'They can because they think they can?' : the education of pupils at two secondary schools for the blind, 1920-58

Normanton Erry, Jeanette Margaret (2011). 'They can because they think they can?' : the education of pupils at two secondary schools for the blind, 1920-58. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d3d8

Abstract

Blind children were one of the first 'disabled' groups to be given an education by the State. However, for most children with a visual impairment, this schooling was only at an elementary level. This study looks at how pupils at Worcester College for the Blind and Chorleywood College for girls with little or no sight came to have the opportunity to receive the academic education which could provide them with access to the universities and professions. This is discussed in the context of the political and social environment of the period between 1920 and 1958, with an assessment of the continuities and changes.

The purpose of the study is to examine the complexity of factors which influenced the education of visually impaired children. No one explanation, either based on social control or progressive humanitarianism, can determine the development of special education. Class and gender as well as perceptions of 'disability' did playa role. The aim is then to judge the level to which the resultant education was enabling in terms of providing educational opportunities which could lead students towards active Citizenship and fulfilling employment. The study triangulates sources written from above by Government, charities and the governing bodies with school records as well as interviews and written accounts to give a voice to the former students.

In this thesis, variations in the experience of children with different impairments are examined alongside the level of influence possessed by blind people themselves. The nature of the education provided challenged the perceptions of society in some ways, while not attempting to confront the inequalities which existed in the mid-twentieth century. This resulted in a schooling which was enabling in its academic nature, but, while not disabling, left students unprepared for some of the skills required for adult life.

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