students, as Faltis and Abedi (2013) put it, would not be separated from dominant students and the social stigma of students with special needs could also lessen. One consequence of an inclusive definition of normal would be, as we discussed at the lesson, that every teacher would have the facility for meeting the special needs of students. At least class teachers should have much more studies about special education. That would of course not nullify the need of special needs assistants.

Salazar also points out that due to the current educational system with instructional curriculums and standardized tests it is nearly impossible for educators to develop a humanistic approach. Paulo Freire didn’t include specific tools in his pedagogy in order to point out the importance of the context specific methods and practices. However, the average teacher is balancing with timetables and multiple learning objectives set by curriculum. In the Finnish context, the relatively extensive freedom of teachers may also mean lack of tools in working towards more humanizing approaches.

Even though Salazar uses her own experiences as an example and mostly discusses “minority” issues linked to culture and race, the message is very clear. The educational environments should not set boundaries, but welcome all with open arms, giving everyone the same basic right to try and achieve. All students should be supported, despite their abilities or disabilities. Their multiple identities should have the possibility to evolve within a meaningful sense of achievement, purpose, power, and hope. (Salazar, 2013.)

– Group L



Del Carmen Salazar, M. (2013). A Humanizing Pedagogy. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), pp. 121-148.

Faltis, C. && J. Abedi (Eds.) (2013). Extraordinary Pedagogies for Working Within School Settings Serving Nondominant Students. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), pp. vii-xi.

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3,827 thoughts on “The desperate need for humanization and new definitions of normal in education”

  1. Thank you for your well-informed thoughts!

    To your question: I absolutely believe that a more norm critical stand and more reflexivity around what it means to be normal can be a step towards a more socially just education. As of my understanding, placing pupils with disabilities in their own spaces might be meant as an attempt to meet the special needs better, however, it often limits their future aspects more than staying in the conventional class rooms do.