Advocating for Social Justice: The Context for Change in School Psychology

Article excerpt

Inequities and disparities abound in U.S. society. In the same job, a woman earns about 76 cents for every dollar earned by a man, a gain of about 4 cents over the past 10 years. In the private sector at the highest levels of occupational attainment (e.g., actuaries, attorneys, financial planners, physicians), African American men earn substantially less than do their White counterparts (Grodsky & Pager, 2001). Two adult heterosexuals can marry legally anywhere in the country, affording them over a thousand federal-level rights and benefits (Wolfson, 2004), but gay couples can marry or have civil unions recognized in only a limited number of states and same-sex couple rights in those states continue to be hotly contested. Across the country, minorities of color must contend with racial profiling, are more likely than Whites to be denied a mortgage, are less likely to have health insurance, and depending on the minority group are more likely to experience a host of serious illnesses including heart disease, strokes, cancer, and asthma (Smedley, Stith, & Nelson, 2003). In 2001 the report "Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity--A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001) recorded the existence of disparities for racial and ethnic group members in access to psychological services, quality of care and clinician responsiveness, and barriers to services. Day in and day out, inequities and disparities affect public health and the quality of life for all concerned.

For children and adolescents, there are other discouraging truths. Newspaper reports document a multitude of hate crimes because of a victim's gender, skin color, sexual orientation, or other social marker. African American males are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system at each stage within the system from offenses reported, to arrests, to confinement (U.S. Department of Justice, 1999). About 18% of all children and youth currently live in poverty and without health insurance (U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, 2007). The consequences of living in poverty span all major domains of functioning, increasing children's risk psychosocially (e.g., greater exposure to aggressive peers, smaller social networks, less cognitive stimulation and more television at home), physically (e.g., overcrowded and pest-infested homes, inadequate heating, limited green space), environmentally (e.g., elevated exposure to poor air quality, environmental toxins, noise pollution), and educationally (e.g., exposure to high teacher turnover, less parental involvement in schooling, access to fewer books and computers; Evans, 2004). The health consequences for children living in poverty are significant, with high rates of upper respiratory diseases, poor dental health, low birth weights, and high infant mortality, among other problems (Evans, 2004; Giscombe & Lobel, 2005).

In the schools, marginalized youngsters experience an array of inequities. Children with disabilities are more likely to experience social ostracism than are their nondisabled peers, and face an unemployment rate of 62% as adults (National Council on Disability, 2008). African American and Native American Indian children are disproportionately represented in special education referrals and placements. Students of color generally face more severe consequences in response to misbehaviors in the schools than are White children. Morrison and D'Incau (1997) found that when children of color committed minor infractions at school, they were judged more harshly and were more likely to be expelled from school than when White students committed the same infractions. The U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2000), reports that African American boys are about twice as likely to be suspended from school as are White boys. African Americans, Latinos, and boys experience elevated rates of grade retention (National Association of School Psychologists [NASP], 2003), and longitudinal research has shown that grade retention is the strongest predictor of dropping out of school (Gold-schmidt & Wang, 1999). …