1. S. Sodhi Department of Education, Dalhousie University

In spite of research and clinical evidence which shows that current models of general education are less than successful, efforts continue to be directed toward the establishment of a parallel and separate school structure called special education for the minority children.

General education, by definition, is supposed to be capable of teaching all children, but when confronted with the children from the minority groups it has failed miserably. Using traditional methodology and crash programs teachers have found themselves impotent when it comes to educating increasing numbers of minority children. One method by which these individuals and the school can preserve their identities is by cooling the child out. Goff man, a Social Psychologist, thinks that “cooling the mark out” is relevant to minority children who are declared “exceptional”. Goff man has analyzed adaption to failure and the methods by which one individual can aid another who has failed, by helping him to build a new framework for judging himself. Special programs are mandated on the basis that the new placement is helping the child. In essence, he is given a seemingly better provision in hopes that he will stop putting up a fuss. It is easier for all to cool out the child and to find him a new place than to change the system for his benefit. As Johnson, an American Psychologist comments:

Special education is part of the arrangement for cooling out students. It has helped to erect a parallel system which permits relief of institutional guilt and humiliation stemming from the failure to achieve competence and effectiveness in the task given to it by society. Special education is helping the regular school maintained its spoiled identity when it creates special programs (whether psychodynamic or behavioral modification) for the “disruptive child” and the “slow learner”, many of whom, for some strange reason, happen to be black and poor and live in the inner city.

Children of poverty and from the minority group are perceived and labeled delinquent and retarded, thus helping the general educational enterprise to avoid some of the responsibilities for its failure to adapt to individual and collective needs. Recent sophistication in labeling has added such terms as learning disability, slow learner, learning adjustment and Conduct disorders, children with mild general learning disability to shopworn phrases such as mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed.

The latest attempt at system maintenance is the generation of data to show that minority children may actually be genetically less intelligent and, therefore, less able to learn. Most of this psychometric data has absolutely no ecological validity. Special education has accepted the faulty concept on which L.Q. is grounded and has been using it for categorization. It has also continued initiating special classes, work-study programs, resource rooms, and other stigmatized innovations which blame the poor, minority child for the failure of the dominant educational system.

There is a critical need for the establishment of a positive pedagogy for minority group children. Considerable attention is now being given to “cognitive development” and “socialization” for minority children, based upon the presumed effects of social deprivation. It is being assumed that most, if not all, of the early experiences and later development of minority children is negative and deprived. Essentially, the pedagogical descriptions of minority children have been negative, phasing intellectual retardation, maladaptive and delinquent behavior, self-derogation, and hopelessness. It has been systematically ignored that these children have spontaneity, problem-solving ability, and creativity which exists and grows under severe environmental limitations. Moreover, these children develop acute social perceptiveness, particularly by the Cognitive and affective styles which permit the development of extensive nonverbal communication processes.

Special education as applied to minority children suffers from absolute and racist conceptions of deviance. If the experts are anxious to help these children they should start ascertaining the environment in which minority children grow. They need to devote attention to understanding the socialization of the minority child. There is an especial “minority norm” of life which must be understood. We should explicate the unique cognitive styles of minority children before we start classifying them as children with learning disorders. Clearly the hottest issue in special education today in North America concerns the overrepresentation of minority children in special classes for the mildly retarded. In 1968, Dr. Dunn published an article in which he questioned the efficiency of special classes for minority children classified as educable mentally retarded. In doing so, he criticized the classification procedures, the practice of labeling of children as “retarded”, the isolation and segregation of children so classified from other children in school, and the ineffectiveness of teaching procedures used in special classes. The Dunn (1968) article has been widely read and directly or indirectly resulted in serious challenges to the use of intelligence tests, labeling minority children with deficit labels and providing separate and “different” educational experiences for mildly restarted children.

Currently, there appears to be sufficient evidence to support the concept that many minority groups contribute high percentages of students to special classes far in excess of that minority groups’ total percentage within the population.

It must be noted that the same time, increasingly more militant minority groups have decried the abundance of minority children being classified as mentally retarded. Presume is being brought to bear by these groups on state and local education agencies. Court cases are being brought on behalf of the minority children for damage stemming from their being classified as mentally retarded and from being barred from regular educational experiences. Hence the courts have played a major role in determining a trend toward the “decertification” of great numbers of children henceforth classified as mentally retarded. In the state of California, for example, over 19,000 educable mentally retarded children were decertified between 1969 and 1972 and retimed to regular classes.

Probably the most widely known court case brought on behalf of, a minority child who had been classified as mentally retarded is Diana vs. the State of California. In this case in which the court was found to be in favor of the child, six mandates were issued by the state. Four of the mandates related to the use of intelligence tests with minority children. The mandates issues by the courts were:


  1. The child must be tested in her native language.
  2. The child must be retested with a nonverbal test of intelligence.
  3. The state was directed to develop ethnic norms for intelligence tests.
  4. The district must make plans for revising testing programs.
  5. Districts had to present an explanation for ethnic disproportions in special classes.
  6. The districts were instructed to provide transitional programs which would aid decertified educable mentally retarded children to move back with the regular educational program.

It is interesting to note that only the last provision was truly educational in nature. Litigation pertaining to the issue of the disproportionate representation of black children in special classes has increased greatly in the past five years. It is hoped that the educators and decision makers will not ignore the emerging trends in special education and psychological testing. It is high time that realistic goals are followed. Present educational approaches are band to aid treatments. They fail to stand the test of analytical evaluation.

Article extracted from this publication >>  November 1, 1985