Over at Smartypants this morning I found this excellent piece, “How the Obama administration is taking on the achievement gap,” it took me back in time to the struggles my children went through in school.
Last year I wrote about the fact that Obama’s Department of Education had begun to collect information on civil rights and education – something that had stopped during the Bush administration. We now see that experts are studying that data and highlighting remedies. What they have found is that one in four black students have been suspended from school. And here are the consequences:
These findings are of serious concern given that research shows being suspended even once in ninth grade is associated with a 32% risk for dropping out, double that for those receiving no suspensions.
But the Obama administration isn’t just collecting data. You might have heard that the Department of Justice investigated the school district and law enforcement systems in Meridian, Mississippi for their gross violations of student’s civil rights in disciplinary practices.
To have a minority child in the school systyem means as a parent you have to investigate closely what the situation was. Who was involved, what exactly was my child’s involvement, how consequences were handed out to others that were involved? . It meant balancing between not protecting your child from natural consequences and making sure those consequences fit the act and were dealt out evenly between all parties involved.
By the time they were in middle school it became glaringly apparent to me the reality of the disparity in discipline between white students and minority students.
As a parent of bi-racial children I was diligent about teaching them what “playing the race card” was, and that it was not cool. If you broke the rules there were consequences, crying out “it’s because I’m black” was bullshit if indeed they had acted inappropriately. They had seen this take place, tried it a couple times themselves, but when the whole story came out and they were dead wrong I condoned their consequence and hoped lessons would be learned. Sadly, most of the time it was quite the opposite.
A couple of examples, out of many I could share are these:
Daughter A is riding home on the bus. Another girl, white and in middle school, starts picking on a young kindergarten student. Calling her names, throwing paper at the back of her head. After telling her to knock it off several times my daughter and the girl start exchanging words, they get to their bus stop, one where a large number of students get off. The verbal exchange continues and my daughter starts walking ahead with her sister and a couple other friends. The older girl catches up with my daughter and the argument starts again. This time the girl gets up in my daughter’s face, pushes her and calls her a nigger. My daughter pushed her back hard enough to send her butt flying onto the ground. Given the large number of students getting off the bus the driver was still sitting up at the corner and saw this happen.
The next day I get a call from school, my daughter is getting suspended for three days. Up I go to the school office. My first issue is that this happened on private property quite a distance from the bus, not on the bus. “Well it started on the bus, so it’s a school matter.” Okay, I was hesitant but willing to accept that, until I found out that the other girl was not even called to the office, let alone being suspended. My protests finally led to the driver and other students being questioned about the other girls part in the incident. At that point the girl was given one day in school suspension, my daughter’s punishment was still going to stand at a three day out of school suspension. Even though I had issues with the school being involved in an act that actually took place off of school property, I was willing to be flexible enough to agree that both girls put their hands on each other and needed a consequence for that, but a fair and impartial one.
I ended up having to take this issue to the district Supervisor’s office.
Daughter B has her sister put a relaxer in her hair, unfortunately without my supervision, the outcome was that we had to get her hair cut clear down. She was in 7th grade at the time and inconsolable about her appearance until I came up with the idea of buying her several very pretty scarves to use as a head wrap until her hair had grown out a bit more. Now I’m not talking bandanas, I’m talking about nice scarves, ones that cost enough to blow the hell out of our very slim budget. But it was more than worth it to give her peace of mind, that didn’t last long for either one of us. Her first day at school in one of these scarves got her sent to the office. It was “gang related attire” What? When did prints and flowers being come gang colors and/or signs? They were actually going to suspend her if she didn’t quit wearing them. Eventually I raised enough hell that the Principal finally granted permission, but there was one particular teacher who kept sending her to the office claiming they were positive it was gang related. The only hand sign she knew in seventh grade was giving someone the bird, a sign I had to sit on my hands in order to not give to that teacher. This was no inner city school district, although our income was nowhere close to it the median income in that district of +$80,000.00.
Gangs in the sense of what inner city schools contend with were non-existent in this district.
My entire day could be taken up writing one example after another of the blatant disparities, the assumptions that “if you’re black and in my classroom you’re trouble.” Um, yeah,when you start from day one treating a child with suspicion and scorn while having a warm and positive attitude towards others, that teacher is creating a problem where should never be one.
Looking back on the situations my children were fortunate I was in a position to go to the school to advocate and when necessary fight for them. Many children weren’t for multiple reasons. Those reasons ran a spectrum from the parents who do care have to choose between losing a job to take time during the day to go deal with the school, to the parents in the grips of substance abuse who barely provided minimal care for their child let alone paying attention to how they were being treated at school.
Whatever the reason, not only can parents not always be there, as parents of minority children we shouldn’t have to constantly monitor how our child is being treated by teachers and school administrators. The educators shouldn’t be the people who show that prejudice, racism, and bigotry are still a part of our society.
For all those children who have so many gifts, so much potential, but yet have so many odds against them from the jump I am grateful that the Department of Education is active on this issue again.
As the author of the article points out, the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” does exist. As parents, teachers, and taxpayers, we have an obligation to stop the destruction of our children.