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Untold Narratives: African Americans Who Received Special Education Services and Succeeded Beyond Expectations

reviewed by Gerry Giordano - March 01, 2019

coverTitle: Untold Narratives: African Americans Who Received Special Education Services and Succeeded Beyond Expectations
Author(s): Shawn Anthony Robinson (Ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641131845, Pages: 154, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com

Why are so many African American children in special education classrooms? Scholars, politicians, social activists, and parents have considered this question and have made the same observation: the number of African American children in such programs is disproportionately high. In Untold Narratives, Shawn Robinson argues that special education has been racially tainted.

Robinson begins his book with two foundational chapters, the first of which was written by Jody Fields and Kristie Roberts-Lewis, who offer an historical overview of the major laws and court cases that have influenced the differently abled. They also recount the steps that parents and advocacy groups have taken to change the lives of differently abled persons.

The second of these foundational chapters is by Sarah Stewart and David Kennedy and is a chilling recollection of the problems that Kennedy faced while teaching black male students. The two authors blame Kennedys school administrators for some of these problems, noting that they pressured Kennedy and his fellow teachers to place students in segregated special education classrooms, systematically track them, and ensure that they remained in comparable placements throughout their entire schooling. They concluded that the pressure on Kennedy and his colleagues, although it could be attributed to subconscious racial bias, was more likely part of an explicit plan to suppress black students. The chapters that follow are quite different. They contain first-person narratives of black individuals who once were students in special education classrooms. These individuals maintained high aspirations even when they were in crippling academic circumstances.

Although the narratives in Untold Voices have common threads, each one is distinct. Amare Abbott describes his academic problems as a black male with a learning disability. Because he was the only black student at the schools he attended, Abbott felt severe emotional and social pressures. He later realized that these pressures were exacerbating his disability. He concludes with an explanation of how he not only dealt with these pressures but went on to become a PhD candidate in a doctoral program.

The Reverend Russel Ewell, who is legally blind, describes his parents efforts to procure effective educational interventions when he was young. He also reviews the steps he personally had to take to overcome these challenges. These involved the development of confidence and learning skills. As a result, he ultimately succeeded in school and later in seminary. He is now a pastor and the co-chair of the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities.

Ronnie Nelson Sidney is a black male who was identified as a special learner when he was in third grade. He painstakingly recounts the tragic experiences that led up to this unfair classification. However, he then counterbalances those details with extremely uplifting ones. Although he does not minimize the impact of the antagonistic teachers he encountered, he assigns greater credit to those who were supportive. He thanks the supportive teachers for giving him the skills and determination he needed to become a first-rate graphic novelist.

Danyelle Cerillo was born prematurely and then had to live for months in an incubator. As a result of these conditions, she suffered detached retinas in her eyes. She then became completely blind. When she attended school, she interacted with students who were visually impaired as well as those who were not. She is convinced that she was so much more successful for having interacted with both groups. She also attributes her success to the teachers who supplied her with the accommodations she needed to make progress in elementary school, high school, and eventually college. Today she is a professional educator who helps children with visual impairments.

Aunye Boones story is different from that of the other authors. She initially did not have to deal with a disability. In fact, she was extremely successful in academics and athletics throughout school. However, she did not realize that she has otosclerosis, a degenerative disease that was slowly affecting her ability to hear. She recounts the courageous manner in which she dealt with that condition. She resolved that she would not allow her hearing loss to become her identify, but rather that she would personally define that identity. She eventually became a spokesperson for the Hearing Loss Association of America.

The final reminiscence is from Oluwakemi Elufiede, who was distressed when as a child she was labeled as suffering from an attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Like so many of the other authors in this book, she details the intellectual and emotional damage that insensitive teachers caused. However, she also acknowledges the healing that insightful teachers inspired. She believes that her later success as an educator was linked to all of her experiences, both those the pleasant and the unpleasant. Although she does not want to see anyone endure the pain she experienced in school, she encourages students to be strong and try to rise above.

All the authors shared the same motives for contributing their stories to this book; they wished to convince black students who are struggling academically that they can succeed at school, at work, and in life. Moreover, they wanted to share the decisions they made that contributed to their success.

I hope that I have conveyed my enthusiasm for this book. It is simply remarkable. However, I hope that I have not inadvertently done a disservice by recounting too many details; I wouldnt want any TCR readers to believe that, having read my review, they dont actually need to read this book. I am therefore going to conclude with a simple statement: please read this entire book. I promise that you will be impressed by the honesty, passion, and conviction that the contributors to it exhibit.

The chapters in this book are inspirational. I speak from experience, having read every chapter twice. I will be sharing this book with the students in my college classes, my colleagues in schools, and the parents in my community.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 01, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22694, Date Accessed: 1/16/2022 5:48:41 PM

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About the Author
  • Gerry Giordano
    University of North Florida
    E-mail Author
    Gerry Giordano is Professor of Education and Program Director for Exceptional Student Education at the University of North Florida. He currently is publishing a multivolume series of books, the Common Sense Questions Series, that examines parent-initiated queries into schools.
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