Reflection on IDEA, our nation’s special education law

by Wanda Sabir

Have you heard of the IEP?[i] Well, it’s shorthand for special education. It is a program that is eating Black children, boys and girls at an alarming rate.

In many special ed classrooms, the students are predominantly children of color. These special ed students are making music on iPads.
In many special ed classrooms, the students are predominantly children of color. These special ed students are making music on iPads.

Though it sounds benign and helpful, if too many of the children are Black, then there is a problem. It is a form of tracking; and any program that targets our children, puts them in a classroom where they are stigmatized by the larger student population (when they find out), is wrong.[ii]

I have noticed that the children identified for IEP are often the smart children who intimidate the administrators. They are the children with a lot of energy, loud, can’t stay in their seats and perhaps are taller or bigger than their peers and eventually the instructor. These will sometimes struggle in school, but in the end if they don´t succeed at what they want to do, they will always have more opportunities, they can even study at this radio and tv broadcasting program to eventually get a job in the future.

If the first step in the IEP process – with the acronym IDEA – is to identify the problem, then the evaluative process is punitive. It does not change the system; it isolates the child. It is a program that socializes the child so that the end product is suitable or standardized, similar to what happens to Winston Smith, the protagonist, in George Orwell’s 1984.

Though it sounds benign and helpful, if too many of the children are Black, then there is a problem. It is a form of tracking; and any program that targets our children, puts them in a classroom where they are stigmatized by the larger student population (when they find out), is wrong.

Yes, I am saying that the IEP is akin to a psycho-social lobotomy, especially when the child is isolated or separated from her or his peers. IDEA sounds like a hunt to me. These are the kids whose parents are often vocal, usually smart and engaged.

These children come from homes where the parents – yes, mothers and fathers – pay attention and advocate for their children. These are the kids whose parents take off work and visit the classrooms. They are the ones who keep the school administrators on their toes.

This constant haggling can upset the children.

Who wants to be in a place where the teacher does not like you, where the kids are not friendly because your mother is the topic of dinner conversation? So the IEP net falls on the child and now they are pulled out of the class, given special attention when all the child wants is to get along and fit in.

The IEP is the type of program all children should have, not those who are Black and proud and noisy about it. Instead of shooting these kids or blowing up the buses they ride or homes they live in, they are quietly slipped into a holding cell called IEP.

Even if the child is told this is a strategy, it is still separating the child from her or his peers. It is still putting a scarlet letter on her or his back. It is still leaving the child open and vulnerable to attack.

The IEP is the type of program all children should have, not those who are Black and proud and noisy about it.

I remember what we used to call the kids with IEPs before IEPs – the dumb kids. The late poet, Reginald Lockett said he was trapped in the class with the “idiots,” and then he was tested for glasses and escaped. Lockett ended up teaching at San Jose State University, Cal State East Bay and owning a publishing house, Jukebox Press. He was also the first unofficial poet laureate of Oakland, California.

We do not want our children corralled into a program call IEP. It doesn’t matter if there is money, it doesn’t matter if the liberals who end up teaching in such programs have good hearts.

Granted some Black children might qualify, that is, have a genuine disability. However, the term disability says there is some sort of error or problem, that something is broken, when most often the public school system, according to Carter G. Woodson in his “Miseducation of the Negro,” is what is broken, often broken over the heads and backs of our children.

All I am advocating is Black parents beware. Do not turn your children over to a system which as El Hajj Malik El Shabazz said does not love our children and should not be trusted to educate them.

Now, with the new California law re public schools stating that all children and their handlers be immunized beginning July 1, 2016, what does this mean for a free population? What is really in the chemicals filling the syringes our children are being inoculated with?

With the development of science without a parallel development of an ethics of caring for the humanity these discoveries are supposed to assist and heal, we need to be watchful and careful of what is pushed by government and its supporters. Do not passively roll your sleeves up and stick out your arm.

All I am advocating is Black parents beware. Do not turn your children over to a system which as El Hajj Malik El Shabazz said does not love our children and should not be trusted to educate them.

IEP is just a fancy name for the “idiot class.” Although the term “Special Education,” is nowhere in the term, flip just one page or scroll down and there it is. When a person is called “special,” even with humor, we know we are saying the person is “crazy,” “not wrapped too tight” or “mentally retarded.”

Don’t be fooled. IEP is a move to move bright Black children out of the mainstream. It is a move which compromises their agency by making them feel less adequate than the other children.

My suggestion is to homeschool Black children until high school age and then send them to Black colleges. My second suggestion for parents who are not able to homeschool is to make sure their child is in a Saturday school with Black adults and kids who love them, a place where there is no discrimination.

If a Saturday school does not exist, start it. You don’t have to have a college degree to love a Black child. Take the children to the museum where Black art is displayed. Take them to plays featuring Black playwrights. Invite poets and artists, musicians – including hip hop artists – and playwrights to a community center so the children can write and make art that reflects their experiences.

Don’t be fooled. IEP is a move to move bright Black children out of the mainstream. It is a move which compromises their agency by making them feel less adequate than the other children.

Invite scientists to give workshops where Black children can learn about Black genius in the fields of science, technology, and math. Go to the library where the librarian can help you find books that reflect the lives and interests of your Black children.

There you can find out a lot more, even have the library host your Saturday school and programs. This is not a school where one parent bears the burden or responsibility. It is a cooperative. All the parents attend together and rotate leadership per expertise.

Take the children hiking and visit local Black farms and/or urban gardens. Visit Black businesses and invite Black business owners to talk to the children about entrepreneurism.

Start a business to support the Saturday school program run by the kids. Buy the kids a video camera and encourage them to tell stories about their families, their neighbors and their community.

Take the kids on short trips so they can learn about where they live, how other people live and see what is possible. Teach them the politics of structural racism, the prison industrial complex and systemic inequality on all levels and tiers of society.

Let them know that Africa is our home, permanent home; however, we have a right to this land too. Study a famous Black hero weekly and pair this hero or heroine to a personal hero or heroine in each child’s family. Talk about forgiveness and reciprocity, humility and power, charity and love.

When I taught at Muhammad University in San Francisco on Fillmore and Geary, we did not have IEPs. We operated under the philosophy that all children want to learn; however, one learning strategy does not apply to all. This was before the pedagogy on teaching to multiple intelligences.

The teachers would convene with other teachers – elders and master teachers – and figure it out, even if it took multiple tries before we got it right. We also knew that today’s strategies were not guaranteed indefinitely, so we had to stay current with newer developments while not discarding mother wit.

When I taught at Muhammad University in San Francisco on Fillmore and Geary, we did not have IEPs. We operated under the philosophy that all children want to learn; however, one learning strategy does not apply to all.

Given the ease with which our children are captured by such linguistic nooses as IEP and IDEA, then hung on statistical lines in ledgers which are then fed to other government agencies which are connected to policing departments which are the intake portals for the prison industrial complex – we need to be aware and vigilant as parents, as Black people for Black children.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.

[i] IEP stands for “individualized education program.” Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP.

[ii] In some programs, the child is not put in a separate class, but I still think the program unfairly targets Black boys and girls.