African-American Males Who Stutter: Fighting out Words, Holding Back Tears

By Ellis, Antonio L. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, December 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

African-American Males Who Stutter: Fighting out Words, Holding Back Tears


Ellis, Antonio L., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


In the book that he authored in 2009, Bryan Pitts said, "In a new environment without the comfort of people who knew me well, I slipped back into my pattern of silence to avoid the shame of stammering and stuttering." I believe that quote represents the intrinsic realities and feelings of the mass majority of African-American males who stutter.

Multicultural Education textbooks frequently center on issues of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and/or cultural diversity. Rarely, if ever, do readers of these texts have the opportunity to read research conducted on students who suffer from speech and language impairments (SLI). According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, roughly 3 million Americans stutter. The underrepresentation of SLI research in multicultural texts is evident. The highly referenced volume, Handbook for Research on Multicultural Education by James A. Banks and Cherry A. Banks, dedicates no pages to SLI issues, and other high-impact literature that inadequately covers SLI student issues is abundant.

The Department of Education and Regulations defined speech or language impairment as a "communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or voice impairment, that adversely affects a child's educational performance:" That definition blames the speech or language impairment disability for the "adverse effects" in the student's ability to maximize his/her achievement. Therefore, it suggests that students who are speech or language impaired are automatically adversely affected simply by the fact that they have this disability. In other words, they have lost the game before they begin to play.

I argue that being speech or language impaired alone does not cause adverse effects on a child's educational performance. I contend that the educational environment, social spaces and institutional intolerance contribute to the students' low self-esteem, self-worth and expectation, and therefore, adversely affecting the students' ability to achieve on the level of their peers who are not speech or language impaired. Researchers suggest that children who find school uninviting are more likely to become academically disengaged. To that extent, other studies contend that academic disengagement has a direct impact on dropout rates, delinquency and poor adult outcomes.

Much of the existing research on speech or language impairments, particularly stuttering, does not focus directly on the African-American male population within the discourse. Given that the limited research on speech or language impairments mostly highlights and promotes therapy and breathing techniques, which are vital for African-American males in particular, our lack of knowledge about the personal experiences of this population is particularly troubling. …

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