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 expulsions...no 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.”
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