“Telling It Like It Is: The Role of Race, Class, & Culture in the Perpetuation of Learning Disability as a Privileged Category for the White Middle Class”


  • Wanda J Blanchett




For more than 40 years, the American educational system has used mild disability special education categories to sort students on the basis of perceived disability, race, culture, language, and social class. Accordingly, African American and other students of color have the highest risk ratio for being placed in special education and they received the most segregated special education placements (Blanchett, Mumford, & Beachman, 2005; Dunn, 1968; Losen & Orfield, 2002; Mercer, 1973).  How the social constructions of mild disabilities and learning disabilities, in particular, perpetuate learning disability as a privileged category for the White Middle Class while marginalizing students of color has been largely missing in the disability studies and disproportionality debates. The purpose of my paper is to commemorate and revisit Sleeter’s seminal work while contextualizing it within contemporary debates by address the following four questions: (1) What is the historical context of the treatment of African American and other students of color in special education?; (2) Is learning disabilities a category of privilege for the privileged?; ( 3) What is the social cultural context of learning disabilities in the 21st century?; and (4) In what ways do students who receive the same label of LD have very different in-school and post school experiences based upon the intersection of race and class with LD?






Special Topic: Learning Disabilities