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The Need for Cultural Sensitivity in Multicultural Special Education Essay

Teachers in this changing multicultural society need to be aware of challenges in teaching English Language Learners as well as African-American students. Labeling students immediately as having a learning disability is a disservice not only to the student it is affecting, but also the entire school system. Teachers must learn to incorporate multicultural activities into their teaching style, which would allow them to connect with as many of their diverse students as possible. “For many multicultural learners, the noble ideal of leaving no child behind has not yielded the desired dividends in general and special education.

”(Obiakor 148). I believe that students of all ethnic backgrounds would benefit from their teacher being more sensitive to their diverse cultures and backgrounds. Festus E. Obiakor’s article regarding” Effective Intervention for Today’s Schools” portrays a 9 year-old student named Ricardo whose teacher does not understand his culture and diversity. Ricardo spoke English with an accent, and had a hard time relating to his classmates. The teacher actually had made a note that he was trouble and did not get along with his peers (148).

Ricardo was ultimately labeled as having a behavior disorder and was put into a special education classroom. Unfortunately, this is an alarming trend that is occurring in our nations Ramirez 2 schools. “Students learning English were disproportionately identified as having a disability in the three largest urban districts. ”(Turnbull 79). Obiakor notes in his article, that according to the U. S. Department of Education in 2001 that although Hispanic students made up 4% of the general public school enrollments, there was a national average of 14% of these students being placed in special education services(149).

This is where teachers need to turn to the theory of cultural relativism. If educators were able to “know what it is like to be a member of the second culture and to view the world from that point of view,” (Gollnick and Chin 17), teachers would be able to better understand the needs of their students of various ethnic backgrounds. Rather than place them in special education services hastily, by understanding the other culture, teachers perhaps would stop judging the ethnic minority students behaviors as deviant, and put aside their cultural biases (Obiakor 149).

If an educator gains an understanding of their students’ background, becoming in-tune with their cultural nuances, they will then begin to turn the tide of stereotyping these students as having special needs. Culturally biased standardized tests are also another factor that affects the student from another culture to be unfairly marked as needing special education. “Unjustifiable reliance on IQ and other evaluation tools, high-stakes testing, and power differentials between minority parents and schools may also be contributing variables.

”(Gollnick and Chin 185). Educators need to recognize that students may fail these tests due to differences in the child’s cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Festus E. Obiakor’s article states that African American learners in special education are continuing to experience “inadequate general and special education services. ”(p. 28) African American students are among the highest ethnic group placed in special education services, due to the process of over-referrals. ““With over-referrals, teachers tend to make Ramirez 3

excessive referrals of students of color for placement in special education classes for students with disabilities. ”(Gollnick and Chin 183) The disproportionate placement of students of color is one of the most problematic issues facing education (Gollnick and Chin 180). Many students, according to Obiakor’s article who attend urban settings are often labeled “slow learners” or “learning disabled”, which in turn takes them out of the running for higher educational opportunities(29).

As is the case with Hispanic students, African American culture is not understood by the majority of teachers, most of whom have typically been White. I believe if teachers and administrators take on a culturally responsive aspect to their lessons, they eventually would stop making such rash assessments on these culturally diverse students, eventually allowing these students to be assessed according to their real capabilities, not based on their ethnocentric attitudes and feelings.

As a future educator, I realize the need to challenge myself and my peers to become culturally and emotionally sensitive to students of diverse backgrounds. Labeling a child as learning disabled when they are in fact not, is a tragedy that none of us should make. Multicultural students will not only have to deal with discrimination based on their race, but they will also have to deal with the negative connotation a special education label may bring to them.

Teachers have such an important role in a child’s life that it is important to try our best not to negatively impact any child. By understanding how a culture learns, the teacher needs to develop a curriculum that is culturally and historically relevant to these children. Educators need to take into account the vast learning styles of these students to make sure that we are not making the mistake of mislabeling a child as having a learning disability, when in fact, one is not present.

References Obiakor, Festus E. (2007) Multicultural Special Education: Effective Intervention For Today’s Schools. Intervention In School and Clinic. Volume 42(3), pages 148-155. Obiakor, Festus E. (2010) African American Learners In Special Education: A Close Look at Milwaukee. Intervention In School and Clinic. Volume 5(2), pages28-48. Turnbull, A. (2010) Exceptional Lives: Special Education in Today’s Schools. (R. Turnbull, Michael Wehmeyer, Eds. ) New Jersey: Merrill.


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