Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Licensing Segregation

Originally posted December 2005

While I was sitting in a chair at the beauty salon, waiting half an hour for the color to set (yes, I confess to being vain enough to color my hair), I started thinking about professional licensing requirements and how they are used by regulatory agencies to prevent discrimination against consumers of services.

To get a license to work at a beauty salon, an applicant must know how to work with different types of hair. Even if she lives in a small town that has no black residents, she has to learn how to take care of black people's hair. Likewise, a black urban applicant must be capable of cutting the hair of white customers, even if she does not expect that any whites will patronize her shop.

Health care professionals are expected to work with patients of different ethnicities while they are in training, so that they can become competent in providing services to all patients. A phlebotomist, for example, must be able to draw blood from people with extremely dark skin, whose veins are much less visible than those of lighter-complexioned folks.

In the educational field, teachers have to be capable of dealing with students of different colors, ethnic backgrounds, and religious beliefs. A minority student cannot be excluded from a classroom on the basis that the teacher does not know how to educate blacks, or Hispanics, or Jews.

But if the minority student in question happens to be autistic, the usual anti-discrimination rules go in the dumper. Although autistic students can be found in almost all school districts, most teachers are not familiar with the developmental needs of autistic students. There are some teachers who will frankly admit that they have no idea what to do with an autistic student. When this happens, the school administration, instead of hiring a more knowledgeable teacher or providing more training to their teachers, may try to browbeat the parents into placing the child in a segregated classroom with a special education teacher (often the only person in the entire school who knows anything about autistic kids). The blame is usually placed on the child's behavior, rather than on the teachers and administrators who do not know how to deal with the behavior.

This is morally indefensible and amounts to licensing segregation. There is no excuse for allowing it to continue. We expect more from our hairdressers, and we certainly ought to expect more from the teachers to whom we entrust vulnerable young children. There is a simple and easily implemented solution: Require all applicants for a teaching license to demonstrate that they are competent in educating autistic children. I'm not talking about a lecture or two at the university, but significant actual practical experience. School administrators should also be required to learn about autistic kids' needs.

An education is a basic right, and our kids deserve better than to be sent off to "special" teachers in segregated classrooms because of the ignorance of other teachers.



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