Racial Disparity in Student Discipline Isn’t All About Race

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Black students are suspended from school at substantially higher rates than white ones.

 

That’s indisputable.

 

When teachers send kids to the office, when principals issue detentions and suspensions, the faces of those students are disproportionately black or brown.

 

So what does that mean?

 

Are minority children more badly behaved than white ones?

 

Or is it an indication that our public schools are overrun with racist teachers and principals?

 

Those appear to be the only choices in Trump’s America.

 

There’s either something desperately wrong with children of color or the majority of white staff at public schools can’t handle them.

 

But the reality is far more complex, and no matter who you are, it will probably make you uncomfortable.

 

The problem is that there are variables the binary choice above doesn’t even begin to explain, and chief among them is child poverty.

 

In short, there are an awful lot of poor kids in America. And children living in poverty act out more than those living in middle or upper income brackets.

 

It’s not that these kids are inherently bad. They’re just coping with the stress of an impoverished life style by claiming whatever attention they can – even negative attention.

 

And since children of color are disproportionately more impoverished than white kids, it just makes sense that more of them would act up.

 

It should come as no surprise that living with economic deprivations translates into behavioral problems.

 

I’m not saying poverty is the only factor. I’m not saying that white teachers and administrators don’t engage in bias and racism. But it isn’t all one or the other.

 

Both are factors in this equation. And others variables as well.

 

To truly understand the problem, we have to give up the easy answers and the blame game and come together to find real, workable solutions.

 

SUSPENSIONS

 

About 15.5 percent of American school children are black, yet they make up 39 percent of students who are suspended from school, according to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) first study on the issue.

 

The study used data from 95,000 schools compiled from the federal Civil Rights Collection.

 

Particularly alarming is the fact that almost the same disparity exists in our prison system, where nearly 38 percent of inmates are black.

 

Researchers concluded that this disparity persists in both rich and poor schools, so the primary cause is racial bias.

 

However, the study was also used by the GAO as a means to put pressure on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as she considered whether to rescind 2014 civil rights guidelines from the Obama Administration. The report was part of a political move to force DeVos to keep using guidelines meant to ensure that students are not discriminated against when punishments are handed out or schools would risk being found in violation of civil rights laws.

 

The problem is that the study is undeniably partisan and politically motivated.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I sympathize with its motivation. It’s just that we can’t let a single well-intentioned political action falsely impugn the nation’s teachers and public schools.

 

It IS important to keep the Obama era guidelines on civil rights violations. We DO need to be aware of possible incidents of discrimination against minorities in our schools and work to rectify these issues.

 

However, we can’t let this change the facts. The issue is whether poverty or race has a greater impact on racial discrepancies in student discipline. Are a greater percentage of black kids suspended mainly because of prejudice or is it more a symptom of their poverty?

 

And the answer can’t depend on whether it makes an odious person like DeVos squirm or smile.

 

POVERTY

 

The problem with answering this question comes from the various definitions of poverty we employ.

 

If we define poverty for students as those eligible for free or reduced lunch programs (a determination based on household income), then more than half – 51% – of public school children are poor.

 

But if we take the more conservative formula developed in the 1960s based on food expenses as a part of a family budget, poverty estimates shrink.

 

According to the Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) which uses the more conservative definition, childhood poverty in the U.S. breaks down as follows: 10% of white kids (4.2 million), 27% of Latino children (4 million), 33% of Black students (3.6 million), 12% of Asian children (400,000) and 40% of Native American children (200,000).

 

And those figures are rising. There are 1.2 million more poor children in the U.S. today than there were in 2000.

 

However, there is real reason to assume these figures don’t capture the whole picture. After all, in just the last 30 years, food expenses (up 100%) have not risen as dramatically as other costs such as health care (up 500%), housing (up 250%) and college tuition (up 1,000%). So any real-world definition of poverty would include substantially more children than just those who qualify under these out-of-date federal guidelines.

 

A report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) concludes, “If the same basic methodology developed in the early 1960s was applied today, the poverty thresholds would be over three times higher than the current thresholds.”

 

And the GAO study used the conservative 1960s threshold.

 

It underestimated how poor our nation, families and children have become.

 

Consider: in the past 20 years as wages have stagnated, median household expenses increased by 25 to 30 percent. As a result, 3 out of 5 Americans today spend more than they earn – not on useless frivolities – but on essential needs.

 

It’s estimated that over three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

 

People are working more hours for decreasing wages and benefits. A Princeton study concluded that 94 percent of the nine million new jobs created in the past decade were temporary or contract-based instead of traditional full-time positions.

 

In 2016, the poorest 50% of American adults had an average net worth (home and financial assets minus debt) of just $7,500. To make matters worse, only a year previously it was $9,000. The difference all went to the top 1% who gained an average of $1.5 million during that same year.

 

These facts have real world consequences for every level of society – especially how our children behave in school.

 

CONSEQUENCES

 

It seems clear then that the scope and effects of poverty have been underestimated by the GAO report and others who wish to emphasize the effect of racism and bias.

 

Again this is not to say that racism and bias are misrepresented or unimportant. It’s a question of how much – not an either/or situation.

 

The fact of the matter is that poverty has a more pervasive impact on student discipline because students of color experience it at greater rates than white kids.

 

This is mainly because of the way poverty affects students’ home lives – an area that has a much greater influence on education than what goes on in the school, itself.

 

For instance, children who don’t know how to “play school” – to navigate the expectations, routines, social situations and academic demands – don’t learn as much as those who do. In fact, this may be a partial reason why children of color don’t do as well academically as kids from other groups. Certainly biased standardized assessments and the high stakes decisions made based on these tests play an even larger role. But at least some of the gap may be caused by lost opportunities due to behavioral issues.

 

Sadly, children who act out in class usually do the same at home. We must ask then: are parents present when this happens? Do they have similar standards of misbehavior? Do they know how to correct misbehavior when it happens?

 

Unfortunately, there is significant evidence that many parents aren’t able to be present for their kids.

 

They are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet and don’t have the time to do the groundwork necessary to eliminate behavior problems before their children go to class. They don’t have the time to set up routines, expectations, rewards and punishments, etc. And even when they do attempt to do these things, they have less ability to get it right because their attention is focused on putting food on the table, providing clothing and shelter, etc.

 

This is not because these people are bad parents. In fact, they are good parents who are doing the best they can. But this is a symptom of a deformed society that requires a disproportionate investment of time from the poor for the essentials that is not required of those in higher income brackets.

 

This is not something unique to black and brown families, either. It is a feature of millions of white households as well – but the demographics of poverty cluster these impacts disproportionately on children of color.

 

HOME LIFE

 

There is also a change in the sociological makeup and values of poor and minority families.

 

Some would put blame squarely on the increasing prevalence of one-parent households. I think this is deceptive, though, because many one-parent households are stronger and more stable than two parent ones. It really depends. But it makes sense that households with two parents – where one adult can lean on the other for support – are often more stable than those without this feature.

 

This may be an area where black children have a disadvantage since according to census data the percentage of white children under 18 who live with both parents almost doubles that of black children. While 74.3 percent of all white children below the age of 18 live with both parents, only 38.7 percent of African-American minors do the same.

 

There is also the issue of parents who aren’t just absent during the workday but absent altogether. People of color also are incarcerated at disproportionate rates to white people – even when convicted for the same crimes. This is not to say that black people commit more crimes, but that they are more harshly punished for them than whites – they have higher conviction rates and serve longer sentences.

 

This has consequences for children of color. It adds to the prevalence of grandparents and/or other siblings or foster caregivers filling that parental role. Again, these households can be exceptionally strong and stable. But there is less support, more struggles and the increased possibility that children’s behavioral home foundations may be less robust.

 

RACIAL TRAUMA

 

People of color also experience racial trauma compounded from our national history of slavery, racism and prejudice. Black and brown people today are still dealing with the effects of generational slavery. This is one of the reasons they are disproportionately poor – they did not have the chance to gather wealth over successive generations as white families did.

 

Moreover, the culture of black people was disrupted by the slave trade. Genealogies, legacies, traditions, faiths, etc. were stolen from them by the slave industry. Parenthood, as we know it today, was forbidden to black people. Is it any wonder that they have struggled to regain what was taken from them by white society?

 

Finally, there are the effects of Jim Crow and racial discrimination after the end of slavery. Black people have continually been told they had the same rights and opportunities as white people but when they went to claim these alleged boons, they were beaten back. This has had the effect of turning some of them against the very idea of many of the behaviors they see exemplified by white people.

 

Some students of color don’t want to behave like the white kids because they want to assert their blackness. There is among some of them an internalization of negative behaviors as black and positive ones as white. This misdirected self-determination results in racial pride for acting up regardless of the academic consequences.

 

RACISM AT SCHOOL

 

Of course by the same token there is certainly bias, prejudice and racism among white teachers, administrators, faculty and staff.

 

The fact that our public schools are mostly staffed with non-black and non-brown people, itself, ensures that bias will be prevalent in our schools. It is vital that we increase the percentage of black staff – especially teachers – in our classrooms. Though this will require the elevation of the profession of educator to attract teachers of all backgrounds.

 

The problem is that white people often don’t understand black culture or even recognize how much white people have been enculturated to accept stereotypes and bias as the norm.

 

This has a direct impact on school discipline. Many discipline policies are written to unduly target students of color. I’m not saying this is necessarily intentional – though it may be in some cases – but that these policies result in discipline discrepancies.

 

Many of these are dress code policies. How many schools criminalize the wearing of black hair in certain ways or the simple hooded sweatshirt? Hoodies, for example, are a preferred manner of dress for many students of color and really cause no harm to academics or social interactions. But administrators and/or school boards ban them – why? It’s just another way to police black bodies and minds.

 

These sorts of practices are everywhere in our schools and take reflection to undo. For instance, I found myself guilty of this same thing for years in my classroom when some of my black students started compulsively brushing their hair at their desks. These were mainly boys with short hair who were trying to get a wave effect their peers considered stylish.

 

At first, I found this incredibly annoying – the sound of constant brushing as students were doing their work. But then I realized that these students WERE doing their work. The brushing in no way interfered with academics. It didn’t bother anyone except for me and perhaps some of the white students.

 

Simply allowing cultures to express themselves should not result in disciplinary action. And since I’ve permitted the behavior, I’ve had less reason to discipline my students and no negative impact on academics.

 

SOLUTIONS

 

Most analyses of this problem stop with blame.

 

Who’s responsible for this? And once we have an answer – and it’s usually one very simple answer – then we’ve done all we set out to do.

 

In the case of the GAO report, once again the blame was put on everyone’s favorite scapegoat, public schools and teachers. But this is not earned given how much poverty was overlooked. The reality is that the responsibility for the problem is multifaceted with much of it stemming from cruel economics.

 

The solutions to the issue, if we are ever to really try to do more than just point fingers, must address a variety of ills.

 

First, we need to monitor and help public school staff to be less biased.

 

We need more teachers of color without a doubt, but this will never happen until all teachers are better paid, have stronger labor protections, autonomy and prestige. On top of that, there should be additional incentives to attract teachers of color. It’s hard for white teachers to notice their own biases unless there is someone in the building who can see them more clearly and offer advice. Just making the staff more multicultural will make white teachers more reflective of their own practices.

 

Of course actively pointing out prejudice is extremely difficult for co-workers to do by themselves. In addition, white teachers need cultural sensitivity training. And not just them. Since no educator comes from all cultures, everyone could use frequent reminders of how to be more inclusive, impartial and fair to students from various backgrounds.

 

Next, we need to broaden our idea of what discipline is. Every infraction doesn’t need a detention or suspension. We can enact interventions like restorative justice practices, conflict resolution and other positive procedures that actively teach kids how to deal with their emotions and better behave.

 

In short, we’re teaching kids what they should have learned at home, but like so many things in our society, it’s left to the schools to get it done. I bring this up not to shame anyone but to remind society that any expectation that schools can fix this problem by themselves is laughably naïve – but someone has to try.

 

At the macro level, we need to take steps to reduce and eliminate poverty.

 

This is one of the richest countries in the history of the world. Surely we can find ways to better share that wealth to the benefit of all. If parents don’t have to work multiple jobs to survive, they are more able to teach, model and discipline their own kids. And when parents are present in children’s lives, those kids don’t have as great a need for attention. It would certainly cut down on negative attention seeking behaviors.

 

In addition, with schools at the center of neighborhoods, we can have more adult education classes for parents. This would be not just courses on how to effectively raise children but on job skills and lifelong learning. After all, parents who value learning raise kids who do, too.

 

Finally, we need to enact antiracist policies at the local, state and federal level to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) prejudice of all kinds. We need integrated schools and neighborhoods. We need more antidiscrimination policies. We need to end mass incarceration and selective enforcement of the law. And we need some form of reparations to black people for the generations of racism they have had to endure.

 

I know these are big goals. But they are the only way to make a just society for everyone.

 

We cannot continue to blame our school system for reproducing the society that created it. Education is aspirational and strives to better itself. But it cannot reach that goal alone.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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29 thoughts on “Racial Disparity in Student Discipline Isn’t All About Race

  1. I have a lot to say about this, but I’ll just focus on what I’m struggling to agree with. In the county where I teach there are a lot white students that come from a higher or middle SES that are the most disrespectful, obnoxious, hateful, obscene-language spewing individuals whose referrals are not processed. For example, there were a group of students that copy and pasted photographs of teachers found online. These students created a pornographic website where they photoshopped these teachers images with sexually explicit images. After a slap on the wrist, these students were allowed to waltz back into these teachers’ classrooms with smirks on their faces. And no, racism isn’t the only reason, but unfortunately its the primary reason. It is the head and it must be cut off. Doing that will solve a lot of problems — poverty being one of them. In other words, poverty is a product of racism.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Monique. I don’t know where you teach but I see it opposite in the US. Poverty is the mother of racism not the other way round. Or maybe greed. It is the rich who created racism to keep the rest of us fighting so we wouldn’t band together in mutual interest and demand equity. Slavery was an economic system, after all, propped up by the belief that white people were superior and black people inferior. Therefore, they convinced society that slavery was justified. And the same goes for Jim Crow and so many other situations. I’m not saying white kids don’t act up. I’m not saying rich white kids don’t act up. I’m saying that there is a complex economic and social interplay at work with racism a tool under its hood.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I work in the USA. Born and raised. We’re going to have to agree to disagree. Whether or not you live in the USA or have seen the effects of racism in other countries, poverty does not make someone racist. That explanation is an out-of-date doctrine that is told to comfort ourselves into believing that racism can end if only people knew better. Or did better. Or learned more. I don’t know how I can get you understand where I’m coming from. I can’t. You’re not Black and haven’t lived as I have, so it’s going to be incredibly hard for me to explain this in a comment section. All I ask is that you empathize and learn more. Whether or not race is a tool that the global elites use to divide, it’s a tool that most whites will either not fight against or passively allow to prevail because it benefits their lives. Best of luck to you in your endeavors, Steven.

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      • Thanks so much for engaging, Monique. I certainly don’t understand personally what it’s like to be a person of color in America. Any experience I have of it is second or third hand. I am trying to understand and to help undo the damage of white supremacy. In doing so I defer to your judgement and experience to a great degree. However, I am NOT trying to say that poverty makes people racist. I’m saying that historically the rich created and spread the American version of white supremacy to further their ends and it still does so. This doesn’t mean racists are consciously acting in the interests of the rich but that they unconsciously do. I do not mean to reduce the importance of racism. I mean to offer a means to help undermine and destroy it. Nor do I claim my way is the only way. But I think it is one method among many and that it is very important and effective.

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  2. One more time, Steven Singer writes inviting readers to look for a different, objective, and most necessary scrutiny on subjects like racism and public schools.IMO, racism is well and alive. I would argue that rather than being eradicated, racism simply went from overt to covert. Slavery served its purpose to be later abandoned. Unregulated capitalism created a convenient cloak to continue dispensing privileges and power, while denying rights and opportunity to minorities. IMO, Steven Singer asks a most important question: why public schools and teachers had to be blamed, accused, and found guilty for the systemic socio-economic problems associated with race? These institutions and their teachers operate in socio-economic and political frames that determine what they can and cannot do. Undeniably, there is a biased context that remains unquestioned, and there are also particular interests that benefit from this context. The problems with race at public schools are not necessarily problems caused by the schools. In the case of the problems related to race, it is time to stop blaming public schools and teachers, and look for the roots of the problems somewhere else. That way, as a society we can aspire to achieve a win-win situation where minorities are awarded a fair and equal place in a society with public schools that focus more on the enlightenment of students. .

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sergio, thank you very much for your comments. They are very much appreciated. This is a difficult topic for most everyone – me, included. Poverty and racism are twin shadows that have followed each other for so long it’s difficult to say which is being cast by which.

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  3. As someone who grew up in poverty, but lived in a 98% school district and contrast my own school discipline experiences with that of my children, who live in a school district with a high percentage of black and brown students, I call BS on your entire analysis.

    Poverty does not breed racism and you’re just another white dude pushing class reductionism like other racist leftist white dudes.

    You have no business lecturing black people on this stuff whatsoever.

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    • Jack, I’m sorry my article doesn’t coincide with your personal experiences. But I never said poverty breeds racism. I said poverty has an impact on student behavior. That’s not reductionism. It’s fact. You can disagree that it is more impactful than racism but to ignore this phenomenon altogether is unsound.

      Finally, do you really think I’m racist because I disagree with you and am white? In this article I repeatedly called for anti-racist action – school integration, hiring more teachers of color, ending mass incarceration, reparations. These seem like strange positions for a racist person to have. Finally, I’m not lecturing anyone. I’m making an argument based on facts that anyone is free to read or ignore. I am not a policymaker or powerful in any way. I’m just a person trying to make sense of the world and find ways to better it. Sorry you found that so upsetting.

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    • Jack, I am going to one-up you — make that two or three or four-up you.

      I was also born into a family living in poverty. My father and mother never graduated from high school. My older brother spent 15 years of his life in prison for a variety of crimes. My dad was an alcoholic and a chain smoker.

      I was born with a learning disability, Dyslexia and probably one or two others) so severe, when I was 7, my mother was told I’d never learn to read or write.

      Fast forward to 1975. Because I joined the Marines out of high school and fought in Vietnam, I had an opportunity to go to college with help from the GI Bill. I earned my BA in 1973 and my teaching credential during the 75-76 school year through a full-time urban residency.

      By the time I retired from teaching, I spent thirty years teaching in schools with child poverty rates of 70 percent or higher

      Not once did I write a student up for disrupting my classes because they were a minority since the schools were majority-minority schools with what we label minorities making up 92 percent of the student population. The students I suspended from my class (not from the school – teachers were not allowed to do that. All we could do was suspend them from the class we were teaching and send them to the office to be counseled) because they disrupted the class.

      In that district, teachers were required to come up with 10 behavior rules and then have a plan to deal with students that broke those rules. When a student, no matter the color of their skin, disrupted the learning environment, they were warned to stop. If they continued, they were written up on a referral and sent to the office.

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  4. I started to read your blog, but I got side tracked when you said the GAO study was “partisan and politically motivated”. I’m not sure what you know about the GAO, but here are a couple of facts.
    (1) The GAO is non-partisan. And when people there work on a research project, if they are biased toward one outcome or another, they are expected to remove themselves, or in some cases, perhaps they will not be assigned to said project.
    (2) The GAO researches topics at the request of Congress. At the time this report would have been requested, Republicans would have been in power in both the House and the Senate.
    Thus, it is quite unlikely that the GAO report is partisan and it is even more unlikely to be partisan in a way that favors Democrats when the Republicans were in power when the report was requested.

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    • Fair point, Katie. Maybe I’m wrong on that – except that it seems likely the report was worked on by a lot of people left over from the Obama administration. Even if not, it came out just when Betsy DeVos was threatening to rethink those Obama era civil rights guidelines and was used to try to stop her. Maybe it’s just a coincidence but I’m not sure I believe there are many of those in Washington. But even if I’m completely wrong about this, it doesn’t change the fact that the GAO report underestimated the effects of poverty. The federal government has been using the same poverty threshold since the 1960s. Why don’t they update it? Because then both parties would have a harder time ignoring the fiscal inequalities our nation is built on.

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      • The census bureau does construct two different measures of poverty: the official measure developed by Mollie Orshansky in the early 1960s and the supplemental poverty measure which the census has been releasing annually since 2011. The differences are explained here: https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2017/demo/poverty_measure-how.html

        The supplemental poverty measure is a much better way to measure poverty in our contemporary society. The reason it is not the official measure can be found in the map in my link above. The supplemental poverty measure finds relatively more poverty in the north east and west coasts of the United States and less in rural areas. If adopted, this would change the flow of federal antipoverty funds away from rural areas and more toward urban ones. Rural politicians are aware of this.

        A second issue is that federal anti-poverty efforts like SNAP, housing subsidies, school lunch programs, and the Earned Income Tax Credit reduce the supplemental poverty measure but have no impact on the official poverty measure. There may be some political interest in claiming that these policies are not effective in reducing poverty.

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      • Steven,

        I think we agree that the official measure of poverty does not do a good job of measuring poverty in the US, but perhaps disagree about why the official measure of poverty is still the official measure. I am fairly certain that school officials, for example, would be opposed to switching to the supplemental poverty measure because fewer children live in poverty using the supplemental poverty measure and as a result, fewer federal dollars would go to schools, though of course some schools, particularly in the urban northeast and west coast, would see an increase in funding.

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      • Now there’s the TE I remember! I’m pretty sure that better definitions of poverty INCREASE – not decrease – the number of children qualified as living in poverty. For instance, the example I mention in the article about qualifying for free or reduced school lunch. That includes MORE children than the standard federal measure. I think the reason the federal government doesn’t use these measures is because they would make it more difficult to ignore poverty. They would make it more difficult to focus on tax cuts and supply side Reagan-omics. They’d put pressure on the government to actually solve poverty.

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      • Steven,

        I am pretty sure that the best measure of anything is the one that reflects the truth of the matter. The federal government could use the earned income tax credit to insure that no household with a working family member has an income below $50,000, but that policy would not have any impact on the official measure of poverty. Among other reasons, that is why the official poverty measure does not make sense, not because it conflicts with any arbitrary notion about how many people “should” be counted as poor, but because it does not reflect the truth of the matter.

        The supplemental poverty measure goes beyond the cost of food, taking into account the cost of housing and the cost of healthcare, the efforts of the government to reduce poverty, and the impact of taxes, among other changes. It is a better reflection of the truth than the official poverty measure. It does find that more people are in poverty than the official measure, but also finds that different people are poor than the official measure. Fewer people in rural areas, more in urban, largely because it takes housing costs seriously. More older Americans, fewer younger, because it takes health care costs seriously.

        If you think that the supplemental poverty measure does not reflect the truth of the matter, give an argument based on the details of how poverty is measured by this measure and propose a better one.

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      • I am not as knowledgable on this as you are, TE. If the supplemental poverty measure does all you say, it sounds like a better threshold for poverty than the one being used. I think we need a definition of poverty that captures the real picture. It would also need to factor in the cost of college which may increase the numbers of young people. My point is simply that we need a better measure. I’m not sure if the one you mention is it or not.

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    • When is non-partisan, not?

      Since each new president appoints his own people to run all the federal agencies and if a president wants to spin his/her own bias in a report from one of these alleged non-partisan agencies, the reports can be edited and revised to fit the bias of that president.

      Case in point: The Trump administration’s attempts to scrub climate change infrom from non-partisan government websites.

      https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/two-government-websites-climate-change-survive-trump-era-n891806

      The truth about those 7 words ‘banned’ at the CDC by the Trump administration.

      https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/11/health/cdc-word-ban-hhs-document/index.html

      The disturbing new language of science under Trump, explained.

      “In 1946, George Orwell published the seminal essay “Politics and the English Language,” in which he described how convoluted language can be used to intentionally confuse or mislead people. “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details,” he wrote. “When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”

      Language is undoubtedly suffering in the Trump era, particularly the language of health and science. “There have been too many instances and too many suspected instances of words or ideas being set out of bounds,” Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told Vox.”

      https://www.vox.com/2017/12/20/16793010/cdc-word-ban-trump-censorship-language

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  5. You are brave, at least, to enter such a discussion. For that you deserve some praise. My interaction with white teachers show a variety of personalities, some willing to converse, and the greater majority by far seeing to prefer bare civility. Few if any will engage in a discussion with a black person for any duration. At school the white teachers do not really mix with black teachers and I have never seen what I would call a friendship between white and black teachers.
    It seems to me that most teachers, white, seem to accept the performance of black students as natural and are not concerned about changing that.
    You mentioned hair and that is an important issue. The types of hair, of black and white are decidedly different. I have seen white boys put their hands in the hair of black girls with braids; this they do in contempt and I find it insulting. The girl does not like it either but is unable to counter it in a culture which places value on one type of hair. Some white teachers accept that, without comment, not realizing that they are allowing another human being to be put down in class; for the entire year. I encourage black students to wear natural hair.
    In his book ‘The Rise and Fall of American Growth’ Gordon says: ‘Most serious is the high degree of inequality in reading and vocabulary skills of the nation’s children at age 5 the normal age of entrance to kindergarten; middle class children have a spoken vocabulary as much as triple that of children brought up in poverty conditions by a single parent.’
    Krashen in ‘The Power of Reading’ recommends that students be allowed to do silent reading of books they choose. I have not seen even the slightest concern about the reading habits of the poorer child. Time has to be spent finding appealing books and then getting them into the library. But they also need to actually read the books and this mean that time has to be set aside to allow them to read perhaps fifteen minutes a day. They and only they should choose the books they will read.
    I watch a kid select a number of Manga books, certainly not my choice but he loves them. Let him read more. Eventually he will shift his choices. But first let him love reading. If he is allowed fifteen minutes to read every day then in the course of time his reading choices will change.
    I’ve seen white parents check out maybe thirty books from the city library. She, the mother is guiding her child in an important area. The minority parent may not see the power of reading and so their children are not given the opportunity to love books. Time and time again I have watched a child misunderstand his math problem because of poor reading skills.
    Most teachers seem to be content with that. Let me put it differently. Two white teachers, speaking to me, have referred to black student behavior as animal like. It is offensive. They will press for higher pay but the problems affecting their students do not receive the attention it deserves. Recently teachers are including the needs of students in their strike demands, and hopefully that is not just to get parent support.
    People who read tend to sit still, and learn to search for meaning, things which are vital in other areas of learning.
    Black students can be difficult, and some are really challenging to deal with since they use a set of words and actions which are objectionable. I have been told get out of my face. At times I get angry.
    Says Ms. Darling Hammond: ‘Wisconsin, settled mainly by Scandinavians and among the best Performers among American states, performs substantially below Finland.’ That is a point which illustrates that the entire educational system is not performing at its best. Two things then, for decades the educational system has been underperforming as shown in PISA tests. Additionally, poverty or economics is allowed to determine the performance of students. Other educational systems have moved to minimize the effect of poverty. There is nothing built into the American system of education to counter that, and elevate the performance of poorer students. Finland, and you of all people know that, moved to lessen the influence of poverty and it needs to be done here also.
    If there is to be any serious progress then parents, and you have mentioned it, will have to be brought into the picture. Here there can be no condescension, from teachers. The parents’ influence is too powerful to disregard. If they can be won over then much can be done.
    There is prejudice in the system, but with effort changes can be made to lessen its effects.

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    • Melchi, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. There is much to think about in your comments. There are very few black teachers in my district and even fewer in my building, but I try to be friends with them. We are certainly on friendly terms and I do go to them for advice. I agree with you that it is important to be a reflective teacher and really think about what you’re doing and how you react. And you have to like your students. Maybe not all of them. That might not be possible, but you have to like kids and at least empathize with all of them. Try to see things how they see them. That seems to help me. Thanks again.

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    • “At school, the white teachers do not really mix with black teachers and I have never seen what I would call a friendship between white and black teachers.”

      I can only speak for myself. I formed a friendship with a “black teacher”. Matthew taught math next door to my classroom. We became friends and pulled jokes on each other in such a way that our students loved the game we played. We went out as friends to eat or shop together and had fun with salesman who had to be nice to us when we claimed we were twins and Matthew said I was the ugly one.

      When I separated from my first wife after a big argument, I drove to Mathew’s house and he put me up in one of his five bedrooms and provided moral support for me through that divorce.

      The district where we taught did not allow teachers at the same school to date or get married, and when I married one of the other teachers (a couple of years after the divorce to #1), also a friend of Matthew’s, we turned to him to help us keep our secret. He tapped into all the office rumor mills and when he heard a rumor that Syliva and I were dating, he would say that had to be impossible because Syliva and Lloyd hated each other.

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