Dr. Umar Johnson suggested that the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” has it all wrong when it describes the acronym ADHD as standing for “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Instead, Johnson proposed that ADHD really means “ain’t dad at home disorder” or “ain’t discipline at home disorder.” He told his audience that the real cause of psychiatric ADHD diagnosis in black boys is the absence of a strong black heterosexual male as a parent at home.
“My father worked as an Army drill sergeant,” Johnson said. “As a result, neither I nor my brothers had psychiatric ADHD.”
He added that the “true solution” to learning disabilities in black students is having strong black heterosexual males as teachers in lieu of having white women filling these positions.
Johnson spoke on July 3 at the Dunbar Center, located at 1453 S. State St., in front of approximately 50 concerned African-American and Latino parents, students and clergymen. The title of his lecture was “Understanding the Mis-Education Machine — Everything You Need to Know Back to School,” which was based on his book “Psycho-Academic Holocaust: The Special Education & ADHD Wars Against Black Boys,” published earlier this year.
Johnson is a certified school psychologist and founder of the National Movement to Save Black Boys. He was introduced by battle-tested South Side activist Twiggy Billue, who was president of the Family Teacher Organization of Elmwood Elementary School at 1728 South Ave. until it was shut down in 2012 by the Syracuse City School District. She succeeded in leading the community in delaying the closing for one year but in the end she had to acquiesce to it. Billue’s nephew attended the school and, when he was in kindergarten, he was unjustifiably medicated by action of the administration, she said.
Her current fight revolves around statistically disproportionate suspensions of black students by the Syracuse City School District, a situation that has resulted in parents being arrested, she said. The U.S. Department of Justice is in the process of investigating the issue after advocacy organizations contacted the federal agency.
Billue said that she is on the black list of the school district board officials. “I’m a torn on their side,” she said. “They hate me when I come in their doors. They hang up on me when I call.”
She added that in the past two years, between 12 and 15 members of the Afrikan Urban Perspective, a component of the Freeing the Afrikan Mind Project 315, have been meeting periodically at the Southwest Community Center to plan activities such as bringing Johnson to the South Side.
“Regardless to what city you come from, black boys are facing failing schools, suspensions, labeling and being pushed out of school,” she told the people in attendance. “This is why we need to listen to what Dr. Johnson is going to say.”
Julius Edwards, executive director at the Dunbar Association, and Billue’s husband, Ras Simien Anu, also introduced the speaker. “Dr. Johnson can be compared to the main character in the movie ‘The Last Airbender’ and to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X,” Anu said.
Johnson, who calls himself the “Prince of Pan-Africanism,” threw Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad into the comparison list as well. “I have the blood of Douglass and the spirit of Garvey,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s combative speech was peppered with quotations from Douglass and Garvey, and witty remarks of his own, which elicited laughter in the audience.
Among the quotes from Garvey that he cited were: “If the Negro is not careful, he will drink in all the poison of modern civilization and die from the effects of it,” and “In a world of wolves, one must go armed, and one of the most powerful defensive weapons within the reach of the Afrikan is the practice of race first in all parts of the world.”
As a self-identified black nationalist, Johnson advocated black independent schools, not reliant on the government, in order to confront the “American social order” based on white privilege. “Black children have to be sent to schools
that are controlled by their own community, because in white schools, they undergo conditioning into socializing, thinking and behaving differently,” he said. “Information alone will not change black children. They will need reconditioning in a black school, where they will be inoculated against white supremacy and be filled in with the proper knowledge.”
This process, which he called “re-Africanization,” would preferably take place at a residential school to prevent parents from undoing from 3 p.m. to 8 a.m. what the students have learned from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., he said.
He added that the black schools should teach six disciplines: agricultural and agronomic sciences (“teach how to live off the land, like the protagonist of the movie ‘Rambo'”), economic and financial sciences (“the black community needs
large businesses not only small ones”), political and military sciences (“there is already martial law in the black community”), science of the black men and black women (“women have to be seen as queens by men”), nutritional and dietary sciences, and the science of spirituality (“teach vudu as the worship of the different energies and manifestations of the creator”).
He went on to say that black children should be taught to love themselves first before they get an education and that the students in black schools should only be allowed to wear their natural hair. Further requirements would be spending a year in Africa and learning to speak an African language.
Johnson was skeptical of the value of certain standardized tests administered to black children in school.
“Standardized tests such as those of working memory, processing speed and verbal comprehension are a sham. They are a hustle,” he said. “Everything is scripted. The tests are designed in such a way so as to justify the purpose of not giving black children the same opportunities than white children. Besides, there is a lack of statistical correlation between test scores and academic achievement. Public education is a corrupt business.”
If the school requests parents permission to evaluate their child, Johnson recommended their not signing permission to test because the evaluation would be only a professional opinion, not proof of the existence a learning disability or not.
Special education started in 1975 with the authorization of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Federal laws mandate states to provide special education as a requisite for receiving federal funds. For example, funds from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed in 1965, which requires that the U.S. Department of Education use a portion of their Title I funds to offer supplementary educational services to low-income students if that school has failed to make adequate progress for three consecutive years.
Johnson said that currently schools districts get $7,000 per pupil in regular education and $14,000 per pupil in special education, from the government. Therefore, the districts have a financial incentive to “special educate” students, regardless of whether they are actually eligible or not, he added.
“Many faculty members teaching special education aren’t qualified to teach it because they themselves haven’t passed the required competency test,” he said. “The faculty members are the ones who should be receiving special education instead of teaching it. As it’s now, special education serves as welfare for teachers, especially white women, who would otherwise be out of a job.”
Next Johnson tackled the issue of the budget crisis in Syracuse. “The Syracuse School District doesn’t have a budget problem. It has a spending priorities problem,” he said. “Gifted education has been taken out because it doesn’t get
paid. Special education gets twice as much as regular education. The solution to the crisis is to cut the special education budget.”
To illustrate his point about black students being herded into special education by school administrators, Johnson said that parents aren’t told about alternatives to the Individualized Education Program of special education. One alternative is the 504 Plan, a reasonable written accommodation plan spelled out by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which allows for some students to have extra time for exams, extra break periods, special study areas and assistance, etc.
“The administrators don’t get extra money for a 504 Plan, so they don’t publicize it among the parents,” he said.
Another avenue to steer black students into special education is a method of specific learning disability identification included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as revised in 2004, the speaker said. The method is known as the discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement, which yields “numbers that lie” since they are based on flawed tests, he told the listeners. Johnson advocated using the response to intervention method instead. This method, which is also in the act, would decrease the labeling of children as disabled, he added.
Before going to the back of the room to sign copies of his book, Johnson didn’t miss another opportunity to make audience members laugh. He concluded his presentation by making a distinction between freedom and freedumb.
“Freedumb is when the black is free to do what he or she wants within the limits of the law,” he said. “Freedom is to do anything but struggle.”
— Article by Miguel Balbuena, Community Correspondent for The Stand