Black Children & Special Education

During the last couple of decades, African-Americans made great strides in all facets of American life. From economic means and social mobility to gains on the educational front, we as African-Americans have made achievements worthy of praise. However, somewhere along the path of "Fight the Power" and "Do for Self" Black power rhetoric, the Black community lost sight and control of its richest asset; our children.

Clearly, there are battles to fight when it comes to drugs, gangs, and violence, but a much larger problem is attacking our children in the educational system. This attack is stealthier than the problems of funding, lack of educational materials and qualified teachers because the problem is a philosophy. And this philosophy renders our children useless even before the gangs and drugs get to them. This attack is comes in the form of "Special Education".

A shift in educational philosophies as far as how handle "problem children" began in the late eighties and early nineties. Rather than "beat their butt" (like what happened to us), children were diagnosed with ADD and other behavior problems. The solution most often is to place the child in special education classes.

Once in these "Special Education" classes, children develop an inferior complex and begin to believe they are not capable of learning complex ideas. Math is irrelevant, science too complicated and the goal is to read well enough to "get by". The education system reinforces this notion to children by not challenging them, thus placing them on the inevitable road of low self-esteem and low achievement.

Several years ago I spent some time tutoring children at the elementary school I attended as a child. I saw first hand special education students, capable of learning, shy away from challenging work because their teacher told them they were not capable of learning course work. Mind you, these are children who can memorize every word of DMX's CD, describe every item of Destiny's Child wardrobe and master complicated video games like "Tomb Raiders". With a little encouragement and force, most of these children were able to understand math and write at a higher level.

There are those children that are best served in Special Education programs, but too many of our children are in this system and it is time to raise the question as to why. The danger this trend represents is that special education programs do not challenge students. Instead, they educate under the assumption that the children are not emotionally or intellectually capable of learning on the same par as "normal" students. This leads to low self-esteem, low aspirations and subsequently lower grades. This in turns deprive children of reaching educational levels they may have been capable of attaining had the system concentrated on the "real" issues in the child's life.

Here is the fact: "Black children constitute 17% of all students, but comprise 41% of all special education placements, primarily educable mentally retarded and behavior disorders. Black boys disproportionately are 85% of the Blacks in special education".

What must take place to curb this classic form of institutionalized racism? First, we must fight to change testing used to measure a child's aptitude and educate parents so they can interject before a child is placed on a road of inequity. Second, a program should be developed to move children from special education programs if it is later seen that the child is capable of handling the work. Finally, we must challenge students to learn as much as possible, regardless of their educational status.

We are losing our children to drugs, gangs, crime, violence and prisons. An elementary classroom should be nowhere on this list.

Grant, P. (1992). Using special education to destroy Black boys. The Negro Educational Review, 63, 17-21


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