I want to be clear about racism in public schools. Innovation can’t thrive in racist school cultures. If we don’t address the elephant in the room now, innovation won’t thrive in the next decades for generations of Black children.
So let’s stop simply giving them the first Black president, Vice President … this, that, and the third and truly give them a pathway to freedom through education. That education should not stand on a foundation that is structured by a system built on racism.
Many people picture racism as simply the slavery and Jim Crow era while conviently leaving out critical aspects of the Black Power, Women’s, Black Liberation and other movements in America that continues to challenge systemic racism today.
Racism hasn’t changed with the times. It still has the same goal: Keep Black people in a position of dependence and not true independence. This work starts early which is why the education system is often referred to as housing the school to prison and cradle to prison pipeline.
As a Black teacher, I often determine how progressive public school districts are about being anti-racist based on the policies they implement and enforce. Policies with no enforcement are pointless, allows racism to thrive, and allows gatekeepers to continue maintaining business as usual.
Ever wonder why “the good teachers” or the “outspoken” educators are always the first ones to be pushed out the door or silenced?
It’s because policies in public education are designed to police students and teachers. Most public school districts’ policies are punitive and delivered in the form of metrics, guides, or handbooks that represent what children can and cannot do.
Let’s look at one of the most distinguished cities known for civil rights, Atlanta. The Atlanta Public Schools Student Handbook is over 100 pages. Having been a school administrator, I can assure you that students are not reading this, and more importantly, aren’t remembering the fine details of policies. Furthermore, these policies are harmful to them and focus more on their misconduct rather than their restoration to the school setting.
The majority of the handbook serves as a guise to “protect” students when in reality it really restricts students and aims to control their actions. Additionally, the policing of children takes away time from the academic and social emotional support staff, including administrators, counselors, social workers, behavior specialists, and teachers.
School districts invest more in telling students what they can’t do than putting dollars into programming and resources to support them in making better choices.
The language in school handbooks is antiquated and needs to change. Even the usage of “punishment” goes against the work of restorative practices, especially since slavery was a belief of many Southern white male Christians that slavery was a “punishment” for Black people.
Let’s look at how the language sets up Black students to be driven into the school to prison pipeline. For example, the APS student handbook states, “any and all violations of the Code of Conduct will be part of a student’s disciplinary record and may be used in a student disciplinary hearing pursuant to APS’s progressive discipline process.”
Black boys in particular who are seen as disruptive as early as Kindergarten are often negatively impacted by this statement the most. In school districts, including APS, the student has a “record” that is transferred to their next school. To be quite honest, the majority of the record is designed to inform the next school about what’s “wrong” with the student from learning “gaps” to “behavior challenges.” This sets the student up to be seen as problematic even before the first day at the school
Another major concern is the access some Black kids have to marijuana. Having worked in public schools in Atlanta, this was a consistent issue reported in school behavior data. However, working with other schools in North and East Atlanta, I know that prescription drugs and non-prescription pills were more of an issue with white students. Did the white students have these transgression included in their discipline files with the same vigor as their Black counterparts?
Take a moment and look at the charts below from the APS Student Handbook. The alarming factor is that for one area of prescribed drugs, students are given a warning. This happens to be the area where more white students are known to utilize these substances. They aren’t punished or penalized as harshly as other students who may have substances that are not prescribed.
The last chart reflects non-prescribed drugs, most cases are weed and the students are suspended for three days or more, sent to tribunal, and pushed out of the school. This is why I say policies are being used to police Black children in schools. There is a clear intention to punish Black children more harshly for making the same mistakes as any other youth.
We can’t innovate ourselves out of a racism problem. Can we?
Many charter schools in Indianapolis as considers themselves to be innovation schools. Students from these schools, especially Black students, tend to be suspended more than if they stayed within their traditional public schools.
What is the point of innovation, if students are treated more harshly? Black students do not need more punishment in order to learn. They need more support to ensure that they thrive and succeed.