The Black Prison Called “Special Education”

“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.”-Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Mis-Education of the Negro (1933)

Even though the physical chains have been removed from the ankles of the ancestors of slaves, today the chains kneaded from the clay of oppression have been reshaped through the fires of time into covert racist components which are embedded within all major institutions in America in a continued effort to disable and control Blacks, but more often, specifically targeting Black males. Due to this major difference, Black males are then subjected to a more intense measure of control and hardship directed by Whites and their system of oppression.

As children, young Black males are handcuffed on the tilted playing field of opportunities designed by the dominant White majority that consciously and subconsciously reproduces subjugation and control. Effects of this control can be seen in the high rate of Black males within special education. Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) of 1975, (P.L. 94-142), known presently as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 (Reauthorized in 2004), was initially enacted to provide all students classified as special education students, access to a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE).

As noted by Turnbull and Turnbull in 1998, the message conveyed to the public by lawmakers who devised IDEA was that they intended to protect the rights of parents and their children as well as assisting state and local education agencies (LEA) in educating these students in an effective least restrictive environment (LRE) while attending to the issue of race in special education classification. Before IDEA, it was estimated that at least four millions of children, especially children of color were segregated from their regular education peers and did not receive “appropriate educational services” and sufficient access to the educational prospects that were offered to their counterparts within the public school system. IDEA was enacted to deter these incidences of discrimination.

The enactment of IDEA, as many today believe, was to halt discrimination of those with special needs and children of color who were previously stored away from their regular education counterparts. But today it is evident that discrimination, segregation, and overall inequities exist toward special education students of color. Racism very much exists today with respect to students of color. Sec. 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” But, in general, Black, and to some extent Latino students (the majority from low socioeconomic homes), in relation to their population are still being denied and excluded through their placement in the category of special education.

In fact this is occurring at disproportionate rates in comparison to Whites and others; Black (and Latino) students are kept apart (outside of the regular education settings) and denied the proper benefit of an inclusive education as mandated by IDEA. Specifically, it has been estimated that Blacks are placed in special education at a rate of 3 to 1 in comparisons to White students. The special education analysis completed by the Department of Education in 2001 and 2006 noted this occurrence, but did not expand upon this topic as it relates to gender. Due to the disproportionate number of Black males that are within special education with such arresting labels as Emotionally Disturbed, Mentally Impaired, and etc., the conclusion can be drawn that they are more likely to be educated in segregated learning environments than their White counterparts.

The fact that this is occurring within rich and poor districts can be construed as reckless on the behalf of public schools–when faced with scholars that have noted and criticized the diagnostic criteria and testing currently used as vague, invalid, and culturally biased against people of color. But we , in the public schools, continue to use them. If this clandestine and at times overt plight to hamper students of color, specifically Black males’ academic and social progress, is not addressed from a policy and social justice structural approach, said population will continue to be seriously hindered, which will result in an increasing number of young people not gaining the benefits of a quality education. Due to areas and ramifications of the topic addressed, social scientists within education and sociology should feel challenged to continue the work directed at investigating this issue. No, in fact, we as a people should challenge the threads continuously woven by an archaic racist system that has a foundation soaked with oppressive spew.


  1. Matari

    Yes. “Special Education” is yet another method in a universe of countless never ending race based methodologies racist white supremacists, and their enablers, employ in the 500 year war against black people, other non-white people of color and black men in particular.

    I wonder sometimes why they just don’t herd us “darker americans” all in one place and drop bombs on us, much like what has been happening for the past 60-70 years in a place once known as Palestine, now known as Israel?

    Why not do it (kill us) more simply, efficiently, openly and honestly?

  2. Matari

    Hey GDAWG,

    This isn’t my solution. I was only asking a question.. What’s happening in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, AmeriKKKa, Haiti and other nations today is a parable and symbol of what’s currently overtaking the world: greed, theft, murder, rape, control, power, injustice, war, riots, hunger, poverty, self-interest, indoctrination, subjugation, propaganda, enslavement and imprisonment.

    I’m asking that question because the world seems truly hell-bent in going in this direction, and will arrive at this lamenting destination unless something utterly miraculous occurs. Do you foresee this sort of miracle happening, GDAWG?

  3. GDAWG

    Yeah Matari. I figured as much. I thought you were only being rhetorical. I’m of the opinion that nature or our biosystem really hates disorder and as such, always re-balances its self to order. And this occurs irregardless of persons or systems. For example, ask about the old feudal lords in Europe, colonialism in Africa, Slave-to-cra-cy in the west (US and Latin America), or the Nazis.
    Also, look at the current economic situation in the so called dominant nations. Things (nature) seem to always correct itself towards rightousness in the end. BTW, humans are intertwined directly into this bio-system. As such, they are touch by it rather they want to believe it or not.

  4. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

    We all have to remember that the systems that are in place that hamper advancement, equality, or simple human rights of not only people of color, but women, and gay/lesbian populations exists to maintain the status quo…the roots that were planted through the Western White Male ideology that has exsited for humdreds of years.

  5. Charles

    Re:Black Men in America’s Jails and Prisons

    Too many young black men continue to waste their precious lives in a state of neo bondage. As a correctional educator for the past several years, I can tell you that the prisons and jails in this great country are overflowing with young African-Americans (You already know). All of my students are young black men – one exception. As a teacher, it saddens me to see the talent that is wasted on a daily basis.

    We all need to start doing more to address this escalating dilemma. The youth of this country don’t need to rot in jail, while we (Americans) ignore the problem. Something is causing this horrible trend to continue. You may ask yourself ”What can I do?”. There is no easy answer, but you need to do something. A few suggestions would be:

    organize sports functions (basketball leagues, football leagues, etc.)
    talk to kids at school
    write books
    contact government officials
    do volunteer work
    tutor kids
    take kids fishing, camping, etc.

    The point here is to start doing something. If we simply ignore the problem, where do you think we will be in 10 years pertaining to this issue?

    For my part, I have written a book aimed at helping young black men who are already incarcerated.

    The book is called:
    Black Choices, A young black man’s guide to prison survival

    ISBN: 1-60813-727-9, 83 pages, 6 x 9,
    The book can be ordered through or by calling 301/695-1707
    This book can make a real difference to the young man who is incarcerated. It can help him to negotiate prison life more successfully and also start planning for what life brings after prison is over. If you have a loved one or friend in jail, consider sending him this most important book. I believe it will help his life to start getting back on the road to a more successful future. Any help getting the word out about this book will be greatly appreciated. I truly care about my students and the overall plight of too many young black men in America’s correctional centers.


    Charles Wakefield

  6. Brenda Stewart

    special education is a billion dollar a year industry, of course white america needs the product (babies of color for profit). We have allowed white supremacy to profit from legalize slavery. The plantation has been re -established how clever!

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