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Is Zero Tolerance Leading to School Suspension for Black Boys?

An article about school suspension and zero tolerance policies in the New York Times has me all nostalgic this morning.

I remember my 12-year-old son’s first fight at school.  Let me just start by saying my son is not a fighter.  I’ve often had to scold him about allowing other children to hit him at school.  Nonetheless, I knew as a male resident of this world it was inevitable that eventually he would get into a fight.  So, when the principal called and said he’d gotten into a fight during recess I was not surprised, or even ashamed — it was par for the course.  But, I was shocked to find out that he would receive a school suspension for a week despite, not being the aggressor.  While he did “win” the fight, thanks to some weekend brawl lessons from my dad, the other kid admitted that he  began the exchange with name calling and a smack to the back of my big boy’s head.  The question that ran through my head was since when was self-defense evidence of a violent predisposition, or a predictor of future tendencies toward violence.

And, an article in the New York Times this morning seems to agree that the over-discipline of African-American boys in America is leading to increased drop-out rates among our youth and an entire generation of ‘unschooled’ Black young men. Many education and psychology industry experts know say that zero tolerance policies may need an overhaul.   Despite a Caucasian child’s increased likelihood to bring weapons to school, Black children are disciplined for violent behavior at a much higher rate. In 2011, 21 percent of African-American boys brought guns to school versus 27 percent of white boys, but studies show Black boys are more likely to serve in-house detention, be placed on school suspension and even expelled from school for offenses as minor as graffiti tagging.  And, due to the increased profitability of the mental health industry, Black boys also lead the pack in referrals to school psychologist and special education.  Now I know many Brown Mamas will point to the many instances on the news of Black boys behaving badly both on the streets and at school.  But, I believe those are largely misconceptions.  Further, Black moms can begin fighting these policies by realizing the misconceptions and actively working against them.


Zero Tolerance & School Suspension Penalizes Black Boys for being Boys

Even as a Brown Mama, who understands her unique connection to the earth as woman, I do have to admit that sometimes we don’t get the “boys will be boys motto.”  Boys are not girls and therefore may not respond the same, or even well, to being forced into a classroom-to-corridor environment for 6-7 hours a day.  For those Mamas who have a 9-to-5 gig, just think about the mental lengths being on what I call the “cube farm” causes us. It’s time we re-evaluate the education of Black children and the efficiency of the tools, like zero-tolerance policies, used to educate them.

A recent article suggest that forcing boys to sit in classrooms is harming them more than hurting them.  The best-selling book Boys Adrift, which attempts to give reason for the recent surge of unmotivated boys turned men in America, states that classrooms across the nation have benefited immensely just by ruling out policies that say all children must sit during class time.

Sometimes Black parents think if their children don’t respond well to American education it equates to an inadequacy within their children rather than understanding that the system was not made to educate Black children.  The foundations of the U.S. school system have gone unchanged since the days of slavery.  So knowing that, Black parents should stand up to any policies and procedures within that system that create disparity; especially when those disparities do not make factual sense.

So, what did I do when my son was being unjustly treated at school for his “predisposition to violence?”  I found a new school.  I took action.  What would you do?

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