The Dragonfly Forest

They have been given names such as devil’s darning needle, ear sewer, horse stinger, skeeter hawk, and the snake’s servant. Actually, Dragonflies are beneficial, peaceful, and stunning. You are a Dragonfly if you are: ADD/ADHD, dyslexic, dysgraphic, Asperger’s, NLVD, autistic…

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. King's legacy regarding discrimination in education

I have re-posted this from 8/13/2013 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - a day to celebrate him (Jan 19, 2015)  
Parents often tell me that they just want their child to be given the same opportunities as all other children.  So the post today-- Words from Parents and Dragonflies Wednesday will take a slightly different turn in honor of the 50 anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech. 

Dr. King gave a powerful and significant speech regarding the importance of race equality.  He stated, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.   This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.” 

Racial equality has come a long way since these words were spoken 50 years ago.  Thanks to Dr. King I reaped the benefits of growing up in a very diverse community.  I am a proud alumni of the Columbus City schools in Columbus, Ohio where I formed bonds we friends of all different races, ethnic backgrounds, and religions.  Even attending college at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio I was fortunate to have racially diverse roommates.  I was also blessed with accepting parents who embraced all of my friends (and boyfriends) equally with no judgments regarding race, religious beliefs, or backgrounds.   I learned to see the beauty in a person for who they are, not for the color of their skin.  This is a code I live by and how I am raising my three wonderful multi-racial children (my husband is Asian).   I have been privileged to live this rich diverse life because Dr. King brought to the attention of the world how equality is not based on the color of a person’s skin.   

Because I live this diverse life, I am well aware that we still have a long way to go in regards to race relations.  My experiences in my life have allowed me the ability to see the world through a variety of different perspectives so I can see discrimination still exists.   I could continue, regarding ways I see racial discrimination today in 2013 but I’d like to bring to your focus another type of discrimination that is just as important.

This is disability discrimination, especially in our school systems.   Our educational systems are failing our students at an alarming rate.  Students are NOT receiving Free and Appropriate Educations (FAPE) based on how they learn.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy 19% of high school graduates can’t read.  Ummm these are the students who actually graduated think about the 20-38% who do NOT graduate (2013 national graduation rates of 80% of white to 62% of blacks).  Why are we failing to teach these kids how to read? 

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 attempted to improve reading through the Reading First provisions, to close the test scores between ethnic minorities and mainstream “white” students.  If you want evidence that this didn’t work just look at the statistics again in the last paragraph!  One reason students in the United States are not learning to read is because many students are still being taught via a “whole language” approach to reading.   Unfortunately, students with language based learning disabilities such as, dyslexia will not learn via a whole language approach.  Since one-in-five is a person with dyslexia, many students are not being taught appropriately.  The National Reading Panel (2000), recommends explicit, systematic, phonics, evidence-based reading programs for all students and these programs ARE conducive to students with dyslexia.  Some whole language supports have put the failure to read blame on; the challenges ethnic minorities face (race), students in low economic areas, and lack of motivation to learn.   So what is actually happening here is discrimination.   Often parents have to work very hard to advocate for their child to receive reading programs that are recommended by the National Reading Panel and are evidence based.  At times, school districts have flat out refused to provide these students with an appropriate education – that is discrimination.   Instead of blaming race and poverty on failure to read school districts (and the general population) needs to have a better understanding of dyslexia.  The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity Center created the Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative (MDAI) for just this reason – go here to check it out:Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative Yale

Furthermore, students who do not fit in with the “mainstream” environment are often discriminated against.  If a student needs extra support because they are on the autism spectrum a school district may exclude these students from some of the educational opportunities and activities offered to their non-disabled peers.  If a student is physically disabled, blind, or deaf, they too may be excluded from these events.  Instead of working to assure these students are included and made to feel valued some school districts have allowed these students to be left in the classroom during assemblies or they are not permitted to attend field trips.  This is discrimination.  Oh, the school district may try to say they are doing this for the child’s sake (safety, embarrassment, or even emotional distress…) but this is not in the best interest of the student.  Students need to feel they belong and are accepted.  Including the student and making appropriate accommodations teaches empathy to the other students as well.  It teaches the other students that we should include others and not judge them based on a learning difference or disability. 

Some students need extra support during the day by attending resource rooms, intervention centers, or individual tutoring.  It is discrimination when these students are excluded from the curriculum offered to all the mainstream students.  School districts will tell parents that their child cannot take a specific elective because the child’s schedule will not allow it to fit since the child has to receive academic support.  Parents often accept this excuse but it is really just discrimination.  The child is being excluded because they have a disability that requires extra learning support.  Some parents have been willing to bring their child in early or even stay after school so the child can receive the extra support they need and yet still attend the same elective classes like their peers, but most of the school districts refuse this option.  Teachers have a set schedule and many refuse to work longer hours (plus school districts don’t want to pay a person to provide this support before or after school either).  Now, do not think that I am anti-teacher because I am not.  I do understand their job stressors and know that it is very difficult to teach a large number of students on a daily basis.  I blame the system not the individual teacher! 

I am anti-discrimination!

So instead of pointing out other ways students, who are disabled or learn differently are discriminated against in school districts I’ll end on my own version of “I have a dream.”   

I have a dream that one day all students will be educated appropriately based on their own needs.

I have a dream that every child will be included and accepted by their peers. 
I have a dream that one day that all school districts will openly embrace parents who are advocating for their child instead of oppressing them.

I have a dream that students will be taught phonics so they will be able to know how to decode any word and not have to rely on sight memory alone.

I have a dream that that one day school districts will not blame race or income as the reason a student is not achieving and focus on ways to just help those students achieve.

I have a dream that my children and grandchildren will one day live in a nation where they are not judged by their grades or test scores but by their compassion and empathy.