Mad at School

Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life
Margaret Price
Foreword by Tobin Siebers
Explores the contested boundaries between disability, illness, and mental illness in higher education


  • Winner of the Conference on College Composition and Communication's Outstanding Book Award, 2013

Mad at School explores the contested boundaries between disability, illness, and mental illness in the setting of U.S. higher education. Much of the research and teaching within disability studies assumes a disabled body but a rational and energetic (an "agile") mind. In Mad at School , scholar and disabilities activist Margaret Price asks: How might our education practices change if we understood disability to incorporate the disabled mind?

Mental disability (more often called "mental illness") is a topic of fast-growing interest in all spheres of American culture, including popular, governmental, aesthetic, and academic. Mad at School is a close study of the ways that mental disabilities impact academic culture. Investigating spaces including classrooms, faculty meeting rooms, and job searches, Price challenges her readers to reconsider long-held values of academic life, including productivity, participation, security, and independence. Ultimately, she argues that academic discourse both produces and is produced by a tacitly privileged "able mind," and that U.S. higher education would benefit from practices that create a more accessible academic world.

Mad at School is the first book to use a disability-studies perspective to focus on the ways that mental disabilities impact academic culture at institutions of higher education. Individual chapters examine the language used to denote mental disability; the role of "participation" and "presence" in student learning; the role of "collegiality" in faculty work; the controversy over "security" and free speech that has arisen in the wake of recent school shootings; and the marginalized status of independent scholars with mental disabilities.

"A very important study that will appeal to a disability studies audience as well as scholars in social movements, social justice, critical pedagogy, literacy education, professional development for disability and learning specialists in access centers and student counseling centers, as well as the broader domains of sociology and education."
—Melanie Panitch, Ryerson University

"Ableism is alive and well in higher education. We do not know how to abandon the myth of the 'pure (ivory) tower that props up and is propped up by ableist ideology.' . . . Mad at School is thoroughly researched and pathbreaking. . . . The author's presentation of her own experience with mental illness is woven throughout the text with candor and eloquence."
—Linda Ware, State University of New York at Geneseo

Margaret Price is Associate Professor of English at Spelman College.

Praise / Awards

  • "The book is a must-read, with appeal for both general academic and disability studies audiences, and is designed to have maximum impact within university culture. The readability of Price's prose makes hers an important book to put in the hands of university administrators and teachers of all stripes."
    —Stephanie Kerschbaum, Disability Studies Quarterly

  • "Margaret Price's brave, controversial argument about educational inclusiveness needs to be discussed by anyone who teaches, is concerned about educational processes and academic culture, wants to understand some of their unintended consequences, or thinks about constructions of mental illness or cognitive disability."
    —Carol Schilling, NYU School of Medicine's Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database

  • "This is the book about mental health and higher education."
    --Katie Rose Guest Pryal, Vitae, by the Chronicle for Higher Education
  • "Price's book was simultaneously humbling for me to read and empowering. Although I felt challenged by her analysis of classrooms that do not accommodate, recognize, or configure themselves to work for and with students with mental disabilities, she also provides sections of the book that guide a motivated reader to consider alternate classroom practices and arrangements."
    —Corrine C. Bertram, H-Net Disability

  • "Price's audience is not bound to disability scholars alone. Anyone interested in understanding their students and improving the working lives of their colleagues can learn from her research."
    —Christina Fisanick, Composition Forum

  • "A groundbreaking and deeply compelling study of the fraught intersection between mental disability and higher education in the United States, Mad at School poses a radical challenge to some of the most deeply rooted assumptions about the academy and those welcomed within its walls. Price's perspective is drawn from disability studies and rhetoric/composition, and she is clearly writing for these audiences. However, Mad at School welcomes all disciplinary comers to its pages: field-specific terminology is carefully defined and disciplinary concerns are contextualized and explained. Price's beautiful prose draws the reader through the book; it is rare indeed to encounter an academic book as elegantly written as it is theoretically rich... Mad at School should interest anyone who cares about the future of higher education... 'I wrote this book,' Price memorably writes at the end of the introduction, "because I could not go on any longer without writing it" (24). Academics committed to access and equality in higher education should not go any longer without listening to what Mad at School has to say."
  • Winner: Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) 2013 Outstanding Book Award

Look Inside

Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Classroom Resources

Discussion Questions and Exercises (PDF)

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Margaret Price interviewed in The Chronicle of Higher Education Link | 12/18/2017

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 294pp.
  • 10 B&W illustrations; 1 table.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07138-8

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  • $80.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05138-0

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  • $30.95 U.S.

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  • mental illness, mental disability, kairotic space, disability pedagogy, classroom access, critical discourse analysis, disability studies methodology, rhetorics of disability / disability rhetoric, school shootings, access in education