The Untangling of Racism in Education

Toward an Interdisciplinary Understanding of Educational Equity and Difference
The Case of the Racialization of Ability
Alfredo J. Artiles
Artiles, A. J. (2011). Toward an Interdisciplinary Understanding of Educational Equity and Difference: The Case of the Racialization of Ability.Educational Researcher40(9), 431-445.
On a popular radio news talk show this morning, two commentators were discussing the political uproar over the trade of Taliban leaders for Army Sergeant Bowe Berghal’s freedom.   One of the two news commentators was focused on the appearance of Berghal’s father at a press conference with President Obama.  He implied that possibly Obama would not have agreed to a press conference if he had prior knowledge of Berghal’s father’s crazy look, long hair and a long beard. Berghal’s father at the same time being chastised for using Arabic to speak to his son.
 The same radio commentator went on to talk about the haunting and scary pictures of the five Taliban leaders that had been released.  He said their eyes looked evil and their faces were that of criminal malicious men. It is understandable that the Taliban leaders are feared based on the understanding that they are terrorists. However, it was disconcerting that a reputable news commentator only focused on the appearance of the people involved.  As a listener, I interpreted that he judged all six men as crazy and evil based on solely on physical attributes.
 In Artiles article, he reminds of us a time towards the end of the 19th century in the United States when “Ugly Laws” were enacted.  The ugly laws existed in many cities, that judged, persecuted, and often exiled individuals based on the visibility of their class, race, and aesthetics. (S.M. Schweik, 2009, p.3). Based on the comments made by the radio commentator, these individuals should possibly be held under the judgments of the “Ugly Laws”. This reinforces that racist beliefs based on an individuals have not been erased over time in the minds of newer generations. 
When the dominant culture looks at students of color and/or with disabilities are the students automatically judged and placed into a category to fit and fix their conditions of diversity? Racism in any form no matter how unintentional or obscured results in detrimental educational practices and pedagogies that have oppressed, segregated and stolen away students’ access to a fair and equal education. “Although the discourses and practices that intertwined race and ability with other dimensions of difference took place at a distant time, they are well and alive in current educational policy and practice.”(p. 435).
This article is written for members of academia. The information could be very useful for special education teachers and school psychologists wanting to use  the research to support reasons of why NCLB does not work for their students, how inclusion does not really mean equal access to education, and how standardized testing no matter what modifications are made for students historically results in a failing school. Unfortunately, the article was so dense in educational and research jargon it would not be easily comprehensible for many practitioners. My seventeen years in the field of education has not exposed me to the considerable amount of terminology used in the article.  As a novice researcher, I was busily taking notes for later review.  
Artiles supports his arguments throughout the article with expert accounts, testimonies, and quotes from previous research articles, studies, professional journal, reports and books. He thoroughly examined how race concepts are intermingle with educational policies of today.
He uses graphs and charts to clearly illustrate the disporportionality in appropriate identification of special education students among states. Although he is honest in admitting that the data could be stronger if it spanned over many more years making it less generalized. 
The article is organized into three sections. In the first section, Artiles examines notions of justice in how it interacts with race and ability in the context of learning. “These notions of difference have been interlaced in complicated ways throughout the history of American education. (p.431).
The second section is from a historical perspective of how race and ability engagement have brought about complicated and questionable reactions from social institutions. “Many efforts to change educational inequities and enhance opportunities rest on the problematic assumptions and values about race and ability differences and have been informed in part by the ideologies of meritocracy and individualism.”(p. 435).
The third section is a conclusion with an outline of ideas to guide collaborative research on the injustices of race and ability differences. “The interdisciplinary examination of racialization of disability promises to transcend substantial limitations of pervious equity research in terms of how difference is theorized.”  “The proposed frame work promises to contribute to an approach in the study of educational inequities that takes into account the dynamic, culturally situated, and historically produced nature of difference and its consequences.” (p. 443)
             Many components of this article related to my experience as an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher.  My students are minorities based on ethnicity and language.  The article examined the shortcomings of NCLB. NCLB is described in the article as a, “Contemporary educational equity project (that) erases difference.” This policy was enacted with regulations for teacher improvement, gains in student performance monitored through testing and a raise in educational choice. (p.436). But in reality, NCLB has had detrimental consequences for students and schools that are struggling. Negative consequence from NCLB mentioned in the article are excessive amounts of time dedicated to teaching to the test and test-taking skill, large amounts of money allocated for remediation of students that fall below on the test, cheating, negative impact on teacher and student relationships, declines in teacher moral, and  school labeled as failing schools lose good teachers and funds. The list of negative consequences heavily out weights the positive.  NCLB did not create a level playing field for all students especially those in minority groups.
 A recent Blog from Education Week, Common-Core Test Experts Explain ELL and Special Education Supports, is about the latest newcomers in standardized testing; Smarter Balanced and PARCC.  Both of the tests are designed around the Common Core Standards adopted by 43 states plus DC.  The makers of these tests claim that the tests are accessible to all students even English Language Learners.  The only real accommodations that are made come in the form of an electronic glossary or allowing students to use a paper glossary provided by the school district. For districts purchasing these standardized tests, it should be obvious that use of an electronic resource is not what will create equity in testing. Hopefully, districts are critically examining the validity and integrity of these tests and the long term effects they will have on students, teachers and school communities.
As a novice researcher, I am learning to see how understanding where inequitable practices originated will be the foundation for my research. I have become aware of how difficult it is to initiate change when racism is still so intertwined in our society that we often do not recognize it. This morning when I listened to the radio, I am sure many listeners did not hear the commentator’s views as racist. This should be not the excuse to passively allow generations of youth to be denied a fair and equitable education. 
L.A.Maxwell. (2014, MAY 30.) Common-Core Test Experts Explain ELL and Special Education Supports. Retrieved from:
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Connie Hahne

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