The History of Special Education:
A Struggle for Equality in American Public Schools (2008)

Osgood examines the history of the school lives of children placed in formal or informal special education settings in American public schools during the last 120 years. As the public school system in the United States grew throughout the 20th century, special education became a recognized and dependable, but marginalized, arm of public schooling. Throughout the 1900s special education emerged as its own world in many ways, developing policies, practices, structures, and an identity that became more diverse and inclusive.

This work describes and interprets the nature and characteristics of special education. It examines carefully the human aspects of identification and placement; the nature of work and play in the classroom; the relationship among students, teachers, administrators, and parents involved in the process; the status and relation of children with disabilities to their non-disabled peers in various school settings; and the impact of school experiences on the lives of these children beyond school.

The History of Inclusion in the United States (2005)

As a significant term, inclusion came into use relatively recently in the long history of special education in the United States. Since the 1800s, when children with disabilities first were segregated for instruction in public schools, professionals and parents have called for more equitable, “normal” treatment of these students, and for closer contact with their nondisabled peers. Through the years, the central issues of the discussions between educators and parents have focused on who should be considered disabled and who should bear responsibility for planning and providing for their education. The History of Inclusion in the United States traces the antecedents of this ongoing debate to answer questions about what inclusion is, how it came to be, and where it might go.

In this comprehensive study, author Robert L. Osgood reveals how the idea of inclusion has evolved into broader realms of thought and practice. In its earliest manifestations, educators dwelled upon the classroom setting itself, wondering whether “disabled” children belonged there; if not, why not; and if so, how this could be accomplished? By the late 1960s, the scope of the discussion had shifted to assess the comprehensive structures of special education and its relationship with general education. The History of Inclusion seamlessly follows this progression into the present decade, in which current educational policy questions the need for any sort of separate “special education” in principle and structure.

For "Children Who Vary from the Normal Type"
Special Education in Boston 1838 - 1930 (2000)

In his perceptive study of the education of disabled children during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Robert Osgood focuses upon the Boston school system as both typical and a national leader among urban centers at that time. Osgood points out that a host of significant figures worked in education in the region, including Horace Mann, George Emerson, and John Philbrick, and also Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, Samuel Gridley Howe, Edouard Seguin, Hervey Wilbur, and Walter Fernald, each of the latter group noted for first founding and/or directing institutions for individuals with disabilities.

For “Children Who Vary from the Normal Type” describes the growth of Boston and its educational system during this period, then examines closely the emergence of individual programs that catered to students formally identified as having special needs: intermediate schools and ungraded classes; three separate programs for students with children; special classes for mentally retarded children; and other programs established between 1908 and 1913. Osgood describes these programs and their relations with each other, and also the rationales offered for their establishment and support. This detailed examination graphically depicts how patterns of integration and segregation in special education shifted over time in Boston, and provides a foundation for continuing the present-day discussion of the politics and realities of inclusion.


I’ve also provided a selected list of publications that reflect my research and teaching interests.

*Osgood, Robert L. “Beyond Laggards and Morons: The Complicated World of Special Education.” Response to Benjamin Kelsey Karl, “Of Laggards and Morons: Definitional Fluidity, Borderlinity, and the Theory of Progressive Special Education.” Education’s Histories 2017, 1-7.

*Osgood, Robert L. “Education in the Name of ‘Improvement’: The Influence of Eugenic Thought and Practice in Indiana Public Schools, 1900-1930.” Indiana Magazine of History 106 (September 2010): 272-299.

Osgood, Robert L. “’Laggards,’ ‘Morons,’ ‘Human Clinkers,’ and other ‘Peculiar’ Kids: Progressivism and Student Difference in Shaping Public Education in the United States.” Presidential Address, Ohio Valley Philosophy of Education Society, 2009. Philosophical Studies in Education 41 (2010): 1-10.

Osgood, Robert L. “Language, Labels, and Lingering (Re)Considerations: The Evolution and Function of Terminology in Special Education.” Philosophical Studies in Education 37 (2006): 135-145.

*Osgood, Robert L. “From ‘Public Liabilities’ to ‘Public Assets’: Special Education for Children with Mental Retardation in Indiana Public Schools, 1908-1931.”  Indiana Magazine of History 98 (September 2002): 203-225.

*Osgood, Robert L. “The Menace of the Feebleminded: George Bliss, Amos Butler, and the Indiana Committee on Mental Defectives.” Indiana Magazine of History 97 (December 2001): 252-277.

*Osgood, Robert L.  “Becoming a Special Educator: Specialized Professional Training for Teachers of Children with Disabilities in Boston, 1870-1930.” Teachers College Record 101 (fall 1999): 82-105.

*Osgood, Robert L. “Undermining the Common School Ideal: Intermediate Schools and Ungraded Classes in Boston, 1838-1900.” History of Education Quarterly 37 (winter 1997): 375-398.

*Osgood, Robert L. “Enhancing the Development of Teacher-Citizens in the United States through Liberal Education and Service Learning: A Case Study.” Citizenship Teaching and Learning, Vol. 2, No. 1, July 2006, pp. 31-39.