OPINION – The year was 1954, the United States Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision stating that racism had no place in education. Although more of an empty symbol than a true legal mandate, at the time, many of the states, both northern and southern, refused to listen, knowing full well that neither the legislative or executive branches of government had no real intent of telling White Americans that the time had come for them to allow Black children to sit next to their own. However, such a refusal began to expose the American homeland as a hypocrite that enjoys telling foreigners how to treat their citizens while neglecting their own back home in North America. Slowly but surely, White reaction began to settle after passage of the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHCA), which formally gave birth to the United States’ first federal special education law.
Although never documented in any educational law writings, special education was the panacea that gave calm to White school districts assuring them that they wouldn’t have to truly integrate their schools, but only give the appearance of doing so. When forced busing policies really began to heat up, especially in northern states, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, white schools were able to get away with “cosmetic integration” policies that forced Black children, who rode in on cheese buses, to remain together for the entire school day. To outside observers, the school appeared integrated, but inside the building, it was business as usual. When community leaders began to push back against the “cosmetic integration” practices of principals and superintendents, coincidentally, special education was born. Now these very same racist public school officials had the ability to legitimize their “Separate But Equal” schooling by slave-stamping the cheese-bus-riding-Blacks with “learning disability” and “mental retardation” labels. This new program, federal special education, the legal right to segregate learning disability students, allegedly, for their own educational benefit, was just the weapon to fix the race problem. For the past 37 years special education has been used to hold in check the promises of the1954 Brown decision.
Who has been the greatest victim of this modernized segregation policy disguised as special education? Clearly, Black boys have had to bear the greater portion of the burden for their communities forcing them to attend schools where they were not wanted. Had it not been for forced integration, special education may have never been created. Yes, children with true disabilities, like blindness & autism, would have had to receive the services they needed. Nonetheless, the use and abuse of the “Specific Learning Disability” classification, disproportionately applied to Black learners, wouldn’t be half the problem that it is today for Black parents. In fact, the “Emotional & Behavioral Disturbance” classification, created specifically to castigate Black boys who refused to accept White Rule, would have never been manufactured out of thin air. The most interesting fact of the so-called school desegregation process is that it only focused on the desegregation of student populations, it never address desegregation of the teaching ranks. That’s right, Black children today, as was the case in the ’60s & ’70s, are still almost exclusively taught by white educators.
Why didn’t the Supreme Court address the issue of desegregation within the teacher ranks? After all, isn’t it only fair that if we are to expect Black children to be taught by White teachers, that White children should have to be taught by Black ones? Or better yet, wouldn’t it be a benefit if Black children, attending racially hostile schools, can have the opportunity of being instructed by someone who looks like them – at least once in a while? The reason for the silent treatment surrounding teacher desegregation has to do with the White female control of the public school, and the quality of life opportunities that come with being an educator. Yes, despite the meager pay, there are some pretty good benefits to being a public school teacher: retirement, healthcare, summers off and year-round regular vacation days, are just a few. Add to that list that teachers, those who belong to unions, enjoy one of the greatest job security professions in the country – almost never being fired for failure to perform adequately on the job; not to mention that teachers have one of the highest fluid professions in the world – meaning finding a job after relocating to another city is usually not a problem at all, even amidst the current financial meltdown.
Not to lose sight of the purpose of this article, the point that I am making is that the teaching profession is heavily guarded by political gatekeepers to ensure that the color of American education forever stays White – not purely for educational reasons, but for financial and employment reasons as well. One of the failures of the Black push to integrate schools was failure to ensure that the same process applied to teachers and principals. The other failure was not forcing any oversight provisions, nor putting any checks & balances in place, to ensure that special education wouldn’t be used to override the Supreme Court promise of 1954, and the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. Special education has been, and continues to be, the iron fist of segregation cloaked in the velvet glove of a support system for disabled learners. One year before Congress approved “Special Re-Segregation,” during 1974, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) would begin work on the DSM-III. Ultimately published in 1980, at the start of the CIA’s Crack Cocaine war against the Black community – to dissipate revolutionary activity, the inclusion of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) into the DSM-III would justify the brain drugging of an entire generation of Black boys “for their own good,” with drugs as toxic as the ones used to send their fathers to prison, even while then President Ronald Reagan was busying carrying out former President Nixon’s so-called “War on Drugs.”
If you ask which weapon of mass destruction is worse, special education or ADHD, the answer would be to choose your own poison. It is no coincidence that these two “psycho-racial strategies” have their roots in the school desegregation efforts of the 1970s, and are at the top of the list in reference to what’s wrong with public school in this country. Yes, Black public schools did lack some of the material resources of the White public schools. However, on the other hand, White schools lacked then, and now, some of the immaterial resources of the Black schools – namely love, commitment, fair play, and confidence that our children can learn. When it’s all said and done, the Black community must ask itself, “Was school desegregation in the best interest of our children? Would it had been better if we continued to teach them ourselves?”
By Dr. Umar Johnson
Dr. Umar Johnson is a Doctor of Clinical Psychology and Certified School Psychologist who practices privately in Pennsylvania, and trains educators throughout the world. His highly anticipated 1st book, “Psycho-Academic Holocaust: The Special Education & ADHD Wars Against Black Boys” will be released in February 2013 and can be pre-ordered from his website, DrUmarJohnson.Com. A blood relative of Frederick Douglass, Dr. Johnson is one of the most requested African-American scholars and presenters in the world. He can be reached for Black History Month appearances and educational seminars at DrUmarJohnson@yahoo.com or (215) 989-9858. Dr. Johnson provides psycho-educational consultations to parents trying to help yet protect their children.
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