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In the late 1960s, the California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) filed two class-action lawsuits that advocated for fair education opportunities for Mexican-American children in California. A statewide problem, at least 13,000 farmworker and other second-language students were victims of culturally biased IQ tests and sent to dead-end classes and dubbed “Educable Mentally Retarded” -- in one class, 12 out of 13 students were from farmworker families in the Salinas Valley.
SOLEDAD, California – Ten-year-old Arturo Velázquez was born and raised in a farm labor camp in the small Salinas Valley town of Soledad. He was bright and gregarious, but he was still learning English when he entered third grade in 1968. A psychologist at Soledad Elementary School gave him a culturally biased IQ test in English only and without translation. Based on the results, he was labeled “retarded” and placed in a class for the “Educable Mentally Retarded.” Arturo joined 12 other children, varying in age from 6-13, in that one classroom. All but one were from farmworker families. All were devastated by the stigma and name calling by other children and by their lack of opportunity to learn.
Brand new at the time was the Lyndon Johnson and Sargent Shriver inspired national legal services program and one of its grantees, California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), had evening office hours at the Catholic church in Soledad. In 1969, two Soledad parents had the courage to complain to CRLA staff. The CRLA attorneys knew that the problem was statewide with at least 13,000 farmworker and other second language students sent to dead end classes where they were given coloring books and magazines to cut pictures out of and, if old enough, made to wash school buses. Another generation of over 100,000 was in line to get the same mistreatment. The legal battle to stop the practice and rescue the mostly Mexican-American children ensued. That case was followed closely by a fight to end the use of the same biased IQ tests with African-American students. While African-American and Mexican-American students made up 21.5% of the state population, they were 48% of special education programs.
Written by Marty Glick and Maurice Jourdane, the two attorneys who led the charge “The Soledad Children” (Arte Público Press, Sept. 30, 2019) recounts the history of the advent of rural justice through CRLA and the two class-action suit filed in 1970 and 1972, Diana v. the State Board of Education and Larry P v Riles.
“‘Soledad Children’ is an extremely vital piece of California history, relating the exciting birth of CRLA in 1967 while elaborating the early struggles that gave it purpose and definition. I particularly enjoyed the riveting account of the court battles to rescue thousands of normal Mexican- and African-American kids prejudicially assigned to EMR classers for the retarded. The specter of eugenics still looms.”
~ Famed Mexican-American playwright Luis Valdez (author of “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba”)
“‘Soledad Children’ is a primer for taking legal action on the socially significant issues that plague our society. It is a great read and highly recommended.”
~ Retired Federal judge and civil rights pioneer, Thelton Henderson
“The story demonstrates the power of our legal system when attorneys are relentless. It was a fight to the finish.”
~ San Jose State professor and educator Maria Luisa Alaniz
“This engaging account by two lawyers who championed equal educational rights talks of ingrained prejudices throughout the California educational system, the accessible text relates conversations with principal players, including students who were erroneously labeled “Educable Mentally retarded.” Concluding chapters revisit these kids as adults.”
~ Booklist, American Library Association Journal
‘“The Soledad Children” is a painful legal history from the not -so-distant past, when biased testing and cultural segregation were the rule, rather than the exception. Concise text covers complex legal issues in a clear way. More impactful are the Book’s anecdotal stories and legal testimonials that stem from the central case. They capture the voices of family members and misplaced students who recount spending their class time coloring cutting pictures from magazines, and serving as janitorial assistants.”
~ Forward Clarion Reviews
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
MARTY GLICK is a litigator with the international firm, Arnold & Porter, and is listed in Best Lawyers in America in Intellectual Property and Patent Law. He worked in Mississippi for the Justice Department in the 1960s and for the California Rural Legal Assistance for eight years. He has been CRLA’s outside counsel for four decades and has been lead counsel on countless pro bono cases. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
MAURICE “MO” JOURDANE is the author of “The Struggle for the Health and Legal Protection of Farm Workers: El Cortito” (Arte Público Press, 2005). His work at California Rural Legal Assistance helped secure farmworkers’ rights during the nation’s civil rights gains of the 1960s and 1970s. He lives and works in San Diego, California.
In an interview, MARTY GLICK discusses:
● The impact of giving culturally biased IQ tests to tens of thousands of young, enthusiastic and often bright farmworker and other Mexican-American children
● The decade-long fight to change the education system’s approach to educating immigrants and the parallels to the treatment of those of Mexican descent today
● The history and misuse of IQ testing and the nature versus nurture debate
● The importance of lawyers collaborating with community groups to bring lasting change
In the late ‘60s, public schools in California were measuring the IQs of children using tests with culturally biased content, which led to students, many of whom were minorities, being placed in special education classes. Why were schools doing this?
Farmworker children and children from low income homes where Spanish was the primary home language as well as intercity minority children lacked pre-school education and came to public schools well behind their peers. This presented problems for resource scarce school districts. Schools should have created individualized programs to help these children but instead, referring these children to special education got them out of the way and earned the districts more money.
The court specifically found in Larry P v Riles that the practice of segregating minority children into classes for “the mentally retarded” was purposeful discrimination against African-American and Mexican-American children.
Furthermore, why did professionals who knew better, like school psychologists, facilitate this practice?
There is no excuse for the failure of school psychologists to halt this practice instead of facilitating it. Too many considered IQ tests holy and believed that minority children were genetically inferior or didn’t want to rock the boat.
Sunday, January 26, 2020
1/27/20 @9:15am pst - “The Soledad Children” (Arte Público Press, Sept. 30, 2019) by attorneys Marty Glick and Maurice Jourdane, who fought against the injustice of culturally biased IQ tests largely affecting Mexican-American and African-American children.
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