Textbook co-authored by Kurdish scholar offers marginalized youth and those with disabilities fair access to education
It is with great honor and a deep sense of pride that I share with you Dr. Soraya Fallah’s textbook Learning Challenges for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Students With Disabilities, co-authored with two other leading national educational experts Dr. Bronte Reynolds and Dr. Wendy Murawski. I have so much respect and admiration for the work they have been able to contribute to our world.
I write this note from a dual perspective. First and foremost, I am the daughter of a scholar and so a witness to the journey from the book’s inception in those early dissertation days to what is now a remarkable accomplishment of a scholarly, peer-reviewed reference source meant to provide guidance and knowledge to educators, teachers, administrators, social workers, clinicians, and parents. But maybe, more importantly, I am sharing my thoughts about this book as a former student with a disability from an understudied and underserved population myself, and as a current professional Social Worker and Psychotherapist serving Culturally and Linguistically Diverse youth with disabilities at a leading pediatric hospital.
This book is the culmination of over five years of scholarship, research, thought-provoking exchanges, conversations, revisions, and edits. It does more than point out learning challenges, the textbook also sheds light on the existence and educational needs of a population of students that are often erased or misrepresented (namely, students with disabilities from Middle Eastern and North African backgrounds) and offers a culturally humble approach to looking for solutions and serving this population within the United States Special Education system.
The book is grounded in a mixed methods rigorous research program that Dr. Fallah conducted directly with this population. Her study was one of the first in the country to look specifically at the experiences of Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asian (MENASWA) families with their children’s special education system. The research coined the umbrella term MENASWA to encompass a group of people who are often stereotyped and racialized together in the US, but this term is not there to further erase the nuance and multiplicity of identity. Rather, it helps us have an inclusive approach to the many ethnic and religious minorities that exist in a vast region gripped in conflict.
The developed book delves into issues of equity, intersectionality, stigma, ableism, and systemic oppression. It also does not shy away from difficult conversations about the role of cultural norms that impact service utilization for these families. I remember very early on we had heated but fruitful conversations about making sure the initial study did not further stigmatize or alienate, that it did not leave out the voices of those most impacted, and that it remained rooted in a liberatory and anti-oppressive theoretical framework. As with all studies, it had its limitations, but I know intimately that it honored the spirit of the disability justice motto: “Nothing About Us Without Us!” The book builds on that study and adds guidance for administrators and educators to further serve this population.
Another critical development in the book is that Dr. Fallah identifies what she calls “A Triple Threat” or Triangle of Triple Threat (TTT) model of looking at this population. In short, this population faces both internal and external stressors of being a minority group, as well as facing structural and institutional barriers to success. I will be the first to critique our education system as often failing our most marginalized students, and we routinely, if not intentionally, leave behind students with disabilities.
We see it today. As COVID-19 forces us to adapt to distance learning, IEP meetings have been cancelled, and very little focus has been given to accommodating students with disabilities. But this has historically been the norm, and this book speaks to that reality. When we add on issues of power and privilege, historic intergenerational trauma, direct experiences of consecutive wars in the Middle East, and a basic erasure of identity and difference, the effects are compounded to create an environment where learning is not just a challenge, but rather a hostile feat. The Triangle of Triple Threat begins to detangle some of these intertwined challenges.
I can say that many of the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse youth and families I serve have institutional trauma from their interactions with the education system. Some of that trauma is caused by lack of understanding from seemingly well-meaning, well-intentioned educators and administrators, but it is also caused by policies and practices on a larger scale, such as the fact that the specific needs of this population have been veiled under the category of “white,” and yet they continue to be racialized, stigmatized, and marginalized. This book tackles these issues head-on.
At the core of this book and central to its mission is this idea that we simply have very little information about the experiences of MENASWA families with their children’s special education system, and we must begin by asking them and learning from them in the hopes of creating a more inclusive space where learning can be possible. This should be the beginning of a longer conversation and I hope this book leads to other young scholars and researchers picking up this work, not just to fill the gaps in the literature, but to contribute to policy shifts that will help serve our students.
I am hoping that as people are forced to stay home in safety, they can find refuge in imagining new possibilities for a better world, one where the needs of all our students are considered and met. This book helps guide us toward that possibility.
You can access the webpage and book cover here.
Cklara Moradian, MSW is a adolescent Psychotherapist, a diaspora Kurd, former refugee, survivor, social justice advocate, spoken word poet, and writer.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany