In this article from Black Voices, Jeff Mays states that it’s tough to be a black boy in Nashville, Tennessee. I would argue that it’s tough for black boys all over. These problems aren’t exclusive to Nashville, and it doesn’t get better as those boys grow into men. If anything it gets worse.
According to Mays, “nationally, black kids are suspended three times more often than whites.”
The treatment some black males receive in school only conditions them to future stigmatization and negative behaviors. The practice of treating black male students more harshly for behavioral problems is the first step for the school-to-prison pipeline, the trend of dealing with our children as criminals as opposed to the still-developing, potential-filled young people that they are.
Behavioral problems among young boys are real. As hormones begin to explode, and whatever environmental concerns erupt, kids exhibit all kinds of strange behavior.
But how much of this suspension issue is based on teachers’ and administrators’ perception of black boys as problem children?
When the numbers are this far out of proportion – 58 percent of black male students suspended compared to only 10 percent of white male students for one school Mays cites – questions must be asked of the adults who are making these disciplinary decisions.
This article reminds me of a friend whose son was constantly being disciplined for bad behavior in school. The elementary school student was said to be a bad student who was interrupting his second grade class almost daily. No amount of discipline at school or at home seemed to work.
The child was taken to a doctor, diagnosed with ADHD, and prescribed Ritalin for his behavior. However, the student’s mother and stepfather conducted an experiment. They told their son’s teacher that the child had been diagnosed with ADHD, and prescribed Ritalin. What they didn’t tell the teacher was that they never filled the prescription.
Lo and behold, the boy’s disciplinary problems improved dramatically. The teacher said he still acted up from time to time, but it was nowhere near as bad. Not only did his behavior improve, but his grades improved as well. This teacher could obviously see that the “medication” was working. The rest of the year ended with the boy receiving high praise for his changed behavior.
I spoke with the student’s stepfather yesterday on the last day of third grade. His son had received numerous academic awards and was awarded for perfect attendance. His third grade teacher had a great rapport with him, and the student was consistently on the honor roll. He is an excellent scholar in the making who loves to read and loves math. In fact, the stepfather says the biggest disciplinary worry his parents now have is how to punish him on the rare occasions when he does do wrong. He loves to read so much that when you take television and video games away, the boy is very happy to pick up a book and pass the time. Reading and forced math problems are not viewed by him as punishment.
Certainly all children behave as children. But how much more patience is shown by teachers and administrators toward white children than black children? Is the issue that black children – black boys especially – are treated as criminals in waiting? What would happen if we expected our children to behave better, and treated them with the respect these high expectations warrant?
It’s tough to be a black boy in Nashville, Tenn.
Nine middle schools there have suspended half of their black male students at some point, more often than any other group.
One school suspended 58 percent of its black male students, but just 10 percent of its white male students. Another suspended 58 percent of black boys but only 13 percent of white boys.
On the elementary school level, six schools suspended only black males, even though four of those schools have a mixed black and white population. In Tennessee, black kids are four times more likely to be suspended than other students.
And the problem is not unique to Nashville. Nationally, black kids are suspended three times more often than whites.