Chapter 11




               What is the true object of education? Should the educator aim at training the largest possible number of individuals to be of the greatest service to the state, up to the limit of the capability of each, or should he rather try to give each one an opportunity to develop fully the best qualities which he possesses, regardless of whether this method of training may or may not seem to be to the immediate practical use either to the person or to the community? The question, in most ages and most countries, does not admit of a simple answer.

Dobson (1963: p.1)




Aims and objectives of this chapter

This chapter aims to:

  • Conclude the analysis of the diachronic and synchronic studies interpreted through the framework discussed in chapter 3
  • Explore the hypotheses introduced at the beginning of this thesis, in light of the evidence presented in the diachronic and synchronic studies
  • Explore the research questions introduced at the beginning of this thesis, in the light of evidence presented in the diachronic and synchronic sections (sections 3 and 4).


The objectives of this conclusion are to:

  • Further discuss areas in which an epistemological approach to analysing disability can be applied usefully to the experiences of education and disability
  • Identify future directions for research and debate, in order to further knowledge of the social and educational condition of blindness in art education, and provide suggestions for future practice, research and policy


The structure of this chapter

            This chapter presents three segments under different headings, based on the evidence presented in the study:

  • The first segment looks at the hypotheses initially discussed in the introduction
  • The second segment discusses the research questions, which were also presented in the introduction
  • The third segment discusses recommendations arising from these findings


This chapter now continues by discussing the initial hypotheses of the thesis in light of evidence presented in the study.


A discussion of the study’s hypotheses


            The following are the hypotheses presented at the beginning of this thesis, each being followed by the arguments arising from the evidence presented in the previous chapters.


Attitudes towards blindness and art education can be influenced by social and cultural factors that are not directly related to blindness/disability or art education

The evidence presented in chapters 6-8 (section 3) appears to largely support this hypothesis in the schools discussed in the fieldwork, by identifying external social and cultural factors that have affected the art curricula of many schools for the blind. The first influences appear to be the moral debate evident in the literature in England, Scotland and France from the end of the eighteenth century, and the need for financial self sustenance.


This debate appeared to be influenced by the observation that people who were blind were often to be found begging in wealthy cities, that sexually transmitted diseases caused much of the blindness in Europe before the twentieth century, and the perception that people who were blind had different moral and ethical standards to people who had sight.


For example, early theorists such as Diderot felt that people who were blind were, in many cases, “morally” superior and sexually more innocent because of their blindness. Others, such as Demodocus, Rushton and Bath & Fox, whose notions inspired the first asylums’ curricula in England, appeared to feel they should be pitied for their indolence, their moral inferiority caused by their lack of perception of beauty, and their inability to work and gain knowledge as sighted people do.


As a result, it would seem that the first asylums were built in England to set about “curing” what were felt to be the worst social effects of blindness, such as begging, by introducing mechanical and industrial arts and handcrafts. In particular, in England a perception of immorality appears to have offended the religious and social ethics of those founding the asylums, who stated that in many instances such indolence was the worst curse that could be inflicted on those who were young and blind.


In addition, and unlike their continental counterparts, English asylums appeared to be unique at the beginning of the nineteenth century because they were self funding, and received no government assistance. As a result, these asylums’ emphasis on a commercial “industrial arts” curriculum again appeared to reflect their moral foundation, which promoted self sufficiency and a need to lift people who were blind out of poverty and indolence. In addition, sales of the products produced by this form of labour and derived from long working hours also helped to fund the asylum’s maintenance and administration.


The further factor affecting early arts curricula was a belief in English asylums and later schools for the blind that people who were blind would benefit most from an aesthetic oral and aural culture rather than an aesthetic tactile culture. Although it appears that in the early twentieth century schools for the blind began to believe that people who were blind could appreciate artefacts aesthetically through tactile perception, before this period the curricula of many of these schools seemed to reflect a belief that tactile perception was only able to transmit information, such as Braille literature or three dimensional information about clay flowers, not aesthetic appreciation.


It also appears that the existence of a tactile appreciation of aesthetic art forms was not widely understood by science until the latter quarter of the twentieth century, although it had been practiced in isolated instances in Austria from the beginning of the nineteenth century, therefore reflecting a social belief in the theories of science over teachers’ own experience. Before this period many studies - such as those of von Senden, whose theory was discussed in section 1 - doubted whether people who were blind could appreciate artefacts through touch. Similarly it also appears that teachers’ projects, such as those of Klein and later Lowenfeld, remained un-replicated in schools in England, eventhough the College of Teachers for the Blind was beginning to recognise the use of handcrafts as a mode of emotional development from the 1950s.


A further external social and cultural factor that appears to have affected the arts curricula in the education of the blind in England was social class. Again, the haptic skills of people who were blind were first identified by writers such as Diderot, who observed the musical dexterity of beggars who were blind in order to demonstrate their “mental normality”. However, it seems that the founders of the original asylums felt that this observation could be used as a reason to initiate moral and vocational education for poor underclass and working class people who were blind in particular, to lift them out of what was perceived as a “moral poverty”.


The observations in the later literature by the founders and theorists of the first asylums in England also identified manual labour and musical crafts in particular as arts that could be appreciated by people who were blind to worship God, and be used to derive trade professions, such as cane weaver, church organist or piano tuner. Consequently it became the most important element of English asylums’ curricula. This form of music training appeared to be culturally distinct from that practiced in France during this period, which relied on Braille notation literature in writing and in music, and therefore appeared to emphasise a literate and oral/aural aesthetic culture as its basis of education.


Furthermore it seems that the founding of Worcester College, designed for upper and middle class, male students, illustrated a class and gender gap with its ethos incorporating an academic focus rather than simply training as a mode of labour. The curriculum presented at Worcester College appeared to spurn all forms of handcraft and focus on instrumental teaching, which assumed a high degree of musical appreciation, performance and composition.


As a result, the students at Worcester College - before it was administered by the RNIB - received a higher standard of academic education than their counterparts in France had at the end of the eighteenth century. In addition, through their curriculum, they also appeared to be prepared for entry to prestigious universities and colleges of music, rather than merely prepared for jobs with low pay.


The final social and cultural factor identified in this thesis appears to be the need for economic and political expedience, demonstrated in particular during the latter quarter of the twentieth century in the research and drafting of the 1981 Act. In the process of drafting this legislation, evidence presented in section 3 appears to suggest that financial matters were manipulated in order to save money for the British economy, which was in severe difficulties at the time.


This economic factor appeared to lead to a lack of investigation into the social and economic disadvantages of students who were blind or had other physical or learning difficulties, and who were excluded from the brief of the Warnock Commission. It also led to the exclusion of expensive training and resources for mainstream schools from the drafting and implementation of the 1981 Act.


In terms of the political manipulation of these economic factors, evidence presented in section 4 by Warnock and Prentice appears to indicate that spending promises such as those promised for the education of students with disabilities, were purposely manipulated by the Conservative and Labour parties in the 1970s to either gain or maintain power. Furthermore, Prentice explained that the drafting of the 1981 Act was too hurried as it had to be presented as part of Britain’s contribution to the International Year of the Disabled. As a result, it would seem that many important elements, such as student / teaching support, training and social integration were again ignored.


A discussion of the evidence pertaining to the second hypothesis is now presented below.


Where attitudes [described in the first hypothesis] have negatively affected the experiences of students who are blind, they have also affected their behaviour in art classes

The evidence presented in section 4 does not appear to support this hypothesis wholly. However, there appears to be evidence in the case studies presented in chapters 9 and 10 (Section 4) to suggest that inclusion in art education was not uniform after the 1981 Act as a result of attitudes perpetuated by mainstream school teachers. Consequently, where the students suffered from negative expectations or experiences of art tasks in mainstream schools, there is some evidence to suggest that their behaviour also became negative when they were presented with the same or similar tasks in schools for the blind later in their later academic career. It also appears that similar observations were made by experienced art teachers and a peripatetic teacher in other schools in England and the US, which introduced similar legislation in the 1970s.


In particular, evidence suggests that the students featured in the case studies that were educated in English mainstream schools during the 1990s, and then English schools for the blind during the same era, appeared to experience only positive expectations in schools for the blind, but behaved in a way that belied their earliest educational experiences.


For instance, Emile and Anna – educated in English mainstream schools in the 1990s and New College at the turn of the millennium – and Michael – educated at an English mainstream school and a school for the blind in the 1990s - said that they had good experiences of art at schools for the blind, yet only Michael – who avoided being recognised as blind – and Anna had positive experiences during art at mainstream schools, whereas Emile appeared to have negative experiences of art in his mainstream classes. It also seemed that Emile was the only one of these three to display negative behaviour, by avoiding tasks that Anna and Michael would attempt to take risks with.


Based on this evidence, it can be suggested that there are no overall patterns of cultural or social expectations present in schools for the blind or mainstream education and therefore there is no direct cause and effect. For example, when teachers in this study had positive expectations, students will not necessarily change their behaviour if they have previously had negative experiences; although the history of attitudes does appear to affect the negative attitudes of some mainstream teachers who have not been trained to understand the expectations or the needs of students who are blind.


There are potentially further possible explanations for the inconsistency of this evidence. For instance, the mixed experiences in mainstream schools could be explained by their art teachers’ pressure from exam expectations and performance management targets. Consequently, mainstream art teachers’ attitudes to students who were blind appeared to remain based on relatively uninformed opinions held by competition in educational culture, in the broader social, cultural and historical contexts of the mainstream comprehensive system.


Alternatively, evidence examined in section 4 appears to suggest that the behaviour of students featured in our case studies could also relate directly to positive and negative experiences at an early age in particular. More specifically it can be suggested that students took more risks in art tasks during which they had positive experiences in their younger years, and avoided art tasks which had provided bad experiences during the same period. In terms of this study’s examination of Doyle’s theory of ambiguity and risk, therefore, it would seem that our evidence questions his supposition in this context that behaviour in all task performance is based, to a greater extent, on the quantity rather than the quality of experiences.


For instance, Emile avoided any form of freehand drawing, reading or writing, whereas he was willing to take risks in clay modelling. He explained that this was because he had a good quality of clay modelling experience in his childhood after moving to New College, whereas he had a bad quality of drawing experiences and writing tasks. In addition, it could be suggested from the evidence presented in Michael’s interview that his drawing ability became a positive, confidence enhancing task that he could undertake to avoid more academic work in his early mainstream education.


It appears, in particular, that Michael had previously found such tasks too difficult, because he had no long vision and could not see writing on the board. Given these circumstances it could be suggested that working in the art room when he was supposed to undertake classes involving reading and writing allowed Michael to reinforce his positive experiences of drawing rather than taking risks in tasks he had problems with. He therefore developed this notion because he found tasks conducted close to his face, and that he could see more readily, were more comfortable. It would seem, therefore, that in this case the quality of his earliest experiences also motivated his choice of tasks as well as his behaviour.


In a further example, Emile was still a young child when he was introduced to clay modelling, and later had success in this and other subjects. As a result, it can be suggested that his childhood exposure to this task, at whatever point in his young life, may potentially have increased his willingness to take risks in later, similar tasks. Furthermore, it could also be suggested that his potential was tainted by his earlier negative experiences of tasks[1], as he was reluctant to take risks in his figurative work in clay, such as his earlier mask project, which appeared to reflect his negative experiences of figurative drawing.


There are further potential explanations for Emile’s behaviour in clay modelling tasks that could question this interpretation. One alternative is that Emile, similar to Michael in his pursuit of drawing at the expense of his other academic subjects, was looking for a task in which he could gain self esteem and confidence at New College, as he lacked this in other academic subjects. As a result he was presented with a form of task that he found accessible, and he could use as a substitute for drawing figurative representations, as these were potentially embarrassing. Evidence in his interview, discussed in chapter 9, in particular appears to suggest that he used clay in Bas relief in his early exercises, as he found he did not have to represent a set of faces exactly, thus reducing the risk of conducting this task.


However, no firm evidence appears to exist in any of the case studies to inform these possibilities further at this time because of the small student numbers during the study. Until more research is conducted with a much broader range of students in this area, therefore, no firm conclusions are possible and the evidence presented in this thesis remains only a possibility. In addition, because the focus of this study was on schools for the blind and the data gathered reflected this bias, it could be argued that this data is in need of verification through further observational research of mainstream art classes to gain a clearer picture. What now follows is an examination of the final hypothesis.


Attitudes towards students who are blind in art education changed after the 1981 Education Act, and this made students educated after this period more willing to undertake new art tasks


There is evidence from the interviews with art teachers in schools for the blind featured in section 4 to suggest that they believed their students were physiologically capable of performing art tasks, and passed on these beliefs in their teaching methods. There also appears to be evidence in section 3 that before 1981 there was a significant difference in these attitudes, and many teachers in schools for the blind appeared to believe that students who were blind were mainly incapable of creative or aesthetic visual art tasks. This evidence is supported by the evidence presented in my earlier study (Hayhoe, 1995, 2000).


However, there is also evidence from the teacher interviews in section 4 to suggest that positive attitudes about students’ abilities do not appear to have been universally accepted in mainstream schools, where there was little training for teachers of students with disabilities, or experience of teaching students who were blind or visually impaired.


Furthermore, there appears to be significant evidence from the teacher and student interviews in section 4 that there was, in some circumstances, only “symbolic” inclusion in English mainstream schools’ art classes after 1981; i.e. they were timetabled to be in a class but undertook different tasks and were assessed under different criteria than students with sight in the same class.


There is also only mixed evidence to suggest that teachers’ positive attitudes in schools for the blind make their students more willing to attempt new art tasks, as some avoided any form of new art tasks, and some students would attempt new art tasks even when it risked their academic grades. For instance, Emile appeared to avoid new art tasks if they included elements of skills from which he had been excluded as a younger student in his early mainstream schooling. However, Anna and Michael, who had positive experiences of art at mainstream schools, would take risks with any new art tasks they were asked to complete, even if they posed a risk to their self esteem as a result of being judged by high levels of assessment.


Additionally, in the reports of the art teacher interviews discussed in chapter 10, such as those with the teachers Harry and Asia, there were also instances given when pessimistic expectations of students in early mainstream classes after inclusive legislation led to complete avoidance of new art tasks when these students transferred to schools for the blind, or how over optimistic expectations of art work, which were then eventually unfulfilled and led to an apparent depleting of students’ confidence, led to future avoidance of new art tasks. However, no definite patterns of behaviour were again observable in the student sample.


In future research, therefore, this notion needs to be re-investigated to ascertain whether students are willing to take risks in new art tasks as a result of their current teachers’ expectations if they have had positive experiences of similar elements of these tasks or of the topic during previous education, using more robust evidence from a significantly larger student sample.


This study’s conclusion now turns to an examination of the research questions that were presented in the introductory chapter.


Discussions of the research questions


The research questions presented at the beginning of this thesis queried the fundamental nature of education and blindness, and also issues which related to all disabilities. They also addressed the effect of the history of art education for the blind in its many forms, and the purpose and intention of schools for the blind. It is the evidence supporting the answers to these questions that I discuss now.


Can attitudes towards blindness in art education merely be discussed in terms of a physical disability, or are they affected by social and cultural assumptions?

            This question was the study’s initial motivation, and represents the main focus of the thesis. Evidence presented in section 4 of this study suggests that blindness was first and foremost a physical condition that often changed the way in which students who were blind performed and chose their art tasks. Furthermore their blindness often seemed responsible for their choice of subjects, techniques and even the media that they used. In particular, the students featured in section 4 needed different apparatuses and teaching styles to understand the nature of aesthetics, no matter how capable they appeared to be.


For instance, given assistance Anna developed methods by which she could, at first, understand colours by their names and uses, and then developed her own methods of using analogies with tones to use these colours in her drawings. Consequently she excelled in her A level coursework and, by emphasising a greater tonal appreciation, developed her own monochrome photography project.


However, it could be argued that in many instances the physical nature of the students’ blindness did not “disable” them, and in several cases provided an incentive to pursue art tasks over academic tasks. For instance, Michael found that he could succeed when drawing close to his face, which allowed him success in mainstream classes, what could be described as a feeling of “normality” in his latter school for the blind, and later provided him with a reason to enrol in a mainstream art college for his first degree. This success arguably balanced his lack of success in academic subjects at his mainstream school. He found these particularly difficult to follow, as his “hidden” lack of long vision prevented him from following exercises on the blackboard.


In addition, Emile concentrated on elements of his coursework, such as clay moulding and working on a potter’s wheel, because he found that he could undertake these exercises easily, and that his blindness caused him only occasional practical difficulties. In addition, Emile’s concentration on his art A level allowed him to concentrate on a subject that had presented him with an experience of academic success. It also allowed him to avoid subjects that required large amounts of reading and writing, as his earlier mainstream school appeared to have excluded him from these tasks when younger.


Based on this evidence, it could be argued that blindness was not so much a physical “dysfunction”, as students demonstrated that their blindness could be managed comfortably within A level and degree syllabi with only slight adaptation and often significant success. However it could be argued that, based on the evidence presented in chapter 9 and 10 (section 4), social and cultural attitudes towards these students’ physical conditions and the resulting perception of its influence on their state of mind led to a “social disability”. Further evidence of this phenomenon also appeared to exist in the interviews with art teachers, when it was felt that their students’ behaviour also adapted in reaction to the beliefs of their early mainstream teachers.


The contrast between Emile and Michael’s case studies appears to illustrate this difference. In particular, eventhough his blindness was ignored by him and his family, Michael still couldn’t see the blackboard at school. This suggests that the physical effects of his blindness were significant. However, because he was not identified as a student who was blind, he did not receive extra help for his problems, and turned to art as an escape from his lack of academic understanding. This seemed to prevent “normal” task performance and behaviour during art lessons in his later education.


In contrast, although it later transpired that Emile was capable of many art tasks, his early mainstream art teachers excluded him from “normal” art exercises, and did not provide him with the assistance that may have helped him overcome his physical disability. This, it can be suggested, “socially disabled” him. Consequently he appeared to lose confidence in art tasks that he had negative experiences of when he was younger. In this way, the art tasks that he concentrated on during his A Level coursework again appeared to be an escape from attempting those he felt less confident.


It could also be argued that such conclusions also support the need for models of researching disability that include social, cultural and physical elements, and not just individual elements of behaviour. In particular the evidence presented in both sections 3 and 4 question the previous published behavioural study of blindness and art in the classroom environment (Hayhoe, 1995, 2000).


This segment now continues by addressing the second research question.


What does blindness stop people from doing in art education?

Again, based on the evidence presented in section 4, the short answer in terms of the case studies featured in this thesis is arguably little, given access to the correct technologies and teaching techniques. Furthermore, in the case studies it can be argued that the need for specific technologies and techniques can only be determined on individual bases and within individual contexts. Furthermore, evidence presented in section 4 appears to suggest that when appropriate techniques and technologies are selected, the self belief of students is enhanced and they appear to feel capable of similar or even vaguely related art tasks in the future.


For instance, despite her total colour and legal blindness, Anna was able to understand labels on her coloured pencils in order to provide a symbolic analogy of colour. She was also taught that with apparently positive motivation she was capable of these and similar art tasks. As a result, Anna appears to have found it relatively easy to conform to a mainstream art curriculum.


Evidence presented in section 4 also suggests that it is possible that forms of blindness can provide physical and technological advantages in certain educational contexts. For instance, because Michael had extreme near sightedness he appeared to be very good at detailed illustration, even though at the same time he had to overcome a lack of ability to view a subject at the slightest distance.


In addition, during her black and white photography project’s development exercises, Anna appeared to find it easier to work on her prints under infra-red lighting conditions than students with greater levels of sight. This finding appears to be confirmed by Sack’s (2003) study of wholly colour blind islanders, who found it easier to see at twilight than people with full sight.


This finding, it could be further suggested, adds an extra dimension to what we understand by the phrase “normal performance in art tasks” in the context of education. For instance, the discussion presented in chapter 2 and the evidence presented in section 3 suggests that the concept of identifying and classifying people according to their individual traits derives from the way that blindness has been regarded by science, philosophy, charitable foundations, governments and educational administrators.


Therefore, it can be argued that students not only have to contend with difficulties presented from their actual blindness, it also appears to be the case that the construction of knowledge itself classifies their ability according to this physical trait. This can be termed “a priori disability” (Hayhoe, 2005, 2005b, 2005c) in which assumptions are encoded in knowledge, based on the experiences of people with “similar” traits in the past.


As a result, it can be argued that because curricula and assessment schema exist in the social and cultural contexts of a “perceived” normality, students who are blind are in a vulnerable position even before beginning their education. Therefore, it appears that disabilities can be created by knowledge systems themselves, eventhough they are designed to study and alleviate such physical traits.


For example, in chapter 2  it was argued that the traits von Senden and the College of Teachers for the Blind in the 1950s imagined were the truth contributed to the exclusion of students who were born blind or who acquired blindness early in life from art tasks that they could have appreciated. This exclusion came in the same era that potential was being recognised in art classes in Austria and in a limited number of schools in the US for a short period, initiated by Viktor Lowenfeld, under other cultural and social settings. Therefore it could be argued that a more “subjective” measure of disability, such as that proposed by Hayhoe (2005, 2005b, 2005c) needs exploration, in order to understand the potential of individuals as well as groups of people with disabilities. This issue will be explored further below.


What now follows are recommendations for practice and policy, based on these conclusions.


Recommendations arising from this study


Below is a list of initial recommendations arising from the conclusions of this study. The first of these recommendations address the practice and provision of art education for students who are blind and suggests future directions for research. The final recommendations address policy.


Recommendations for practice, provision and research

The first recommendation is that art education for students who are blind needs to be introduced into mainstream schools and schools for the blind from the earliest possible age. This study found that, although students who are blind experience varying degrees of quality in their art education, all of the students achieved significantly more than the students in my previous study (Hayhoe, 1995, 2000), and importantly were mostly willing to attempt new tasks in art classes or in artistic working environments, particularly if they had positive experiences in art education in their early childhood.


In contrast, during my previous study I found that many adult students who had attended schools for the blind prior to 1981 and had not had art education when they were young were very unwilling to attempt new art tasks or handle arts materials, such as clay. As a result, these students would also often avoid any risk in any of their educational tasks and formed dependent relationships on their teachers.


The second recommendation is that a corpus of knowledge about relevant technology and teaching practices needs to be developed to help students who have no colour perception, or any form of vision in mainstream classes, understand colour and other core elements of the visual experience. In chapters 9 and 10 (section 4), it was found that students who were registered blind had an ability to understand elements of drawing, perspective and even colour when taught with imagination and teaching aids that had been thought through properly, even when they were unable to see colour or did not have enough perception of light to distinguish depth in the visual field.


For instance, it was found that one of the A Level students, Anna, achieved an understanding of colour by using metaphor and analogy through labelling of her pencils, even though she had never experienced colour. In addition, in the interview with the peripatetic teacher from the US, it was also discovered that one of her students had managed to learn the laws of perspective from his mathematics teacher and apply them in drawings, even though he was completely blind from an early age. This experience appears to reflect the observations of the mathematician Sanderson (Demodocus, 1774), who taught himself elements of geometry in the seventeenth century, despite being blind from birth.


Although the current teaching methods reported in this thesis appear to have been devised on an ad hoc basis, reliant on the imagination, skill and talent of their teachers, such methods could easily be formulated, published and taught as teaching methods worthy of replication. There is a need for a body of literature in particular on teaching methods that can act as a resource for mainstream, as well as specialist, teachers of students who are blind.


The third recommendation is that teachers in mainstream schools who teach students who are blind or visually impaired need to be trained or supported by experts as a matter of course. This point is linked to the previous recommendation, and the evidence presented in chapter 8. The findings of the Warnock Committee on training appeared to be ignored during the drafting of the 1981 Act. This decision, it was argued, contributed to the negative experiences of some of the students who were blind, who were discussed in this thesis whilst in mainstream classes.


This suggests that teachers in mainstream schools who teach students who are blind or have visual impairments need to be trained in the techniques and expectations of teaching such students, although for practical reasons it is not suggested that teachers will study this subject to the level of expertise expected of teachers in special schools or units in mainstreams schools. As a result, it is hoped that mainstream teachers will more uniformly develop and achieve a higher level of academic expectation from their students.


Although this recommendation appears initially expensive, this cost needs to be offset against the expense to society of a large amount of people who are blind and who, having had a poor education, cannot contribute to, or maximise their potential in, society. Such training also does not have to be prohibitively expensive, as many existing, cost effective distance learning and continuing professional development courses have been devised within universities and local educational authorities.


The fourth recommendation is that teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired need to take account of their students’ previous educational experiences, as well as unique physical and social traits. Furthermore, descriptions of these students’ status should not be judged simply by the strength of their visual impairment and the consequences of it.


This recommendation is supported by the evidence featured in chapters 9 and 10 (section 4) of this thesis, when it was observed that students’ disabilities affected them in unique ways. During tasks it was shown that some students’ traits were not disabilities, and occasionally made them more adept at producing and appreciating certain types of art than many other students with sight, given similar circumstances. In other instances, it seemed that negative attitudes shown to students in visual art classes had a greater detrimental affect on the students’ behaviour than their physical disabilities. However, in many instances, the support they received from teachers showed that they did not appear to have considered these issues.


For instance, Anna, an A Level student from New College, found that her sight was actually more efficient in a dark room, and so placed an emphasis on this element of her photography project over others. However, this discovery appeared to be her own, and was not motivated by her teacher. Similarly, the professional artist Michael’s disability at a distance still allowed him to draw with great accuracy when he held paper close to his face. This lack of understanding of his educational needs arguably contributed to his disruptive attitude, his avoidance of selected educational tasks and his constant practice of “doodling”.


In addition, one of the A Level students at New College, Emile, appeared to be affected more by his previous educational experiences seemingly based on his teachers’ attitudes to him than his blindness. This problem was also described by the teachers who were interviewed in England and the US, where it was also found that students could be discouraged from pursuing art education because of their early negative experiences, when others would succeed given positive early experiences of art education.


Similarly, evidence discussed in this thesis also suggested that Michael’s difficult transition from his mainstream school to his school for the blind appeared to remain an unconsidered issue in his statement of special educational needs. As a result, he truanted many of his lessons, and found it difficult to re-enter a mainstream society after finishing his compulsory education. This lack of understanding of school transition would appear to be a weakness in the system in his case.


The fifth recommendation is that further research is needed into the social and cultural nature of art and blindness, and also in the field of social and cultural attitudes to physical disability in education. Given even a brief search of the research literature, the reader on the subject of blindness and art will find that perceptual and cognitive psychology are the main focus of this topic of study.


As the conclusion from the literature search in chapter 2 of this thesis suggested, few studies have investigated the social or cultural nature of pedagogy, blindness and art, or have attempted to examine the social history on this form of education. As a result, this study in particular has found it difficult to refer to a holistic model of studying blindness in art.


In particular, it is recommended that more research is needed into the validity of social models of research, such as the model devised for this study.  In particular, each model needs to be scrutinised in different contexts, such as young learners and adult learners, as this appeared to be one of the decisive factors in defining the differences between my previous study’s findings (Hayhoe, 1995, 2000) and this study’s.


This approach also needs to be validated against other disabilities that have similar social stigmas related to them, such as deafness in subjects which depend on oral and aural culture, and contexts with less extreme stigmas, such as disabilities and their response to modern technology in education; which could potentially have less extreme views on disability, because this discipline has a much younger social and cultural history, and therefore may not have developed so many social stigmas.


Moreover, it appears that education needs to have a more powerful debate on how we define disability, and what are disabled students. As this study has suggested, in its context and through its analysis, attitudes about such definitions can have powerful and significant effects on learning, perhaps as powerful as physical disabilities themselves.


Recommendations about educational policy are now presented below. This addresses the issue of disability on a whole society level in particular, and does not simply discuss blindness and pedagogy.


Recommendations for policy on disability in education

Martin [Luther] King was right: “The hour is late” and “the clock of destiny is ticking out”… Human beings are meant for life and not death. They are meant for freedom and not slavery. They were created for eachother and not against eachother. We must, therefore, breakdown the barriers that separate people from one another… [For] all who have given their lives in the struggle for justice, let us direct our fight towards one goal – the beloved community of mankind.

Cone JH (1991: p.318)


In this section I present recommendations on policy and disability. The first recommendation is that a new way of thinking about blindness and other disabilities in schools’ policies and governmental legislation, not just a new way of teaching people who are blind and visually impaired, needs formulation. We should not just re-arrange the thoughts we have at the moment and as we have throughout history.  Recommending pedagogic strategies alone would be useless without such reforms.


In chapter 8 this thesis found that Baroness Warnock and John Fish argued in particular that we need a new way of classifying disability and special needs in schools based more on individual needs: socially, physiologically and psychologically. It is our political culture’s arguably old, out-moded models of study, which simply shift definitions and cause new problems that are most to blame for exclusion. In other words, it is not the mode of classification that is the problem; it is the need to classify.


I would argue this is not a naïve idea, although perhaps it has its own dangers of becoming an ideological one. It is also similar to a system that was conceived by Martin King on race shortly before his assassination, and discussed in the quote above by J H Cone. King’s understanding, it would seem, came out of his mixing with people of all races and ethnicities, at universities and in his later vocations. It also came from his realisation that in the US people in extreme poverty were White as well as Black – a common fallacy in both racial communities at the time.


As Cone (1991) explained, Martin King’s political activities and rhetoric were slowly being led away from a notion of racial politics to one in which race was a classification amongst many. This led him to campaign and preach on more general social issues, such as workers rights[2], and the necessity for proper health care and education for all people, of all colours. In this, as Cone argued in the quote below, he appeared to be more influenced by the politics of Ghandi, in which the good of the most in need could be seen in the context of provision for all.

Martin’s interest… was motivated [amongst other factors]… by the failure of the civil rights acts and President Johnson’s War on Poverty to affect significantly the life chances of the black poor in the urban ghettos of America. The Watts riots and the many others that followed it revolutionized Martin’s thinking on America. He began too see that the problem of injustice in America was deeper and wider than racism...

Martin’s Poor People’s March to Washington was intended to achieve solidarity among the poor of all races. Perhaps it would indeed have been a powerful symbol of the solidarity of the poor, if he had not been assassinated while supporting garbage workers in Memphis… If we today are to complete what Martin… failed to achieve, then we must identify and correct [this] weakness.

Cone (1991: p.286-287)


If we could apply this notion to disability, it would become not only an emotive argument but also a practical one. By applying it to physical and psychological traits, we can regard what are “subjective” (Hayhoe, 2005b) causes of disability in a manner which eliminates practical difficulties experienced by individuals, not classifications of people. This was arguably what the thinking behind the 1981 Act was originally trying to achieve.


Such an approach would allow us to contextualise measures to alleviate disabilities, rather than regarding them as broad political issues or whole person problems. In particular, in legislation in this field measures could include seemingly small changes, such as those mentioned above, including a greater awareness of the uses of German film, the nature of Braille, the need for large type, or the classroom management strategies designed for students who are blind or visually impaired.


My second recommendation is that in England we now need a new commission to alleviate the miss-classification of special needs, with the notion of re-classifying disability according to individual needs. Based on the evidence of exclusion in chapters 9 and 10 (section 4) it can again be argued that Baroness Warnock was right in believing that it is time for this new committee of inquiry to address the needs of all children; and it should not just ring fence, label or stigmatise a small minority of people. Perhaps most importantly, however, in doing this the government has to see education as a pedagogic not a political issue.


It would be unthinkable for the UK’s Department of Health to prescribe how a general practitioner should diagnose chicken pox or influenza, and so why should it treat the expertise of experienced, practising, trained teachers in the same way, when they are properly informed and given access to the appropriate experiences. It could also be argued that they more often have the best diagnosis of what is best for children under their care, as much of the reportage in chapter 10’s discussion of art teachers’ experiences showed.


The third policy recommendation is policy makers must be made to understand that teachers, school workers, parents and the students themselves need to be educated properly in the differences and nature of physical traits that can lead to disabilities. It should not just be a chosen few special needs teachers and theorists who are provided with such an education, it is everyone who influences the day to day lives of all children.


Disability appears to be not just a whole school problem. It can be argued it is a whole society problem. It is thus not until there is the financial, cultural and social will in governance and the community through such training and awareness to alleviate inequity in the contexts where it exists, will there be a sea change in real teaching and learning. For this, I hope, like Cone, we don’t have to wait too long.


 © Simon Hayhoe 2005, 2007


[1] One additional explanation is that the sum of experiences is smaller when younger, thus positive experiences are more likely to stand apart from the few other educational experiences that exist. The older a student gets and the more experiences they have, it could be argued, the more positive experiences are less likely to have an effect on the total number of educational experiences.

[2] Martin King was murdered whilst campaigning for the rights of sanitary workers in Memphis.



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