From her earliest years, Margaret (Maggie) Beneke experienced the impact an inclusive educational environment can make on young people.
Following in the footsteps of her mother, who taught in an inclusive early childhood program, Beneke went on to become an early childhood teacher in inclusive settings. Today, her research and pedagogy focuses on increasing access to inclusive, equitable education for all children and families.
Beneke earned her doctorate in special education from the University of Kansas and her master’s in child development from Tufts University, where she served as a head teacher and graduate student supervisor at its laboratory-demonstration school.
On Oct. 25, as part of the Haring Center’s DUBs talk series, Beneke will discuss children’s literature as a powerful way to spark critical conversations about race and ability and her research into how pre-service teachers’ own early educational experiences, university coursework and fieldwork may leave them feeling ill-prepared for critical conversations. Her talk, "Conversations That Matter: Supporting Novice Teachers to Talk about Ability and Race with Young Children," will begin at 2 p.m. in the Haring Center Auditorium, CD150.
In advance of her talk, Beneke recently answered questions about what drew her to education, her research agenda, two books that have influenced her and more.
What drew you to education?
So many of my experiences have fired my passion for equity, access and inclusion in education. Throughout my childhood, my mother taught in the first public, inclusive early childhood program in our small Midwestern town. Watching her partner with families to create classroom communities in which children engaged in meaningful learning animated my commitment to inclusive education.
As I entered the field, I became painfully aware of ways my own identities (e.g., able-bodied, White, middle class, English-speaking, cisgender) were often centered in educational spaces. With support from mentors, I began to intentionally reflect on my participation in perpetuating oppressive narratives, actively discuss issues of inequity with young children and families, and continually adjust my practice. These experiences pushed me to rethink notions of inclusion, and spurred my desire to work alongside educators in understanding how to redistribute learning opportunities for minoritized children and families in educational settings.
Please describe your research agenda.
My research focuses on increasing access for young children and families from historically marginalized backgrounds to inclusive, equitable education. My scholarship is premised on a view of inclusive education as a social movement in response to the exclusion of children viewed as different (e.g., children with disabilities, children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, children of color) in comparison to an (often) unspoken status quo (e.g., able-bodied, English-speaking, White). Through critical analysis of the local processes and consequences of identity construction (e.g., ability, race), I aim to highlight and support early childhood practitioners’ inclusive practices, as well as identify and transform deficit discourses surrounding young children’s identities and competencies.
What attracted you to UW's College of Education?
Um, everything! The UW’s College of Education and special education program both have outstanding national reputations. In my training and research, I frequently encountered the work of UW faculty, and have been struck by the innovative empirical approaches folks are using to connect research with practice in authentic educational settings. During my interview, students, faculty, and staff all shared a thoughtful commitment to partnering with local communities in efforts to transform inequitable educational systems. I am thrilled to be here.
What courses will you be teaching and what excites you about them?
This fall I am teaching EDCI 507: Methods for Teaching Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Exceptional Learners. In spring quarter, I will teach EDSPE 563: Collaborating with Families & Educational Teams. I look forward to teaching both courses as they are well-aligned with my interests, experiences and expertise. I very much look forward to getting to know and working with students at UW.
Tell us about an education-related book that has influenced you.
I will tell you about two. First, I recently read “I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes” (1996) by Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer and Steven B. Kaplan. In the narrative, Ruth recounts her experiences as a child with cerebral palsy growing up in institutions and isolated from her family. I was blown away by her story, which highlights the history of marginalization for folks with disabilities, the social construction of disability, and the power of relationships grounded in care and dignity. And second, I really recommend a biography I read long ago but still refer to: “Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self” (2002) by Rebecca Walker, daughter of writer Alice Walker and liberal lawyer Mel Leventhal. This memoir really helped me understand the fluid, situated and multidimensional nature of identity.
What's something that students and colleagues should know about you?
I am so eager to learn with you and to build knowledge together.
Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?
My son, Oscar. He’s 20 months old, a bundle of energy, and makes life wonderfully complicated, messy and joyful.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications