chapter  5
16 Pages

USA: divergence by race

The decentralised structure in the USA, where the Federal Government sets a framework within which the 50 states function, but largely delegates educational control to states and then to local school districts and boards, provides a contrast to the UK centralised system where local authorities have progressively lost decision-making and funding powers. Nevertheless, the history and treatment of lower attainers and those falling within categories of disability and special education are remarkably similar in the two countries. External economic, political and social factors and internal pressures from teachers and parents, ensured the development of an expanding special education sector dealing with the disabled, the disruptive and lower attainers. Compulsory attendance laws in the nineteenth century brought a variety of unwelcome children into the public school system, mainly those from poor homes, the immigrant and foreign-born. Truants, incorrigibles, cripples, the deaf, those with visual and speech defects, the mentally defi cient, the feeble-minded and moral delinquents were all candidates for exclusion from public schools or regular classes. ‘In regular grades the feebleminded and subnormal represent an unassimilable accumulation of human clinkers, ballast, driftwood, or derelicts that seriously retard the progress of the entire class and constitute a positive irritant to the teachers and other pupils’ (Wallin 1924, quoted in Laserson 1983: 23).1 As in the UK teachers were expected to credential young people to levels where they could function to arbitrary required levels, and those who impeded this were candidates for removal from regular schooling and regarded as a ‘surplus population’ in the labour market. As in England social class and race were markers in deciding who should receive an inferior education, and in both countries this was based on beliefs in

the biological and cultural inferiority of lower social classes and racial groups. While these beliefs still persist in both countries, education in the USA is strongly infl uenced by persistent beliefs that racial minorities are likely to be less educable, and a large literature continues to indicate that minorities are more likely to be considered lower attainers. As Blanchett noted:

It is no secret that African Americans and other students of colour, a disproportionate percentage of whom live in poverty and are educated in urban schools, have experienced educational inequities for decades while their white peers have received a higher quality education.