Speducators in their own words—1: What James M. Kauffman has to say
What are Professor Kauffman's answers to some questions?
James M. Kauffman, Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Virginia and Chief Dog Walker (Red-gray-beard Division) along the eastern section of the historic Blue Ridge Tunnel near the home he shares with his co-author, Jeanmarie Bantz, Ph.D.
Jim received a bachelors degree from Goshen College, a masters from Washburn University, and a doctorate from University of Kansas. After graduate school, Jim taught briefly at Illinois State University before moving to UVA.
Jim’s been—and continues to be—a remarkably productive scholar. He’s written leading textbooks, edited scholarly volumes and professional journals, authored or co-authored chapters for others’ books, and published scores (and scores!) of journal articles. You can learn more about Jim’s academic activities here and here.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Jim for more than 40 years. We collaborated on projects, publications, chopping wood, taking walks, and making donations to the other players in friendly card games.
In hopes of providing readers with the contemporary thoughts of distinguished scholars in special education, I asked Jim if he’d be willing to respond to questions about his current ideas on topics of likely interest to readers. He agreed. Thus, in the late winter of 2022, I sent him a note with a series of questions to which he graciously responded.
JWL: Jim, please start by providing us with background about yourself; just tell readers a bit about how you came to studying students with special learning needs. You’ve covered multiple categories of disabilities during your academic career, including learning disabilities, intellectual disability, and (especially), emotional and behavioral disorders. I know you started out as a teacher, but why did you leave classroom teaching, why did you begin academic studies of education? As a retiree, what do you see as your responsibility now?
JMK: OK, I’ll try. Without going into excruciating detail, I got into special education quite by accident by volunteering as a conscientious objector to teach at the Southard School in Topeka, KS. Southard was also the children’s division of the Menninger Clinic. Richard J. (Dick) Whelan was then principal there, and he introduced me to the Haring and Phillips book (Educating Emotionally Disturbed Children) in 1962, hot off the press. That’s the first book I read in special education. But Dick left Southard before I started to teach there. He went to KU, got his doctorate there, and started the special education program at the University of Kansas Medical Center. I left Southard after 2 years and taught in public schools near Topeka, 1 year as a special education special class teacher for ED kids, then 2 years in general education.
Meanwhile, I’d finished a master’s program in teaching at Washburn University in Topeka, and faculty members there recommended me for several doc programs elsewhere. I accepted an Anderson Fellowship in philosophy of education at NYU, but then Dick called and asked me to come to Kansas City to talk with him and Og Lindsley about doc study there. They convinced me to stay in KS, so I did my doc work in special education at KU. Never regretted my change of plan.
I then taught one year at Illinois State before coming to UVA, where I remained for the rest of my career. I didn’t leave teaching because I didn’t like it, but I wanted to know more about it. I guess I was curious about lots of things, intrigued by higher ed, was given opportunities and liked them, found my “niche” and loved it. Part of my development has just been dumb luck, but I suppose part of it, too, is saying “yes” rather than “no” to things I saw as opportunities and challenges.
I had a great career at UVA. I had terrific colleagues, including especially you and Dan Hallahan, talented students, and freedom to do lots of things other than teaching, among them writing and editing, which I enjoy immensely.
As a retiree, I feel my responsibility is to try to get better as long as I can at things I like and do relatively well. And those include writing and editing, so at the moment (Feb, 2022) I’m editing 3 books and have some other writing projects going. I’m enjoying life, which includes more than academic stuff, which is I guess what old guys (I’ll turn 82 in Dec. ‘22) are supposed to do.
JWL: So, you’ve had a special focus on what we now usually refer to as “emotional and behavioral disorder” (what was “seriously emotionally disturbed” earlier in our careers), and I’d like you to summarize the special challenges encountered by children with EBD, their families, and their teachers.
JMK: Oh, man, that’s a tricky one to answer because there’s so much to say. One thing to note is that although there’s lots of concern about false positives and disproportionality, there doesn’t seem to be much attention to the fact that this is a way, way underserved category and no group of kids is identified and served at anywhere close to the percentage of the school population study after study indicates has serious mental health needs. People talk a lot about the importance of prevention, but as Mark Twain remarked about the weather, nobody does anything about it. PBIS and other tiered systems are supposed to get at that, and some schools do those pretty well, but most don’t. And I really think the article I published in Exceptional Children back in 1999 about how we prevent prevention describes the situation today, a couple of decades later, pretty well. And that article and its messages and conclusions have been pretty much ignored. Of course, it could be because I was just wrong or irrelevant.
Regarding families, I think Gerald Patterson’s take on that is still really important. And teachers... I think the book [see sources at the end of this page] I now coauthor with Tim Landrum, on characteristics of EBD, pretty much summarizes my take on problems of teachers and teaching and the enormous challenges they face.
Maybe the biggest challenge all of us and parents and kids as well as teachers face is the lack of good outcomes of our programs. It’s really easy to get discouraged and conclude that nothing works. But, then, we need to ask ourselves whether things would be better or worse or about the same if we didn’t have programs for kids with EBD at all. Something I’ve tried to get across, mostly unsuccessfully, is that we’ve got to make correct comparisons. In this case, the correct comparison isn’t EBD to no disability or even EBD to other categories but EBD with special education to EBD without special education. But that’s a hard comparison to make because we can’t legally have EBD without special education. Of course, we do have EBD without special education, because many kids with EBD go unidentified for special education. But, then, presumably at least, only the kids with the worst EBD get identified, so that’s another complicating factor. Maybe some research design wizard will figure out how to make the right comparison. Actually, Paul Morgan and his research group came up with what I believe is a pretty good synthesis of research indicating that kids with disabilities are better off with than without special education, and that includes kids with EBD.
JWL: I’d like to dig into a couple of these ideas a little deeper. I’m glad you mentioned the late Gerald Patterson in talking about parents and families. His work with John Reid and others created an objective, empirically grounded way to address behavior problems in the home. Without going into details of their work (we can link to some of Patterson’s work in the sources), what might you recommend to parents of students with EBD? Now, I’m not searching for behavior management tips (though you should feel free to drop those), but more for broad guidance about, say, supporting the education of their children, collaborating with teachers?
JMK: Yeh, I think his monograph on mothers as unacknowledged victims and his book on coercive family process are great. However, his book with Forgatch on parents and adolescents living together is also really good. And, of course there’s the invaluable old book by Wes Becker called Parents are Teachers. There’s just a lot of good old books and other publications by that wonderful U of Oregon and Oregon Research Institute (or ORI) group.
JWL: Those are excellent recommendations, Jim. Patterson, who passed away in 2016, led the social learning group at ORI, to which you referred and that is now known as the Oregon Social Learning Center. Now, the way you talked about research interested me, too. “We face a lack of good outcomes?” I get your point that we need studies comparing special education vs. no special education, and your observation that we really shouldn’t, for ethical and legal reasons, conduct such studies. And, I don’t want to use language that’s too technical here, but I’m wondering what outcomes you consider important as ways of assessing benefits of special education. That is, what are the important dependent variables for assessing the benefits of special education for students with EBD?
JMK: I think there are quite a few, but among the ones I think are most important are educational achievement (which could be test scores or education level achieved, like high school graduation, years of college, and so on), employment and level of earning, not needing institutional care (e.g., avoidance of incarceration and hospitalization for mental disorders), independent living (e.g., not needing welfare or being dependent on programs of assistance), and social participation (like having friends and family).
JWL: Another thread in your work has been the topic of inclusion. Without taking us into the deep history of inclusion, I’d like you to explain your over-arching thoughts about the topic. Inclusion has different meanings to special educators in the US than it does in much of the rest of the word. What are those differences and do you see a reconciliation of them?
JMK: Inclusion is a very appealing idea, and I fear it’s become such a popular catch word and attractive notion that many people will misapply it. There are quite a few differences in what inclusion can mean, but to me the biggest one for education is the difference between its meaning as “where the body is” and “what instruction is happening.” So, the place versus the activity is the key conceptual difference.
Jeanmarie and I have written about how instruction, not place, is the key. Instruction has to be more important than and take precedence over place. Instruction comes first, place is secondary. And this has been recognized as a legal, conceptual, and moral issue. But it may lose out to place because place is so much easier to define and measure than instruction. Is the student there, in a regular neighborhood school and classroom? Very easy to answer, yes or no. Is the student receiving appropriate instruction? Very much more complicated and difficult to answer.
JWL: Inclusion may be the most well known of topics on which you’ve provided commentary, but you’ve also discussed other topics that are controversial. Earlier in your career there was educability, trickle-down policy, prevention of prevention (which you mentioned previously), and others. What’s your take on those ideas now?
JMK: What’s really troubling to me is that I not only see those issues-ideas-topics as important but also I haven’t changed my views on them substantially since I initially wrote about them. This troubles me for a couple of reasons. First, it could be that we haven’t made much progress in dealing with them. This could be because of our human frailty in dealing with complicated issues or because these problems are intractable or a combination of these reasons. Second, I may be truly stuck in my ways or rigid, uncompromising, old fashioned, and simply wrong in my thinking—a real curmudgeon. Then again, it could be my thinking was and is sound. Other people are and will be better judges of that than I.
JWL: Unless I miss my guess, I think you would number among your most substantial achievements the publication of Exceptional Learners co-authored with Dan Hallahan and, now, Paige Pullen. It’s been an incredibly influential book since the 1970s. But, here’s the question: How does that accomplishment compare with your other publications and, especially with having advised many doctoral students who have gone on to eminence?
JMK: Yes, that intro book is, I think, one of our most substantial achievements, and it’s just now (April, 2022) out in its 15th edition. But I would also mention that the book I now coauthor with Tim Landrum on characteristics of children and youth with emotional and behavioral problems is another substantial achievement, and it’s gone through 11 editions now. And the career success and professional prominence of many of our former doc students is wonderful to see.
JWL: know that as of this writing, [April, 2022], you’re working on a third edition of the Handbook of Special Education. To what else are you devoting your time? And, sure, tell us about walking the dogs, etc., but please include your current writing projects.
JMK: Jeanmarie and I are fond of our animals and deeply engaged in our professional work. Jeanmarie is not only coauthor and coeditor of many things with me but teaching in a variety of capacities—recently, online life-coaching young adults on the spectrum of autism disorders, teaching music to children and seniors (she has a long history of singing and flute-playing), tutoring children and adults, and outdoor education for young children (she’s also a life-long athlete and a personal trainer). Besides my reading and writing, days are filled with cooking and grocery shopping (I do almost all of both for us), walking dogs, and feeding dogs and cats (I’m not as fond as Jeanmarie of our chickens and horse). Besides that handbook you mentioned, Jeanmarie and I have edited a book (out later in 2022) on Covid-19 and the mental health of children and adolescents and I have edited another on revitalizing special education. And, of course, I’m involved in writing, almost always with coauthors, a variety of articles.
JWL: Jim, my bud, I have been so much surprised that you’re into keeping animals at your house, and I like what that implies about you and Jeanmarie’s lives together. And, I’m looking forward to learning more about the articles to which you referred and the book about mental health in the time of SARS-COV-2.
I especially want to share my appreciation for you taking time to discuss these questions. Thank you!
JMK: Thanks, JohnL. I’m happy to respond and grateful for the way you’ve handled this. Go in peace and health.
JWL: Thanks, Jim. Readers, please see the following sources for references or links to content Jim mentioned in his discussion as well as other sources showing his work.
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Sources and additional readings
Gloski, C. A., Woods, A. D., Wang, Y, & Morgan, P. L. (in press). How effective is special education? A best-evidence synthesis. In J. M. Kauffman (Ed), Revitalizing special education: Revolution, devolution, and evolution. Emerald.
Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (in press). Exceptional learners: An introduction to special education (15th ed.). Pearson.
Kauffman, J. M. (1999). How we prevent the prevention of emotional and behavioral disorders. Exceptional Children, 68, 448-468. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/001440299906500402
Kauffman, J. M. (Ed). (in press). Revitalizing special education: Revolution, devolution, and evolution. Emerald.
Kauffman, J, M., Anastasiou, D., Felder, M., Hornby, G., & Lopes, J. (in press). Recent debates in special and inclusive education. In R. Tierney, F. Rizvi, K. Ercikan, G. Smith, & R. Slee (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (4th ed). Elsevier.
Kauffman, J. M., & Badar, J. (2014). Instruction, not inclusion, should be the central issue in special education: An alternative view from the USA. Journal of International Special Needs Education, 17, 13-20. https://doi.org/10.9782/2159-4341-17.1.13
Kauffman, J. M., & Badar, J. (2016). It’s instruction over place—not the other way around! Phi Delta Kappan, 98(4), 55-59. http://doi.org/10.1177/0031721716681778.
Kauffman, J. M., & Badar, J. (2020). Definitions and other issues. In J. M. Kauffman (Ed.), On educational inclusion: Meanings, history, issues and international perspectives (pp. 1-24). Routledge.
Kauffman, J. M., & Badar, J. (Eds.). (in press). Navigating students’ mental health in the wake of COVID-19: Using public health crises to inform research and practice. Routledge.
Kauffman, J. M., Badar, J., Wiley, A. L., Anastasiou, D., & Koran, J. (in press). Uncertainty in education: Policy implications. Journal of Education.
Kauffman, J. M., Hallahan, D. P., & Pullen, P. C. (in press). Creeping normality: Special education’s problem of a new normal. Journal of Disability Policy Studies.
Kauffman, J. M., & Landrum, T. J. (2018). Characteristics of emotional and behavioral disorders of children and youth (11th ed.). Pearson. https://www.pearson.com/store/p/characteristics-of-emotional-and-behavioral-disorders-of-children-and-youth/P100001434505/9780134449906
Kauffman, J. M., Travers, J. C., & Badar, J. (2020). Why some students with severe disabilities are not placed in general education. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 45(1), 28-33. https://doi.org/10.1177/1540796919893053