Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Use of Selected Theatre Rehearsal Technique Activities with African-American Adolescents Labeled "Behavior Disordered." (Issues in the Education of African-American Youth in Special Education Settings)

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Use of Selected Theatre Rehearsal Technique Activities with African-American Adolescents Labeled "Behavior Disordered." (Issues in the Education of African-American Youth in Special Education Settings)

Article excerpt

* According to the U.S. Department of Education's (1990) 12th Annual Report to Congress, African-American male adolescents continue to be referred and placed proportionately more often in special education than any other ethnic or racial group of adolescents. Educational practitioners decide who is and who is not behavior disordered (BD) (Knoblock, 1983). They determine both the criteria for disordered behavior and the nature of educational intervention.

It is erroneous to assume that the BD categorical label makes a difference in how professionals select or design educational interventions. Because of teacher shortages, learners identified as BD are being taught increasingly by paraprofessionals, substitute teachers (many with little or no training in special education), and other uncertified personnel, rather than professionally trained and certified special education teachers (U.S. Department of Education, 1990). When African-American adolescents are labeled as behavior disordered or as seriously emotionally disturbed, they continue to experience significant school failure (U.S. Department of Education).

CONVERSATIONAL LANGUAGE AS DISORDERED BEHAVIOR

Teachers may react to and label disturbing or disordered "any" category of behaviors or acts (Ditton, 1979). Whether an African-American adolescent uses Black English or standard English is not the problem. BD class placement is an alternative educational treatment judged appropriate for students whose social conduct, including dialogue, does not comply with the constraints of the teacher's social context.

Teachers' cultural notions about how people should behave, as well as teachers' feelings about the conversational behavior of adolescents, have an effect on the educational treatment offered (Kauffman & Hallaban, 1981; Lyndall, 1977; Osser, 1983; Prucha, 1983; Rhodes & Paul, 1978). Thus, categorization of students as "behavior disordered" often depends on the "moods of those who perceive language differences as deficits" (Rothwell, 1982, p. 42) as well as students' responses to teachers' rules and regulations about communication (Cazden, 1983). Teachers' responses to the conversational language of African-American male adolescents have contributed to the overrepresentation of this student population in BD class placements (Anderson, 1989).

THE DRAMATURGICAL PERSPECTIVE

Skinner (1957) found that when a person controls his or her own behavior (verbal or otherwise), he or she controls the behavior of others. Goffman (1959) identified the structure and intent of theatre performance as a way of understanding how and why a person controls his or her language conduct in any social system. He offered a "dramaturgical" perspective in which conversational interactions depend not on power and influence, but on organization and control based on individual choice.

Goffman (1967) suggested that during the course of a conversation, people have a range of actions available to them; and the particular actions selected are a matter of free choice. Goffman's (1959, 1963, 1967) dramaturgical perspective does not ask students to act out feelings because "acting them out does not clarify them" (Greene, 1973, p. 285); rather, dramaturgy represents a symbiosis of feelings, thinking, and action, through the theatre rehearsal process.

In rehearsals, actors define the personal meanings underlying their observable behaviors. They facilitate meanings by paying attention to the meaning communicated (intent), the way the meaning was communicated (the performance), and how the communication efforts were received (consequences) (Cameron & Hoffman, 1969). I have found that some of the Theatre Rehearsal Technique (TRT) activities used to prepare actors for the stage can be used to help adolescents identified as behavior disordered be aware of their experiences with languages (Anderson, 1989). These improvisational activities show students ways to organize and control their conversational behavior. …

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