In this article we offer a number of empirical examples to argue that educational practices designed to provide children labeled with disabilities with a free and appropriate public education can lead to an experience of “containment.” Drawing upon data from two science projects conducted with children labeled with disabilities in an elementary school in the United States we explore adults’ and children’s experiences of contesting containment in a special education classroom, alongside a concomitant desire to cultivate competence. Based on the work of Foucault (1977) we suggest that children with labels face a number of containment strategies including: exclusion and classification (categorizing and placing children in segregated classrooms with an alternative curriculum); individualization (Individual Education Plans); examination and assessment (measuring children’s attainment against predetermined goals and tests); and control (the regulation and self-regulation of children’s bodies and behaviors). Notwithstanding these disabling constraints, it is possible to move towards an approach informed by Disability Studies in Education (DSE), in which competence is cultivated through more inclusive strategies. These include positioning children as abled rather than labeled through taking a Universal Design approach to Learning (UDL); recognizing children’s multimodal communicative practices; constructing learning stories as a narrative form of pedagogical documentation and assessment; valorizing the ways in which children contest containment and control through their bodily actions and child-initiated narratives; and respecting children’s autonomy in the learning process.
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