In February 2019, an 11-year-old student was arrested, charged, and subsequently received a three-day suspension after he refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
While this may seem like an isolated event, Black boys continue to be perceived as much older, more violent, and less innocent than their white peers. Making the school-to-prison pipeline a real threat for young Black boys.
Starting as young as preschool, Black children are more prone to harsher disciplinary actions such as suspension and expulsion. Per the 2016 U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Black preschoolers represented 47% of the reported out-of-school suspensions, despite only making up 19% of preschool enrollment. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, recently confirmed that racial disparities do exist in the school system, through a federal study. Hence, affirming what many Black children have said over the years, “But the teacher always only sees me,” suggesting that they have been punished for engaging in similar behaviors as their peers.
“Black preschoolers represented 47% of the reported out-of-school suspensions—despite only making up 19% of preschool enrollment.”
Current researchers, like Brian L. Wright, Assistant Professor at the University of Memphis, continue to actively work on cultural competency for teachers. In Dr. Wright’s recent article “Black Boys Matter: Cultivating Their Identity, Agency, and Voice” he provided teachers with a set of techniques to reflect on their own personal biases against Black boys. Nonetheless, the question still posed by Black parents is what can we do to support our young Black boys in school?
The remainder of this article addresses just that through three specific parent strategies.
Identifying and articulating children’s strengths are critical to their self-confidence and how others may perceive them. All children encompass strengths, and so we must support our Black boys’ academic endeavors by urging school personnel to acknowledge their strengths instead of focusing on their deficits.
As parents, this can be accomplished by asking teachers and other school professionals to begin each meeting and/or parent-teacher conference with three strengths that they have noticed about your child. While this does not negate the fact that some teachers may have concerns about a child’s behavior or skills, it does require them to take a strength-based approach and to reflect on the ways that their own biases may impact their role.
“Ask teachers and other school professionals to begin each meeting and/or parent-teacher conference with three strengths that they have noticed about your child.”
Certain language used to describe Black boys’ behaviors can reinforce the stereotype that these children are much older, more violent, and less innocent. It is important as parents to key into the ways that your children are being described and rephrase verbiage when necessary.
As a parent, you should feel empowered to help teachers better understand your child’s behavior and/or rephrase negative language that is used to describe their interest. For instance, Larry a Father of a 4-year-old Black boy acknowledged the concerns that his teacher had about his son, then offered a new perspective for that teacher by rephrasing the described behavior. He stated, “I can certainly see how frustrating it can be when he is off task, what my wife and I have noticed at home is our son is very curious. He is interested in his surroundings and loves to see how things work. We have been able to refocus his behavior while not dimming his curiosity by acknowledging his need but re-explaining to him the current task.” In this example, Larry could hear the teacher’s concern yet rephrased the disobedient behavior described by the teacher based on what his family had observed at home. An educator will engage with a child who they perceive as curious in a much different manner then they would a child who they believe is defiant.
“An educator will engage with a child who they perceive as curious in a much different manner then they would a child who they believe is defiant.”
As Black parents, it is essential for us to reflect on our own personal experiences in school. Past experiences whether as a student or parent to an older child can shape what we believe our role is when advocating for our sons.
Analyzing your personal experiences will allow you to be mindful to the situation and can possibly support you throughout your child’s academic career. Reflecting back—if you had a great experience in school, what made that experience positive? How can you use that information to support your child in having a positive experience? Similarly, if you had a negative experience, what made it bad? In what ways, can your family attempt to prevent your son from having a similar negative experience?
“Reflecting back—if you had a great experience in school, what made that experience positive?”
Remember you are the expert on your child!
When collaborating with school districts you bring something that no one else holds within that school, your expertise on your child. Your voice, perspective, and knowledge is a crucial factor in your child’s academic success. Sitting at a table with school professionals that hold degrees in various educational programs can be intimidating but remember you hold a specialty degree as your child’s parent. You got this!