Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bad Kids

Jesse Taylor of Pandagon blogs about a real problem in America today: how it is that so many black kids, especially black males, end up in prison in our country; how it is that even among those who don't end up in prison, so many end up undereducated, underemployed, and poor.

I know pundits like to screech about their mothers, who breed too young, and the welfare state, bootstraps and like that.

But Zelda, who has been working on literacy in the Arkansas delta, and Jesse, an ACLU intern, both see the same thing: school systems that treat black children, especially black male children, like dangerous thugs from day one.

From Jesse's report:

The ACLU of Michigan prepared a report on this phenomenon, talking about the “school-to-prison pipeline” - the pattern of suspensions and punishment that lead to dropping out, and particularly to criminal activity. It’s uniquely dangerous for black males, because we’re so big and threatening from the age of nine onwards.

And this:

There’s a reason we don’t prescribe the death penalty for every crime. If you’re going to be put to death for stealing a loaf of bread, then you’re not going to be put to super death for mugging someone, or raping them, or killing them. It works the same way in schools - when almost every transgression is met with suspension or expulsion, teaching a kid that asking “Why?” when a teacher says stop is the same thing as bringing a gun to school is a great way to encourage a kid to bring a gun to school. Why would you have trust in a system that targets you for overwhelming punishment for almost anything you do, and lets others skate for the same actions?

I'll let Zelda post about her experiences down in the Delta; I'll just mention one thing she's told us in the writing group, how the black students, especially the young black males, get sent disporportionally to special education classes, not because they need to be in those classes, but because their (white) teachers decide that their black male students (at seven or eight years old) are too disruptive, too dangerous to have in a regular classroom.

They will also use the excuse that these students aren't reading and writing on-level, which many aren't, since they speak and write Black English. That the white student sitting next to them (who in the Arkansas Delta also generally speaks a version of Black English) also isn't reading writing on grade level doesn't get him put in Special Education classes, however.

After that, the black student stays in "the Resource Room," which usually, in Arkansas, is not actually funded, or badly funded, until he graduates, without having been taught much at all. But he's been kept out of the classroom: segregated.

(Correct me if I'm getting any of this wrong, Z. I'm working from memory!)

1 comment:

Room To Write said...

As you know, this is right up my alley. What is significant about the stereotyping of black children, most of it is based solely on their language. The behavior that seems to bother so many of the teachers is related to language. If a child speaks AAE, then most of the teachers label them as cognitively impaired, which they are not; or they label them as behavioral problem children, based on their “loud talk” or “dozen like playing”; or they consider them rebellious for not learning standard English. There is, in most public school spaces, no room for breaking the linguistic models of how children talk, how they behave, and how they look. Even if you have school systems where there are no black children in special ed who are not there because of a biological reason, look at the other ways we segregate black children. In many smaller school across the South, the honors programs are lily white and usually from the upper crusts of the town. While poor kids do get into these programs, the tests do not adequately reflect the entire student population. They are, in fact, much like the standard IQ tests and are based on the cultural hegemony instead of a broad spectrum of cultures. So, for instance, if you go to Central High, you might see a hell of a lot of white kids in the AP or gifted and talented program. Kind of ironic, considering how hard the African Americans struggled to integrate into that particular school. Plus there is the socioeconomical disparity that places many black children in schools that are poorly built, poorly staffed, and poorly funded. Look at the schools in the Delta compared to the schools in the River valley or the Nw corner of the state.
Also, I think what we miss here is that one of the reasons blacks occupy so many more cells in prison than whites is because: Whites get less sentencing for the same crimes or they get more probation time as opposed to being forced to serve jail time. There is also the theory that Blacks are usually not as able to afford good representation as some whites who commit the same crimes; therefore, they get off. There are so many social and political reasons why there are more blacks in prison than whites, and the assumptions that wingnuts make is that blacks are more criminally prone is just crap, which feeds into the stereotypes of blacks being brutes, or sneaky, or mentally impaired.

The facts about race to race comparison are never simple and simple minded people like wingnuts and people out of the social/educational/cultrual realm should not make assumptions based on physical evidence. Things are never what they seem.