Thursday, September 17, 2020

"Comply With Directives": Race and Special Education

As I read Rachel Aviv's 2018 article (Georgia’s Separate and Unequal Special-Education System: A statewide network of schools for disabled students has trapped black children in neglect and isolation) about special education being wielded as a racist, Jim Crow like cudgel against black boys, I'm reminded of a story of an acquaintance of mine. 

My friend is white, and was teaching in a school of privileged white children, maybe six years old. Still, she had been begging for help with one child who was biting and hitting others. She got no help. One day, after an already tough morning, complete with difficult interactions with a parent, she snapped, and tied the boy's hands together. She got fired. 

But, like the teacher in Aviv's article who ended up in prison, she had never received the support and guidance she'd been pleading for up until the incident.




Weird punishments, and physical violence, are not excusable. But neither is institutional negligence, leaving teachers to be alone in the responsibility for young people who need more. If the children need more help, so do the adults – maybe we can call that a general rule of education. 

This problem of not caring enough for (and paying enough) our teachers is compounded, exponentially, when put in face of America's institutional racism. From the article:

I just felt like these students, especially the black boys, were put there, basically, because they intimidated their teachers.” Melissa Williams-Brown

It became a way to filter out black boys, who at younger and younger ages are perceived to have behavioral disabilities,” Leslie Lipson, a lawyer at the Georgia Advocacy Office said.

According to Beth Ferri, a disability scholar at Syracuse University, IDEA provided a kind of loophole to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation in schools. Now racial segregation continued “under the guise of ‘disability,’ ” she said. 

Likewise, the origin of the public school system, as a tool to create good workers who will follow directions, and not read or think independently, is multiplied in this situation. From the article:

Latoya said that, when she walked into her son’s class, “I did not see one white child. All I saw was black boys.” Seth’s “target behavior,” according to the center’s intervention plan, was to “comply with adult directives.”

* * * *

When is being labeled as in need of special education a harm to the student? My brother was mislabled autistic (not even remotely close...) and it meant that none of the teachers bothered to teach him. For my son, on the other hand, I've had to fight for the dyslexic label, just so he gets any of the extra assistance he needs. Otherwise, the teachers were more than happy to let a child California lables “gifted” skim by in the lower third of the class.

I am white, and sound traditionally educated. How much harder is that question when you are black or brown, or don't talk the same way the teachers and administrators do? 

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