Special education and its limitations



Special education has become a kind of “second-rate education”, even for the downgraded capitalist criteria

For a child with special needs to be able to fully develop, he needs to receive generous stimuli and patient teaching, in a movement in continuous progression, from the first moments of life. Stimulation and teaching must be daily and contemplate their multiple interconnected aspects: physical, social, intellectual, aesthetic, moral, affective.

This requires constant interaction with various professional areas: special education, pedagogy, psychology, medicine, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy, physical education and any other work aimed at comprehensive training. In line with this purpose, the child's relatives also need to receive appropriate guidance.

Thus, if such factors are articulated well and are directed towards a process of permanent education, the child will be able to learn to read, appropriate the knowledge accumulated by humanity, build their intellectual autonomy and aspire to a more dignified existence in society than in bygone times.

It is worth remembering that, until a few years ago, people with special needs were condemned to a reclusive life, locked up in houses, hospitals or asylums, relegated to degrading conditions, with no chance of establishing creative links with the broader human community. Participation in regular schools brought these subjects greater chances of learning, which is an undeniable achievement in social terms.

But if the fight for such advances was historically important, we cannot uncritically romanticize them. After all, this is the capitalist school. In this sense, a brief reflection may help to clarify the problem posed here: is it enough for students with special needs to attend regular school, under the current conditions, to have a true integral formation?

Our answer to such questioning can only be negative, if we consider that the capitalist school – as well as all formal educational institutions in this society – is organized with a view to providing, above all, the children of the working class with preparation for the job market. work, something very different from an education that fully fulfills the multiple human potentialities.

Education, in the capitalist school, consists, to a large extent, of training aimed at developing “abstract” capacities, which enable the subject to become fast, practical, productive and actively adaptable – with greater or lesser knowledge – to the production process and reproduction of capital, seeking to meet the requirements placed therein (1) for the benefit of the ruling classes.

But there is an important distinction: the instruction mentioned above is provided to the “average” student, considered able to enter the job market at an appropriate age. The mass of students from the working class, conceived in these terms, receive a “medianized” education aimed at this end. Such teaching will develop practical-cognitive skills adaptable to any branches of economic production where individuals are able to enter, through a brutal competitive effort for jobs that are almost always fewer in relation to available workers.

In the case of special education, the education provided to its students will be even lower than that of others. Because, from the perspective of the ruling class (2), most of these people are unable to enter the job market – this concerns, in particular, those classified in the prejudiced and scientifically precarious category of “intellectual disability” (3).

Therefore, for these students, the amount of material and human resources will be clearly less than that destined for “average” students in regular education. This is easily verified, for example, in the fact that the number of special educators available in schools is, in general, insufficient in relation to the many students with special needs included there. (4).

Thus, with regard to special education, the undeniable product of the capitalist educational system is an education far more precarious than that provided to the rest of the working class. Under these inappropriate conditions, educational activity is carried out almost as a mere “practical formality”, with a view to satisfying current legal provisions and international agreements in which the country participates – despite the constant struggle of defenders of this field to change this situation and raise the quality of inclusion.

This picture, it should be noted, is not an accident, but a structural limitation of special education in the capitalist school. Such a condition imposes on its students the “fatality” of ending their formal schooling, with very few exceptions, with a fragmented, superficial and terribly meager education, in terms of scientific knowledge, in the various areas of knowledge – and, to top it off, this sad result it is played without mercy, unfortunately, on the backs of individual students, as if it were the sole and exclusive responsibility of their “disability” (5).

It should be noted: it does not depend on the will, capacity or individual performance of school workers to change the course of this process. It is the capitalist school, governed and structured by the capitalist State (6), in accordance with the needs of capital, which does not adapt – and will not adapt – to the specificities of subjects with special needs. On the contrary: it will do its best to adapt some of them to the capitalist labor market – in fact, it has already done so, sometimes, training them as a precarious workforce, or, in terms of common sense, “hand-to-hand”. cheap labor”.

Faced with this situation, it can be said, with great regret, that special education has become a kind of “second-rate education”, even for the downgraded capitalist criteria, because it does not even provide its students with the minimum expected of the school. in this society, that is, training for the labor market. Regrettably, it is because capital sees these subjects as incapable of generating profits that the investments directed towards their formation are very poorly distributed. (7).

This is the profound reason why special educators have, on a daily basis, limited working conditions and manage to do so little for their students, in terms of acquiring scientific knowledge and developing their multiple capacities. (8). As long as such obstacles are not overcome – a need that capitalist society needs to overcome – special education will not, in its practice, be up to a generous and rich concept of education.

The alternative to this depressing picture requires the self-organization of the working class, for the class struggle, in a revolutionary perspective (9), and the establishment, in this arduous process, of an education beyond capital (10).

*Demetrio Cherobini is a special education professor with a postdoctoral degree in sociology from Unicamp.



(1) That is, performing abstract work and producing value, surplus value and capital. Already in the first chapter ofThe ccapital, Marx demonstrates how this system needs to reduce the value of commodities through the development of the productive force of labor. The factors for this are: 1) science and technology applied to the work process; 2) science and technology incorporated into the organization and management of the work process; and 3) workforce qualification. See Marx, Capital: critique of political economy. Book I: the capital production process (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2013). This specific factor – the qualification of the workforce, which also includes the worker's general education, from professional training to the ideology and assumed values ​​- is carried out, among others, by the formal educational system, of which the school is one of the main elements. On the economic and political function of education in capitalism, see Mészáros, Marx's Theory of Alienation (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2006), especially the final chapter, entitled Alienation and the crisis of education. From the Hungarian philosopher it is also useful to consult The power of ideology (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2004), in order to understand how capitalist social relations engender the ideologies that feed back their economic-political activities.

(2) The currently accepted notion of “disability” is linked to a class point of view and a specific ideology. That is, the class point of view and the ideology of the ruling class. Ideas, notions, methods, concepts and theories, in class societies, are always marked by class points of view and corresponding ideologies. In our opinion, positivism – with its naturalizing, individualizing and mechanistic perspective on human psychic development – ​​is perhaps, among the capitalist ideological constructs, the one that most radically permeates the theoretical productions underlying special education practices. For a scathing critique of these themes, see Mészáros, Philosophy, ideology and social science: essays in denial and affirmation (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2008) and the aforementioned The power of ideology.

(3) This “category” needs to be, more than ever, critically problematized. After all, are they “intellectual disabled” in relation to whom and in what mode of production? Evidently, they are not “disabled in themselves”, but in relation to those who enter directly – albeit as an “industrial reserve army” – in the circuit of the process of production and reproduction of capital, where abstract work prevails as the predominant form of alienated work . As disconcerting as this may be, the possibility of participating in alienated work is, in capitalism, the great criterion for defining, in general terms, a human subject as “normal” or “disabled”. But we can think that, in another type of social and economic formation, in a society organized by the free association of producers, whose productive activity aimed at use – and not at the “valuation of value” – and at providing free time for the full humanization of their participants, the development of the productive forces would make possible a great simplification of the work process, making it possible for anyone to participate in it in some way, contributing “according to their capacity” and receiving “according to their need”. In such a context, no one would need to suffer the prejudiced designation of “disabled”. All would be seen only as social individuals, with unique personal characteristics and worthy participants in the organized human race based on free and associated work. For the themes of abstract labor, value enhancement, and the industrial reserve army, see Marx, The capital: critique of political economy. Book I. The themes of alienated work, the social individual and the human race can be studied in Marx, Economic-philosophical manuscripts (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2004) and in Mézáros, Marx's Theory of Alienation. On the free association of producers and the transition process to arrive at this type of social formation, it is important to consult Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2012) and Mészáros, Beyond capital: towards a theory of transition (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2002).

(4) This situation is at the root of the overload of special education teachers, who find it difficult to cope, within the time available, with the numerous tasks required at work, namely: establishing individualized plans adapted to the needs of students; prepare the weekly classes and the necessary materials for them; assist and guide family members, monitors, the school's student body/teachers on topics specific to school inclusion; carry out theoretical and practical training with other fellow teachers, so that they know how to work with the included students; carry out constant, intensified and individualized work with students with special needs; among others. The inevitable consequence of this overload is the downgrading of the quality of the work of these teachers and the education of their students.

(5) Despite what common sense, formatted by capitalist ideology, believes, a person with special needs can develop their capabilities, if the educational and therapeutic conditions offered to them are stimulating and conducive to this. The examples are relatively numerous, but we will highlight here only the case of Emygdio de Barros, a brilliant plastic artist who participated in the painting studio at the National Psychiatric Center, in Rio de Janeiro, directed by Nise da Silveira from the 1940s onwards. works, the life story and the way in which Emygdio de Barros was able to express his incredible artistic capacity, see Nise da Silveira's own book, the world of images (São Paulo: Editora Ática SA, 1992).

(6) Any self-respecting study, in order to understand the possibilities, limits and results of special school education, needs to take a long time to analyze the intimate relationship established between school, State and the practical needs of the capitalist system. In this sense, explains Mészáros, the current State is radically linked to capital, that is, it constitutes a component mediation of this system – therefore, only in terms of abstraction can these elements be separated. In such a socio-metabolic complex, it is capital that controls the state, and not the other way around. This means, among other things, that the State cannot be “disputed” and “controlled” by the working class, through an election that allows workers to occupy the highest bureaucratic, executive and/or legislative positions, in order to realize their interests in this way. deeper class. The State, as a visceral political structure of class society, “has always vigorously protected (…) with all the forces at its disposal the decision-making power of the ruling class” (Beyond the Leviathan, 2021, p. 65). The State's decisions, therefore, are ultimately suited to the demands of the ruling class and the imperative of maintaining the established socio-metabolic control mode. This is the reason why “public education policies” under capitalism adapt to what the ruling class wants and needs, to its practical political and economic needs. It should be noted that, in the view of the Hungarian philosopher, the element to be overcome, for an education that goes hand in hand with the process of realizing human emancipation, is not simply the capitalist State, but the State as such, the which demands, in turn, the overcoming of class society as such. See, on this subject, Mészáros, Beyond Leviathan: critique of the state (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2021).

(7) The common sense of bourgeois society, steeped in pragmatism, liberalism and positivism – philosophical world views structured from the capitalist point of view and ideology – believes in the “disability in itself”, acquired or innate, as something that affects a particular individual. But, in fact, there are no “disabled in itself” or “normal in itself”. As Marx showed, in his Theses on Feuerbach, the human essence is the set of social relations. Such a conception allows us to critically analyze the antithetical conceptual pair disability-normality that saturates most of the theoretical and practical lucubrations of special education. Now, to a large extent, the notion of “normality”, in capitalist society, is linked to the capacity and individual possibility of integration into the process of production of value, surplus value and capital. The subject who does not adapt to this rigid set of productive practices and social relations of production seriously runs the risk of being considered “disabled”. In this regard, it is interesting to observe the reflection made by István Mészáros on the theme of normality as a component element of bourgeois ideology. Says the Hungarian philosopher: “In our liberal-conservative culture, the socially established and dominant ideological system works in such a way as to present – ​​or distort – its own rules of selectivity, prejudice, discrimination and even systematic distortion as 'normality', 'objectivity' and 'scientific impartiality'” (Cf. Mészáros, The power of ideology, 2004, 57). In other words: the ideology of the dominant class – highlight: current in contemporary liberal-conservative culture –, which defines, on a day-to-day basis, who is the “disabled” destined to receive a differentiated treatment in school and in society – due, of course, to “its” shortcomings – presents its “rules of selectivity, prejudice and discrimination”, as impartial, objective and, above all, “normal”. That is, bourgeois society, in what is most essential – the capital-work relationship – affirms itself as “the normal”, and its ideology takes this “normality” – that is, the set of characteristics determined to human behavior to enter the capital-labor relationship – as the standard through which all singular individuals are evaluated and judged. Thus, bourgeois ideology and the set of practices and social relations that it represents assert themselves as the parameter of objectivity and normality. In this context, the institution of “normality” creates, in the same movement, its “other”, its complementary and antagonistic pair, the “non-normal” or, mainly, in the case of special education, the “disabled”. In other words: the notion of “disability”, adopted today to refer to and organize the practice of special education in schools, is a product of the ideological notion of “normality”, through which bourgeois society asserts itself. This conceptual construct, which is associated with complementary ideas of “objectivity”, “impartiality”, etc., is structured by capitalist class interests, forming an ideological complex that goes beyond the school institution and guides general social practices, aiming to fulfill certain material needs of the socio-metabolic system to which it is organically linked. As such, this ideology can be articulated in such a way as to integrate more or less elements of the current liberal-conservative cultural spectrum. But this ideology, which presents itself in specific forms, is not born in the heads of its cultivators and reproducers, the individuals of capitalist society. As an ideology, it can only be an ideal expression – mediated by economic, political and cultural institutions – of certain social practices that configure the material “normality” of the capital system. Now, the “normality” of capitalist social practices is outlined by the affirmation and reaffirmation of the relationship between capital and work. Individuals who are inserted or orbit around this relationship tend to be considered normal, or the “standard” by means of which one can symbolically “measure”, through a certain ideology – more or less scientific –, the “disabled” individual of this relationship. society – although, it should be noted, this “dichotomy” is not watertight: there are several normalities and deficiencies, intermediate elements between them and possible transit within this spectrum that we will call here the spectrum of normality-disability. One of the most important conclusions that we must draw from this is that, as the social practices of capitalist production and reproduction are historical – therefore transitory – the concepts of “normality” and “disability”, which make up bourgeois ideology, should not be considered absolute. , but related to this social and economic formation. More specifically: they concern the relationship between capital and labor, as well as all other social relations of production linked to it. genre e breed. For a good read on the intersectionality of these issues, see Angela Davis' important studies, especially, Women, race and class (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2016), Women, culture and politics (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2017) and Freedom is a constant struggle (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2018).

(8) For an understanding of the teaching that produces the development of higher psychological functions and the formation of scientific concepts – which capitalist school education denies to individuals with special needs – see, by Vygotsky, The social formation of mind (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1990, 2nd ed) and The construction of thought and language (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2001).

(9) According to the political theory elaborated by Marx and Engels, according to which the workers must self-organize as a dual power and permanently exercise the revolution until the suppression of capitalist property. See Marx and Engels on the theory of permanent revolution, Class struggles in Germany (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2010). From this publication, it is also useful to note the clever Prefácio written by Michael Löwy.

(10) That is, an education that, carried out hand in hand with the class struggle, enables self-organized workers to become aware of the contradictions of capital and the radical need to overcome it. See, on this subject, Mészáros, Education beyond the capital (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2008). We believe that, in this process, the revolutionary counternormalizing practices of the workers also need to develop, in their process of struggle against the capitalist order, an awareness that embraces a concept of counternormality capable of criticizing and overcoming the precarious notions of normality and deficiency inherent in the ideology bourgeois.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank