Special Education ETDs

Publication Date



Individuals engaged in the production of art, who are untrained, and marginalized by disability, are known as outsider or visionary artists. With them in mind I sought to better understand the relationship between art-making and meaning-making. Students with disability attributes in my classroom were motivated by arts-based activities, prompting me to include art in the content I taught. My own art-making grew out of those efforts, and in order to better understand how to implement my classroom practices, I began an autoethnographic study that evolved into phenomenology, positioning myself in the disability culture first, and then conducting an archival document search seeking evidence of the use of arts-based activities in teaching students with disabilities. I located extensive records on two community schools in Depression-era New Mexico. The schools were progressivist experiments in curricular reform initially focused on bilingual education. Art projects and lesson plans included in teacher diaries spanned seven years, evidencing reciprocal relationships, along with focus on creative expression as central in the culturally-based literacy pedagogy of the reforms being implemented. Contextually, this work is grounded primarily within the ideologies of John Dewey, and Paolo Freire. Data were collected and reported using narrative storytelling, observations, and reflections, personal art making, and archival document searches with research journaling. This research contributes to evolving perceptions about the value of reciprocal relationships in literacy pedagogy, and suggests the need to expand scholarship regarding engagement in arts-based activities with persons with disabilities, and the community school as a means to reach underserved populations.


arts-based curriculum, reciprocity, reciprocal relationships, disability, at-risk student populations, non-traditional education, progressive education, creative expression, psychosocial disability attributes

Document Type




Degree Name

Special Education

Level of Degree


Department Name

Special Education

First Committee Member (Chair)

Luckasson, Ruth L.

Second Committee Member

Copeland, Susan R.

Third Committee Member

Wix, Linney