Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Empowering African American Exceptional Learners: Vision for the New Millennium

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Empowering African American Exceptional Learners: Vision for the New Millennium

Article excerpt

Schools are faced with perpetual issues of who should be served and how and where they should be served. Clearly, traditional approaches to resolving these issues may be somewhat sophisticated but may yet lack the wisdom or the knowledge of a changing society. For instance, the issue of how best to empower African American exceptional learners has become endemic since most teachers still struggle with the infusion of multicultural education in their classroom practices. It is important that general and special educators diversify instructions so that all children can be reached. The reasons are simple: Race still matters (West, 1993); and the world is constantly changing and becoming more and more diverse (Rotatori & Obi, 1999). Different people from different cultural backgrounds, especially African Americans, are sending their children to school in order to become productive citizens. The demographics of today's schools and understanding about disability are shifting at a rapid pace and educational approaches must strive to catch up with this growth.

It is increasingly apparent that general and special educators must continue to learn about themselves and their own cultures to build bridges of cultural valuing, racial understanding, and human interaction (Banks, 1999; Obiakor, 1994, 1999). Most practitioners encounter students from African American background, and these students' characteristics differ from their conception of what is "usual" or generally expected. For example, African American students may be unable to read the material that the teacher is accustomed to using, or students may speak a language or dialect foreign to him/her and sometimes use language when he/ she feels that they should use Standard English. Teaching students who are not succeeding academically and those whose cultural backgrounds differ from that of the teacher requires changing instructional patterns and classroom procedures to facilitate academic success (Ford, Obiaker, & Patton, 1995; Grant & Sleeter, 1998). A recurring question about African American students is whether they are disproportionately represented or identified as exceptional learners because traditional Euro centric curriculum or strategies do not work in their favor. This question is sometimes trivialized even though overrepresentation in special education programs and underrepresentation is gifted programs have been found to be the result of reprehensible practices that reflect bias or discrimination in general and special education (Artiles & Trent, 1994). As a consequence, these practices must be corrected to address the issue of equity in school programs now and in the future.

Many scholars and educators (e.g., Grossman, 1998; Obiaker, 1994, 1999; Obaikor, Schwenn, & Rotatori, 1999; Obiaker & Utley, 1997) have argued that African American learners have been frequently misidentified, misassessed, miscategorized, misplaced, and misinstructed by poorly prepared teachers who are rigid, and insensitive to the many differences that they bring to school programs. These practices place these students in at-risk positions and perpetuate already magnified stereotypes. To this effect, general and special educators must consistently rethink their practices, revamp their strategies, and shift their paradigms as they provide services for these learners. These challenges are greater today because of changes in family configurations. Many students do not come from the traditional two-parent family. Some even come from homes, foster homes, streets, or homeless shelters. Obviously, as the nation changes, so do the students, and so must schools in order to meet the needs of a widely varied student population. For example, poverty is more visible in schools today than ever before. The question then is, Could poverty be associated with "poor" intelligence, "poor" self-concept, and "poor" ability to succeed in school? Ironically, this question has racial, cultural, and socioeconomic implications on the education of African American exceptional learners. …

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