Stigmas are everywhere. In Africa, many people who are HIV positive are in denial until they almost lose their lives; even on the brink of death, those who live in denial finally come to terms with being HIV positive. Why? Stigmas.
According to Wikipedia (I know, I know) social stigmas are:
The disapproval or discrimination against a person based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society; they are commonly related to culture, gender, race, intelligence, and health.Wikipedia
Being HIV positive is not always preventable, On many occasions, yes, this is true. Yet, passing fluids can cause one to become affected with the virus. Therefore, not everyone who is HIV positive is sleeping around.
This immediately brings to mind stigmas of students within special education. There are three layers to a stigma. The first layer involves the stereotype of stupidity. Many students I have worked with will buy into the stereotype that being in a pullout math class somehow means they are stupid. This stereotype is one layer of what a stigma looks like. The next layer is the affect of buying into the stereotype of stupidity. For example, when school becomes difficult, or when students make mistakes, the stereotype of stupidity is reinforced, and the effect is that they must not be good at History, Science, Art or any other subject.
When this is concluded, the second layer forms: prejudice of intelligence – both from within themselves and from others. In fact, there are teachers who believe that students in special education will fail a project or assignment before they even turn it in! Other times, teachers will be shocked to hear that a student is doing really well academically. I hear comments such as, “Oh, I didn’t know she was yours!” Another example of prejudice is when someone does not like him/her because they are in special education. Unfortunately, I have seen students outright call students in special ed. dumb, and then pretend to be their friend while in school. However, outside of school, those students do not want to be seen hanging out together. This passive – aggressive bullying is the heart of prejudice for students in special education. In really bad cases, kids in special education have formed social media groups titled the Special Kids. During class, they’ll sarcastically cheer one another on, or dare one another to blurt out something inappropriate. When teachers confront them, a lot of students say, “I am just kidding!!” Yet, their actions display their prejudices. The pressure to act on prejudicial thinking reinforces that they really have nothing of value to bring to the classroom. Sadly, when students do not take class seriously, but joke around in order to gain flaky friendships (at best), the cost is high. Detentions, suspensions, and expulsions are given, and receiving a High School diploma becomes a dim possibility.
As students are treated unfairly by peers, teachers, and themselves, the likelihood of unemployment increases. I have seen many students believe in this self-fulfilling prophecy of not being good at school due to a disability.
When students and teachers buy into the first two layers of stigmas of students in special education, stereotype of stupidity and prejudice of intelligence, then they risk not graduating from high school. In fact, according to the NCES, 71% of students with varying types of disabilities graduated from high school in 2016-2017. Additionally, a third of students with disabilities who enroll in a 4-year college graduate within 8 years.* For Americans who do not receive a high school diploma, the national unemployment rate sits at 14.5%.** Essentially, it is harder for those without diplomas to get a decent job. By the age of 21 years old, students age out of the special education program. Yet, these now adults end up without a good paying job because employers want to hire people with at least a diploma.
Given that about 40% of students with disabilities do not graduate, and 14% of the U.S. population that do not have a high school diploma are unemployed, it is fair to say that a large portion of people who are unemployed are adults who have aged out of the special education program.
What do we do, then? How can people in schools combat this downward spiral before it ends in unemployment or imprisonment?
Play the game.
What is the game, you ask? The game is attending school and working through the class requirements in order to receive a diploma and/or degree. Therein lies the problem; many students with disabilities are really good at something, but it is not always academia. Many students are skilled in cooking, baking, hospitality, grounds-work, farming, sports, and many other activities that include working with their hands. When given that opportunity, they can excel. Yet, those opportunities are usually not offered until Junior year of High School. Our school system is set up to make doctors and lawyers, not artists and cooks. Going through school and receiving a diploma is part of the game, even if those classes do not pertain to your career. There will be many classes students with disabilities will have to wait to take until they are older, but one day, it will all be worth it.
*Report, The Hechinger. “The Low Number Of Students With Disabilities Graduating From College Is A Crisis.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 15 Nov. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/students-with-disabilities-college_n_5a0602d7e4b05673aa592cb4?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAACH7MGNAGOm3oICq2BYh45uGTmgf7USP67wFfW-z_sW2qutp6fJLEQ1M4LaGBtiyJ-tSLuYyp9azpm8eFu0OH_INHp6e2j38805si40nan3YTX6j2K3-lUa12OqdKeWEqG_xYcSPWE4mj5EyRy-cvGDY0OLw-M5shFHjNO6r3w_X.
**“National Unemployment Rate Steady, But Those Without A High School Diploma Still Struggle.” Employment Policies Institute, 2019, www.epionline.org/release/national-unemployment-rate-steady-but-those-without-a-high-school-diploma-still-struggle/.