VITAL SIGNSrnEDUCATIONrnUncle Sam’srnClassroomrnby B.K. EakmanrnYolanda and Raul Salazar of Miami,rnFlorida, naturalized citizens who escapedrnCastro’s Cuba, are finding out thernhard way that Uncle Sam’s classroomsrnare not about proficiency at anything, orrnliteracy, or basics. America’s schoolsrnaren’t extensions of the home, wherernfamilies are held sacred and parents arernvalued, histead, American education isrnabout “mental hygiene,” defined b’ psychologistsrnas “preventive psychotherapy.”rnCase in point: Daniel Salazar, age ten,rnwho has been in the Dade CountyrnSchool system for eight years.rnThe multitude of psychosocial, behavioral,rnintelligence, and personality testsrnthat make up a typical child’s schoolrnrecord today reveal that Daniel was oncernan “active, sociable, happy, alert, affectionate,rnand playful” little boy. Betweenrnthe ages of two and five, Daniel’s motorrndevelopment and language skills werernadvanced compared to those of otherrnchildren his age. His kindergarten andrnfirst grade records describe Daniel as enjoyingrnschool, having no peer, absence,rnor disciplinary problems, and maintainingrna positive relationship with his parents.rnHe had bridged the gap smoothlyrnfrom Spanish to English. He wasn’t evenrna finicky eater or afraid of the dark.rnBy the time the school got throughrnwith him three years later, the picturernhad changed. Daniel had turned into arnhostile and unhappy child whom teachersrnpitted against the people who lovedrnhim most: his mother and father.rnDaniel’s sins? Well, it seems thatrnDaniel suddenly had trouble reading inrnthe third grade. He occasionally skippedrnletters in words. Wlien his voice becamernhoarse, the school sent the boy for psychometricrntesting. Bewildered, Danielrnwas subjected to a batter)’ of vision tests,rnhearing tests, behavior-rating scales, andrnstrange assessments such as tiie KineticrnFamily Drawing.rnArt not being his forte, Daniel drew arnpicture of a man, presumably his father,rnwatching television. Tiiis was interpretedrnby the school psychologist as indicating arnlack of attention at home. Wlien Danielrnsaid he couldn’t draw his mother, thisrnwas taken as “possible feelings of ambivalencerntoward her,” not as an honest statementrnthat he was no good at draw ing people.rnQuestioned ad nauseam about hisrnrelationships, he commented that hernliked the food his father often broughtrnhome after work —thus, the “expert”rnjudgment that food was the only positivernthing he associated with his parents.rnMeanwhile, the classroom teacher singledrnout Daniel for preferential seating,rnassigned him a “buddy,” and bribed himrnwith computer time. The combinationrnof interrogation, testing, and special treatmentrnsent an unmistakable message:rnSomething was wrong with him. AsrnDaniel became increasingly apprehensivernabout the scrutinv (who wouldn’t?),rnhe found himself distracted, edgy, andrnnegative concerning his studies. Hisrnclassmates started teasing him, whichrnmade him defensive. Daniel longed tornescape his stressful environment, wherernhis every move and gesture were takenrnout of context. He started complainingrnthat he felt sick, a typical reaction to dailyrnunpleasantness.rnThe school tagged Daniel with thernusual panopK’ of fashionable (if contradictory)rnpsychiatric labels —AttentionrnDeficit Disorder, dyslexia, hyperactiyit}’,rnanxiet)’, emotionally handicapped, learningrndisabled, low self-concept, depression.rnAdvised that a smaller class wouldrnallow Daniel to get the individualized attentionrnher son needed to improve hisrnreading, Mrs. Salazar agreed to it. Shernwas presented with an Individualized EducationrnPlan (lEP), which seemed tornmean the school would tailor a programrnto her son’s needs until Daniel was confidentrnenough to return to a regular class.rnLittle did the Salazars suspect that,rnonce in the “special class,” there was virtuallyrnno possibility that Daniel would everrnget out. Moreover, he would be saddledrnwith psychiatric labels that didn’trnapply to him for the remainder of hisrnschool career, and possibly for life. Norrndid they understand that, in signing thernlEP, they had essentially given up thernright to make any further educational decisionsrnconcerning their son. They hadrngiven the school carte blanche to do whatrnit pleased—in loco parentis.rnDaniel’s teachers noticed him rockingrnback and forth in his seat. This resultedrnin further psychiatric screeningrnand “counseling.” Eventually, Danielrnstopped cooperating and became argumentative.rnHe didn’t tell the counselorrnwhen his beloved grandfather died orrnwhen his best friend was badly injured inrnan accident—it was none of the coimselor’srnbusiness, after all.rnDaniel was placed in a class for thern”severely emotionally disturbed” (SED),rna warehouse environment where little ofrnan academic nature occurred. A peerpressure-rncooker was the last thing Danielrnneeded. The only way to survive was tornadopt an aura of aloofness (in the vernacularrnof psychologists, “to act out”).rnNot surprisingly, Daniel’s reading andrnother academic skills declined further,rnand he became too upset to focus onrnstudying. His parents were angry; hisrnteachers were disinterested; the kids bulliedrnhim; and the counselors intimidatedrnhim.rnBy the time the Salazars saw throughrnthe scam and balked, the school had attainedrnthe upper hand. The final strawcamernwhen Mrs. Salazar was threatenedrnunder the Baker Act (removal of a childrnfrom his home) unless she agreed to putrnDaniel on psychiatric drugs. She retaliatedrnby taking the school district to courtrnand her story to the press.rn”Is this America or not?” she askedrntelevision reporters outside a Miamirncourthouse on February 8. “We left Cubarnto get away from a totalitarian state.rnBut now we see the same thing rightrnhere. The school staff lied to me aboutrnthe nature of the class. They invaded myrnprivacy. They took advantage of myrnchild’s innocence. They lied again in therncourtroom. The more they lie, the morernmoney they get. “What’s going on here?”rnWhat was going on is politely calledrn”covering your behind.” Caught in theirrnown web of deceit, the school districtrnbrought in eyer)’one but the janitor to testif)’rnon its behalf, including teachers whornhad never taught Daniel. The districtrnwasted so much of the court’s time thatrn40/CHRONICLESrnrnrn