This semester I am teaching two special education classes at my Alma Mater. I lived a “special ed” life for a number of years – teacher, Program Director, Regional Consultant – before moving into other areas of education and administration. But as others who have majored in Special Education will tell you, “once Special Ed, always Special Ed.” You just can’t get away from it.
So, here I am preparing future educators to work with students challenged by intellectual, physical or emotional disabilities. Because none of my students are Special Education majors, the dialogue has been especially interesting. Recently I lectured about the core principles of the federal law, IDEIA, including “Nondiscriminatory Identification/Evaluation.” In one class deep dialogue around biases, prejudices and stereotypes ensued, so I required students to complete at least one hidden bias assessment and to report their findings, feelings and take-aways.
It turned out to be even more powerful than I imagined.
While there were some who seemed proud that the tests confirmed their biases which ran the gamut from “I really just can’t stand fat people because they are lazy and choose to be fat” (Yes, a student wrote that.) to “The test confirmed that I do not like people who do not share my skin color. I wasn’t surprised. That’s how I was raised.”
Thankfully, that was the minority. The majority of students “got” what the assignment was about, and while they confessed some hidden biases, they wrote of their desire, prayer, conviction and determination to overcome them and to embrace every child regardless of his or her abilities, appearances or addresses. As a retired educator who sometimes worries about the future of education, I experienced a moment of relief.
While 60 years have passed since the landmark Supreme Court Case, “Brown vs Board of Education,” and many laws declaring equal rights to all people now rest on the books, the fact remains that our nation is still greatly divided. We see that every day in the media, in our workplaces, in our schools and in our communities.
During the past two years I experienced racism such that I had never before in my 50+ years of living. I know history. I grew up with the signs posted over water fountains and even in my pediatrician’s office distinguishing which fountains and which chairs were for WHITES and which were for COLORED. But the blatant racism that I experienced every day in a recent workplace and in the town and community in which I worked was, was… Well, I’ve left that experience behind, but I still don’t have words for it.
But there are words that I have to share with you, and I hope you will share them with your children. They are the words to a song that I learned as a child. “Red and Yellow, Black and White, we are precious in His site.” And the color that matters, the only color that matters is RED – the precious red blood that Jesus shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.
“He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” (Ephesians 1:7 NIV)
And the only label that will matter in the end? SAVED!