Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Taking the blame for what you cannot control

At the end of an IEP* today (a conference call meeting in which the mother ended up never calling), I overheard our principal mention something about our school being investigated - by whom I did not hear - because 75% of our special education students are black.

This is a common theme in the ongoing hand-wringing over the "achievement gap"; the fact that black students tend to be disproportionately represented in special education classrooms and in special education programs. Since this statistic is true just about anywhere, I can only assume that my school was singled out because we had an especially skewed number of black students in the program.

I am continually amazed by how obtuse some people can be - in this case, the district/county/state officials who are up in arms over our special education statistics. There are all kinds of disparities out there, but whose fault is it?

One of the best known disparities is women in college sports. All kinds of men's athletics programs have been discontinued in colleges all over the country in the name of equity. According to the fascistic bean counters out there, if the percentage of women in a college's sports programs does not match the percentage of women enrolled in the school, then it is automatically assumed that there is discrimination against women going on in the school's athletic department. The fact that women and men are different, and the natural aggression and competitiveness of the average male is going to cause more male students to gravitate towards sports than female students, is too much for the clipped-haired, mean-faced feminists to bear. I borrowed that term from Michael Savage by the way; I can't claim it as my own.

I always find it interesting when a dearth of a certain demographic in a certain pursuit causes wailing and crying, but an overabundance does not cause any concern. The NBA is overwhelmingly dominated by black players, way out of proportion to their numbers in the general population. Is this too a sign of discrimination? Why aren't activists out there demanding that black players only make up 12% of the League's roster? Shouldn't diversity go both ways? You could make the reverse argument about the National Hockey League as well. Where is the push for more black players in the NHL? To find your answer, simply poll my black students with the following question: Would you rather play in the NBA or the NHL? I'm sure you know what the poll results will be.

Instead of getting indignant about the numbers of black students qualifying for special education services, how about addressing the problems that cause them to qualify in such overwhelming numbers to begin with? This black student whose IEP we held today is a prime example. He is 14 years old and physically looks like he is in the sixth grade; we can only speculate as to why. There is no father in the home, and according to the paperwork, the student is one of "several" children, and mom is currently pregnant with baby-number-whatever. Earlier this year, this student was suspended for urinating on the outside of a classroom because he couldn't find one of the many bathrooms located on our campus, and he has received at least two five-day suspensions for fighting. Are you telling me that this student should be denied special education services because we have already exceeded our black student quota?

The same thing happens to me in my classroom. Today for instance, I walked around the classroom with a trash can, instructing all my gum chewers to spit it out. Every one of my gum chewers was black. Does that mean I only targeted black students? Hell no! Before I went on my gum crusade, I non-chalantly examined every student in the classroom, looking for the tell-tale chewing. What am I supposed to do if only the black students are chewing gum? Let it go for fear of offending them? What does that say about my expectations of behavior if I relax my classroom rules for one specific group of students? Could it be that a disproportionate number of black students try to get away with more misbehavior because they know they have the race card in their holster, and are counting on the teachers to back down? I honestly don't know.

What I do know is that expecting human beings to fit into a nice, neat statistical category is way too much to ask. While we are all individuals, we do tend to follow certain cultural norms. Those cultures can be constructive or destructive. The question of the moment that we as educators and as citizens face is a difficult one. Do we show courage in the face of threats and ridicule and tell the practitioners of a destructive culture that what they are doing is wrong, or do we take the easy, non-confrontational way out by validating their culture; branding it as not wrong, just different?

Some of my more myopic readers have called me a racist for making such remarks, and have expressed their sadness that my children will grow up being raised by a racist such as myself. I ask these knee-jerk reactionaries to please explain to me how they are not the racists for believing that the current social practices of many black Americans are the best that we can expect?

Good Day to You, Sir

*For those of you not versed in edulingo, an IEP is an "Individualized Education Plan" which is a requirement for students who are enrolled in special education. An initial IEP, like the meeting we had today, is the meeting where we go over the results of all the different tests the school psychologist previously gave to the student, and the determination is made as to whether or not the student qualifies for special education services. Personally, I think the whole setup is a big muddy crock of crap.


Texas Truth said...

Oh My Gosh: Your post was, to quote Yogi Berra, "Deja vu all over again."

The same thing happens in our area. Just substitute "Hispanic" or "Mexican" for "Black."

When the parents do show up, they don't speak English and have no idea about what is going on. We supply a translator and they agree to everything. The nothing happens with the child. His/her grades don’t improve, behavior remains the same and no forward progress is made. Then they yell RACISM and everyone runs for cover.

In the end, the teacher is the one held accountable for these "youngsters” lack of progress.

I am sorry, but education is not for everyone. Please allow me to explain that statement.

People should receive a basic education. I think that is the responsibility of a society. However, if higher education is not desired, then so be it. Place them in a program where they can learn a trade that gives them a chance to support themselves.

“No Child left Behind” is a good idea in theory. The truth is that some of them do not care of they are left behind.

As for Special Education students, we need to take care of their needs. However the powers that be may want to look into why these students are labeled special education.

Sometimes the problems of the world are not served by labeling a child as “special ed.” Perhaps the labeling is part of the problem.

bluejay said...

I, too, attended an IEP today. This was for a 17 year-old girl in the 9th grade. She scores in the 1 percentile in both receptive and expressive vocabulary!!, yet she thinks she is on track to graduate (when? 2050?). She was left behind genetically at birth. What is the school supposed to do with her now?

Darren said...

You nailed it with your comment about exceeding your "black" quote in special ed.

Hahn at Home said...

I'm white. I adopted black kids. My daughter, born with extreme prematurity and resulting health and development issues, has been working under an IEP since Day 1. In kindergarten, I was told she'd be lucky to get a job washing tables at McDonalds when she grew up; no chance to run the french fry machine even.

Statistically, she's listed as BLACK, yet was raised in a white, upwardly mobile white household with decent income and parents who understand the education process.

WITHOUT those services provided by the IEP, this child, who through mere chance ended up with me...would have failed and been yet another statistic to add to your generalization.

WITHOUT her IEP, she wouldn't have been identified with even bigger problems, which were then corrected and have allowed her to succeed in ways unimagined just a few short years ago. She is not college track and may never pass the exit exam, but she will eventually be able to achieve some independence.

Would you throw this child away?

Chanman said...

I'm sorry - I can't tell if you are agreeing or disagreeing with me.

Of course I would not throw that child away. In my post, I made it clear that the tragedy would be to not provide special ed services to a black student just because we have "too many" black students receiving services already.

Hahn at Home said...

Do I need to disagree? Just voicing my point of view.

Anonymous said...

We are experiencing different things in our area. My son has an IEP-the teachers do not follow it. He has to initiate it-(a 14 year old has to raise his hand and say TEACHER TEACHER I need more time-my tics are bothering me) Are they crazy? The child is self-conscious enough about having an IEP-much less letting everyone know he's using it. And suppossedly I'm in a good school district? Last year his teacher refused to give him extra time-As she stated-He didn't know the material. (When was mindreading part of the curriculum for middle school teachers?) Administration did NOTHING!!!! I find the teachers get away with murder-administration does nothing about it when brought to their attention-I call both the administration and the teachers to the table-Aren't you suppossed to be educating our children? Want them to succeed? Help them to Succeed? Or, as in my district, just want to be right? cover your errors? fingerpoint that its the kids fault and not the SCHOOL DISTRICT. As parents, we are not stupid. We know what favoritism, retribution, and lack of communication indicates. It's a shame the school district does not give a damn-they are afraid of what would happen if they acknowledged their teacher did do something wrong-so blame it on the kid and his family. Who is working for the best interest of the children?????