Multicultural Education Training for Special Educators Working with African-American Youth

Article excerpt

* As we prepare to enter the 21st century, African-American youth continue to remain in a crisis situation within the public school system. They are still subjected to differential patterns of treatment (Banks, 1989; Ogbu, 1978; Payne, 1984; Smith, 1988). Recent data continue to reveal their overenrollment in classes for students with mental retardation and serious emotional disturbance and disproportionate underrepresentation in gifted/talented classes (Chinn & Selma, 1987). This phenomenon exists despite the enactment of federal legislation designed to eliminate inappropriate placement of these students within special classes and efforts by professionals advocating adequate identification of African-American gifted learners. A large percentage of these students will exit school without receiving a diploma or certificate (National Education Association, 1990). And, research indicates that these African-American youth, in particular, are at a great risk for adolescent pregnancy, problems related to drugs, involvement in the juvenile justice system, and unemployment or underemployment (Jones, 1989). We must identify and systematically adopt school practices that provide African-American youth (with and without disabilities) with access to quality educational opportunities and experiences within the total school enterprise (Gay, 1989).

Barriers to the provision of quality educational services include ethnocentric attitudes of racial superiority; low expectations and negative attitudes toward African-American students with disabilities and their families and communities; testing, misclassification, and tracking; monocultural textbooks and cumcula; narrow and limited instructional techniques; differential disciplinary and reward systems; and deficit-model (genetic or cultural factors) definitions of African-American youth's academic and socioemotional behavior (Baker, 1983; Banks, 1989; Gay, 1989; Ogbu, 1978).

Furthermore, researchers have indicated (Keisler & Stem, 1977; Payne, 1984; Ogbu, 1978; Smith, 1988) that teachers hold lower expectations for African-American students. For example, the Smith study revealed that African-American males (both upper middle class and lower class) receive lower ratings on measures of teacher expectation than do white students in general. Teachers exhibit such lowered expectations, both overtly and covertly, by being less interested in these students, being more critical of them, praising them less often, providing less and nonspecific feedback, and demonstrating less acceptance of and patience toward them.

These kinds of behavior are as great or greater within special education programs. Until recently, special educators planned classroom instruction and developed curficula with very little consideration of the influence of sociocultural factors or the experiential backgrounds of African-American learners. Instead, the student's disability label largely determined the choices of curriculum, instructional, and management strategies (Goldstein, Arkell, Ashcroft, Hurley, & Lilly, 1975). Many special educators have not given a high priority to the positive recognition of individual differences relating to cultural backgrounds and attitudes, worldviews, values and beliefs, interests, culturally conditioned learning styles, personality, verbal and nonverbal language patterns, and behavioral and response mechanisms (Baker, 1983; Bennett, 1988).

The literature states that without specific training, special education teachers are not prepared to create and maintain complementary learning environments to meet the needs of African-American students with disabilities (Almanza & Mosley, 1980; Fox, Kuhlman, & Sales, 1988; Gay, 1989; Smith, 1988). For current special education classroom teachers, inservice programs on how to provide educational services from a multicultural educational perspective are essential in reducing or eliminating barriers to quality educational opportunities for African American youth (Almanza & Mosley; Fox et al. …

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