Saturday, March 22, 2014

"A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal's office, not in a police precinct"

--Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States (2009-present).

The Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education just released a disturbing, albeit not shocking, report on our country's schools and the inequality inherent to it. Among the figures include this incredible statistic: Black students are expelled more than three times the rate of white students--16% verses 5%. This should come to us as no surprise--as sad as that notion may be--because institutional racism is alive and well in the land of the free (for some) and the home of the "brave." Given the sickening, societal fear of the Black male, these statistics come into a larger context. Except, that's not all.
While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12%) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys;  American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls (7%) are suspended at higher rates than white boys (6%) or girls  (2%). (Office of Civil Rights for the Department of Education, 2014. Emphasis mine.) 
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(Note: As a Jewish, white male, my analysis is lacking in this particular subject (race/racism) because I am white male. I do not directly experience racism or racist institutions, so I cannot provide a true analysis. Better analysis can be found at hoodfeminism.com; blackgirldangerous.org; and other People of Color driven websites on these topics.)
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This is not predominately an issue of gender that is influenced by racism; this is inherently a race issue. Not only would the common assertion that Black males are somehow more dangerous for whatever Social Darwinist reason our school's come up with today* be intrinsically racist, these facts blatantly debunk it in its own right. *(Socioeconomic status seems to be the buzzword now.) This is a race issue. Sear that into your mind. The racial disparities between suspension/expulsion rates are determined by race--pure and simple. 

Black women in our white supremacist society are treated as sub-human animals, but in a different way that Black men are. While Black men are treated as some sort of animal lacking a pre-frontal cortex prone to violence (or something), Black women are hyper-sexualized, treated as fickle, irrational, and lacking "civilization." There is no doubt in my mind that these ideals manifest itself in short tolerances for normal toddler and child like behavior from a overwhelmingly white teaching staff. Whereas a white child would be understood to be having, perhaps, a difficult day or just having the emotional maturity associated with their age, a Black child's similar behavior would be used as evidence for "their race's failings." This is generations of racism isolating and criminalizing our country's youth.

These suspensions and expulsions have material effects which damage the relationships and futures of marginalized students. As a student who has received multiple suspensions for unsound reasons and friend/acquaintance of many with similar experience, I can tell you that. Suspension and expulsion have a direct link to incarceration and dropping out of school. And even without that progression in the school-prison pipeline, a different path can occur:
Arrests and referrals to law enforcement, by race and disability status: While black students represent 16% of student enrollment, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students  subjected to a school-related arrest. In comparison, white students represent 51% of enrollment, 41% of students referred to law enforcement, and 39% of those arrested. 
That is incredibly disproportionate. Not only are Black students heavily, heavily over represented in arrests, but white students are very noticeably under represented. If this was a just system, the proportion  to discipline would equal the proportion to those represented in the system at large. By definition this is discriminatory. No amount of whining about socioeconomic status can change this fact: Black students are targeted--whether intentionally or not--by our school system. This ultimately leads to the revoking of voting rights for Black people because they are often convicted by a judicial system that disproportionately finds Black people guilty and serve harsher punishments.

...
Disabled students are also disproportionately targeted. From the study: 
Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension (13%) than students without disabilities (6%). 
 These Disabled students are anyone with "special needs." This includes me. The study continued:
Students with disabilities (served by IDEA) represent 12% of the student population, but 58% of those placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement, and 75% of those physically restrained at school to immobilize them or reduce their ability to move freely. Black students represent 19% of students with disabilities served by IDEA, but 36% of these students who are restrained at school through the use of a mechanical device or equipment designed to restrict their freedom of movement. 
This comes at no surprise to me. I have been restrained and secluded regularly for spurious reasons and the people of color in my class seemed to have it even worse. It also happened to be that my classes were predominately people of color.

Disabled students--and especially Disabled students of color--are systemically oppressed by the schools. The lack of teacher education on Disabled students and the stigma associated with behaviors of Disabled students makes being Disabled a warrant for discipline. When behavior such as stimming is described as inherently inappropriate--or to use teacher code "disruptive--"it makes the classroom incompatible with the Disabled student. When access is not met and when behaviors are pathologized, Disabled students are left no chance but to "act out." The assumption that these behaviors exist in a vacuum pushes Disabled students into special education classes which are prone to abusing the questionable tools of restraint and seclusion as means of enforcing compliance.

Disabled students of color--being multiply marginalized--are even further abused by this system. In special education classrooms, they are often the victim of more extreme racism because it is justified with ableism. Disabled students of color are then disproportionately punished compared to Disabled white students. I myself have seen it happen and the facts above prove that notion. It's not just that: people of color are over represented in special education classes. This is because white supremacy treats being a person of color as non-compliance. This is not just a Disabled issue--it is a race issue.

The big, red elephant in the room here is the new-ish no tolerance bullying and drug policies of schools. No tolerance essentially brings an authoritarian model to schools. This is partially because of litigation and partially because the policy sounds good. What's not to like about a policy that "treats things seriously." Not much in a system that is fair. This policy simply exacerbates the inequalities latent in our school system and further helps justify the racism, ableism, classism. etc. in it by declaring the best intentions of those involved. Abled, white students are given a pass whilst Disabled students, students of color, and Disabled students of color examined closely for any faults. This institutional bias is learned by unaffected students which further enforces systemic bigotry. Once the determination of perpetual fault is made teachers, professionals, and school administration, an abled white student can use those implicit assumptions that they have to make fighting book appear as aggression. This double standard is further promoted by a special education mantra of "be better than them." What they left out is because we don't get justice.

This analysis also neglects the fact that many marginalized students are traumatized because of this so that even if the system can work with them in some respects, the emotional damage present harms their ability to progress in school. This is arguably one of the most important factors. The idea that opportunity is a lie--whether this is true or not is still up to debate--further entrenches their position.

This analysis also does not fully address the non-marginalized student aspect. These students assert their authority and position in ways that make schools a hostile environment.

People CAN "rise above" these oppressions. That never makes a system just. The system we have forces Disabled students, students of color, and especially Disabled students of color to prisons, poverty, and suicide. If there is any doubt in your minds as to whether our schools promote a hierarchical structure of abled white supremacy, then you have not listened. The facts are clear: there needs to be drastic reform. 


All citations are from the study. All information not experienced first hand (the few anecdotes) is from here: http://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC-School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf .

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