The Worship of Sports in America

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How The Middle-Class Got Screwed (Video)

A most simplistic explanation of how the economic problems of the middle-class has become an actual threat to their well-being.

Why I'm Not A Democrat...Or A Republican!

There is a whole lot not to like about either of the 2 major political parties.

Whatever Happened To Saturday Morning Cartoons?

Whatever happened to the Saturday morning cartoons we grew up with? A brief look into how they have become a thing of the past.

ADHD, ODD, And Other Assorted Bull****!

A look into the questionable way we as a nation over-diagnose behavioral "afflictions."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Special Education in Public School (Or "Who's Pimping Our Kids?") Pt. 2

Continued from Part 1 (

And make no mistake about it…money is at the root of why budget-conscious school officials and parents of many low-income special education students seem to sanction this system of handcuffing their children’s futures. However the parents of many special education students—those directly responsible for their material and psychological well-being—and indirectly responsible for the decisions of school boards—are the most responsible for prostituting children for money.
With poverty rates and limited means of income being realities in many urban and inner-city (as well as a few rural) areas, money in any form, from any quarter has a level of value that transcends its intrinsic economic worth. And with many fathers absent in these same areas, single mothers, the more responsible of among those being overwhelmed simply trying to maintain body and soul, are left to care for children. The problem arises when these and other socioeconomic factors converge to create both conditions and opportunities for exploiting these students, even among those single parents who responsible and well-intentioned.
Now while I’m no psychologist, I know that people, children especially tend to learn at different speeds along a spectrum ranging from retardation to gifted. And just as there are variations in learning concepts, there are variations in personality traits along a similar spectrum that range from rare to the all-too-common. But too many parents confuse the most uncommon of these attributes with a “learning disability.” And, for whatever reason(s), obliging medical specialists tend to too easily diagnose any number of individual behaviors as representing “mental impairment”…and by extension, “learning impaired.” In response to this growing definition of a “disability,” the Social Security Administration in the early 1990s expanded the list of qualifying mental impairments for children that merited (a corruption of the word my personal experiences with special education) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments from the Social Security Administration. For many irresponsible single parents, any deviation from “normal” (i.e., “common”) behavior was seen as a potential diagnosis of some mental and/or behavior affliction worthy of SSI payments…”free money.” In more than a few cases, a diagnosis of ADD, ADHD, or any number of behavioral “disorders” are nothing more than cases of irresponsible or lazy parenting (somewhat understandable given the high incidence of stable households, absent fathers, and actual time to parent considering the need to sometimes work multiple jobs). In many areas of the country, these monthly payments made in the name of children with true mental/learning impairments as well as those who simply needs their hides tanned are euphemistically (sometimes pejoratively) called “crazy checks.
The entire motive of money helped me to understand the counterproductive policies I saw (and continue to see) in place, and the incentive that many parents have for maintaining a defense of this status quo. It helps me understand why there is no consistent attendance policy for special education students, many of them so disruptive and unruly that the teacher’s themselves don’t so much as bat an eyelash at their noticeable classroom absences; just so long as their “attendance” continues to garner state and federal funding. And on a related note, it helped me to understand why parents of disruptive students are so eager to come to their “special” child’s defense whenever a suspension or expulsion a possibility; in order to continue to receive “crazy checks,” a requirement of school attendance is mandated in many cases for these children. I experienced teenage felons—some with serious charges that included sexual assault, home invasion, and drug charges—being forced on teachers simply because their parents raised enough hell behind a principal’s closed door. I now understand why many teachers receive such a bad rap “for not educating our youth,” when many of our youth are simply not teachable in any traditional setting given the many distractions and systemic dysfunctions of their home environments. I understood how and why many parents of special education students have once-a-month (in the form of “crazy checks”) incentives to not make serious attempts to redress their children’s “disabilities.” Around the 3rd of every month, the day when SSI payments are received, I (and I’ll wager many of the teachers) got a respite from the stress many of these students caused us due to their skipping class to go to the store with their mothers to purchase new clothes, shoes, and other un-necessities. It was and continues to be striking to me that SSI payments are rarely, if ever used to pay for additional courses which would go a long ways toward addressing “learning impairment” in these children. It seems to me that the money would be better used in the form of a voucher for private and/or supplemental tutoring for these “learning disabled” children…Heaven knows the Ritalin isn’t enough. To many parents, these “special” children are financial mother lodes. I have seen in a few cases where all the siblings in entire families (including first cousins) are diagnosed to the point where the family is granted SSI for every child. Again, while I’m no clinical psychologist, I’m sure that families where every sibling is diagnosed as having impaired behavior issues speaks more to family and social dysfunction than to an organic cause.
My personal prescriptions for addressing this issue—which I’m sure most are not going to like—of those who would pimp our kids for the money their “special” status affords them is to simply take the “pimps” out of the equations. Disciple should be meted out according to a uniform set of state-mandated guidelines (or federal if states should be found lacking). In-class/in-school offenses that warrant arrest should result in automatic exceptions. Teachers have a hard enough time working under normal conditions. We don’t need to burden them additionally with jungle warfare-level worries about being attacked by students who know good and well that they can’t be struck back, or who know that they will be simply slapped on the wrist and sent back to the scene of their crimes. Personally, I would go so far as to create a database for those same students, so that they will not be able to just leave one district and go cause trouble in another. Other lesser offenses would be treated the same, not on a basis of how overbearing a parent can be. The responsibility for discipline needs to be taken out of the haves of administrators who are blinded by dollar signs
On a more direct front, parents need to be held not only accountable, but legally responsible for their children’s behavior. If they are willing to accept any benefits from their children’s diagnoses, then they should be also just as willing to accept any liabilities stemming from the same. Physiological capacity and freedom should not be the sole requirements to bear children; we allow individuals to enter the military at 18, become licensed drivers, get married, and drop out of school at 16 (in most states), but allow anyone at any age to have a child. Something about that doesn’t set right. And for many of the children borne to young and/or inexperienced and dysfunctional parents, you are reading the possible end result. We require pre-marriage counseling in many states, so why not the same for potential parents? Why not mandate parenting classes for those who would bring children to the world with little worldly experience themselves? The litmus test could be a combination of income, education (at least a complete high school education), and ability to provide materially and psychological welfare. Children whose parents do not undergo the prescribed counseling and classes risk having their children become wards of the state until they complete the requirements. Although I am a firm believer in individual liberty, it cannot be total and without restraint. If nothing else, the state of special education proves this.
Finally, the government should stay out of the business of interfering with child-rearing as it relates to punishment. Despite what New Age psychologists and sociologists say about them, there is nothing wrong with spanking. Children have rights, but they also have their place, and thinking that they are the equal of adults or questioning our judgment is not among them. Parents need to be afforded the right to discipline their children as they see fit, without abusing them. And before we start asking “Who says/What constitutes abuse,” maybe we should look to those sharp and witty social critics, Mathew Parker and Trey Stone.

Further Suggested Reading Related To Special Education

"Getting the Elephant Out of the Living Room: Finding Ways to Reduce the
Disproportionate Placement of Minority Students into Special Education"
Presentation at the OSEP Project Directors’ Conference 2006
Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. (2006).
Pedro Noguera, New York University

"Keeping Black Boys Out of Special Education"
J. Kunjufu. (2005). African Images, Chicago, Illinois.
Reviewed by the African American Literature Book Club, Harlem, New York.

“This critical analysis looks at the disproportionate number of African American males in special education. Arguing that the problem is race and gender driven, questions covered include: (a) why does Europe send more females to special education?; (b) why does America lead the world in giving children Ritalin?; (c) is there a relationship between sugar, Ritalin, and cocaine?; and (d) is there a relationship between special education and prison? More than 100 strategies to help teachers and parents keep Black boys in the regular classroom are described, such as revising teacher expectations, increasing parental involvement, changing teaching styles from a left-brain abstract approach to a right brain hands-on approach, redoing the curriculum, understanding the impact of mass media, and fostering healthy eating habits.”
For purchase – Barnes & Noble:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Special Education in Public School (Or "Who's Pimping Our Kids?") Pt. 1

About week ago, I found myself up late one night for no other reason than somehow my body’s timing was off (having taken an unplanned nap earlier that day, my usual sleep pattern was thrown out of kilter). Looking for something to nudge me back into my normal sleep pattern, I started flipping through the television channels only to locate a guilty pleasure of mine…South Park.
For those who know of the often controversial animated series, it uses bawdy, sometimes gutter humor to make social commentary about the often idiotic tendencies and beliefs we harbor as a society by skewering our most heartfelt beliefs via parody. On the night I was watching, Park was in rare form. Creators Matthew Parker and Trey Stone used their highly popular and successful vehicle to poke fun at an issue that is somewhat close to me…our predilection as a society to label any disruptive behavior found in our children with some alphabet-soup-laden title. In this particular episode, they focused on the absurdity of over diagnosing of children—at least in many kids—with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

That episode of South Park sparked recollections of my personal experiences in the public education system over the years. During 2007 school year, I found myself in a long-term substitute teaching position student at an alternative public school for students who fell under the auspices of those needing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), more commonly known as “Special Education” students. Working with predominantly black and/or low-income student, to say that this particular experience was eye-opening would be something of a criminal understatement.
First, I have to say that most teachers work under conditions that would rival the military in terms of stress, the pressures to meet deadlines and create tangible results, and scrutiny from those who have no clue what such a vocation entails. And on this latter point, I would wager any amount of money that those who criticize teachers—especially those working in city/urban-type settings—would be pulling out their hairs if they were expected to work under such trying conditions. Further still, if they work with Special Education students, they should not only be knighted, but given sainthood, and have a special place in Heaven reserved for their eventual arrival; they are literally expected to turn water into wine…without the enjoyment. That having been said, and after my own experiences in the public school system, I reserve my own criticisms for others involved in the “education” of special needs students…students, their parents, and administrators/decision-makers.
Back in the day when I was an elementary school student in the public schools, those we called “Special Ed” students were those with obvious deficiencies…those who utilized special equipment to assist them in their regular day-to-day struggles such as wheelchairs, leg braces, electronic hearing aids, or in extreme cases, human assistants. In other cases, the special education students were those who had afflictions that we didn’t understand back then, but whose episodes would disrupt the learning process of the regular classrooms, such as Turret’s Syndrome or Epilepsy. They were all placed in a classroom at the far end of the school building. They rode the “special bus.” Granted, in retrospect this segregation (as it were) created a level of social stigma among the regular students, it was hard to ignore the kid who wore the football helmet all the time, even in the off season. But in 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act mandated "free and appropriate public education" to all public school students with physical, mental, or behavioral disabilities. That wasn’t the problem.
The difference between then and now was the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which expanded the ‘75 act to include all children with disabilities—regardless of the type or severity of their disability—an education in the least restrictive environment. This essentially meant integrating “special needs” students with the general classroom (i.e., non-disabled students), with a minimal level of separation for special tutoring, instruction, or etc.
At issue is the expanding definition of what constitutes a “disability.” For example, there have been more than a few studies critical of the over diagnosis and the resulting over-prescribing of Ritalin for an increasing number of American children( For those significant number of cases where the diagnoses may not apply, it is suspected—and I’m very much inclined to believe—that these instances are nothing more than cases where parents don’t put their feet down insofar as punishment and direct parenting. In these cases, Ritalin should not be the first “remedy” of choice; I’ve always been partial to a more “natural” approach…a strong male father (or mother absent of the father) figure with the will and the legal sanction to use a hickory switch. While I’m far from the first person to believe that medical doctors, child psychologists, and other like professionals over diagnose and “discover” too many purported childhood behavior-related “disorders,” I am one of the few fortunate (or “unfortunate) enough to have experienced how such questionable medical practices adversely affects public education.
From my own experiences, integration creates a ready-made circus-like atmosphere in many classrooms, complete with “special” class clowns. The resulting dynamic is predictable; the focus of the teacher is shifted from instruction to maintaining classroom order and the attention of the already easily distracted class is commanded by disruptive “special education” students. And because of their special status, the disruptive students tend to be given a “pass” or light sanctions when their behavior warrants more. It doesn’t help that most parents are standing at the ready with a potential lawsuit cocked and loaded in the event that their “special” children are treated “differently than the other students.” And because of the increased levels of funding that special education students and programs which cater to them command from the states, it seems that there is a greater effort to keep them a part of the total student population, which further reinforces the kid-gloved treatment that they are given when it comes to their in-school behavior. The result is that learning suffers, grades and test scores suffer, and discipline suffers.
I can’t remember how many times I have seen the parents and guardians of disruptive students get phone calls from stressed-out and frustrated teachers about their child’s oftentimes reprehensible behavior, only to have those same parents return the teachers’ concerns with a chewing out, a justification, or an outright defense of their child’s behavior from these same parents. And of course, there is usually very little backing for the instructor’s recommendations from principalss and other administrators. The necessity of disciplining the unruly and/or instituting progressive actions meant to create a classroom atmosphere conducive to learning is irrelevant compared to the fear of giving upset parents any reason for either pulling these funding cash cows out of the school district—as if that were even likely in most low-income urban areas—or bringing legal actions against already cash-strapped school districts, no matter how frivolous, how much at fault lax parenting, or how undisciplined children contribute to this pathological dynamic of learning…such as it.

To Be Concluded...