The Department of Education recently released data showing that there is a significant disparity between the discipline that students of color receive in public schools and that given to their white counterparts: black students, especially black boys, face much harsher discipline than others, with black students making up 18% of the youth studied in the survey but accounting for 46% of those suspended more than once.

The debate over why this is the case has touched on everything from socioeconomic factors, such as time spent parenting, to flat-out racism on the part of school administrators. But New York City principals have come forward to lament that they are not surprised by the numbers because they face a “cultural disconnect” that drives harsher discipline. Teachers and principals do not understand their students and often misinterpret their behavior as overly-aggressive and therefore worthy of punishment. Allison Chang at WNYC reports:

“Many of my students live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and a sign of weakness is, unfortunately, timid behavior,” said [Principal Rashid] Davis.  “So they learn early growing up, in order to not be picked on, they have to meet like with like.”

That behavior then filters back into the school, said Musa Shama, the principal of Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens.  

“Just because it happens out in the neighborhood doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make its way back into the school building,” Shama said.  

The issue for educators is, Shama said, how do you teach a student that what happens on the street at home isn’t appropriate on school grounds? It’s an extremely tough question, he said, because problematic behavior still needs to be met with severe consequences, like suspension.  

“If they’re not severe, then what ends up happening is that those folks that are on the fringe think it’s okay to replicate,” he said.

The question that Shama asks, “how do you teach a student that what happens on the street at home isn’t appropriate on school grounds?”, is perhaps the most troubling one. When it comes to responding to the very-specific incidences of how others treat you and the fear of showing weakness, how can the system teach young people what is appropriate when they already come into the system with a very concrete idea of how to survive? Is it even acceptable for the administration to dictate what is and is not normal behavior?

Speak on it!


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  • I call Bull

    If u don’t work in a school, it’s easy to say it’s racist but its not. It’s not the teacher ‘s place to teach a child how to behave, it’s a PARENT. I had a drug addicted parent, watched my baby sister when I wanted to be out chilling, and had domestic violence in the home and I never misbehaved in school, and neither did my sister. Stop making excuses for these kids, THEY KNOW BETTER THEY JUST DON’T CARE. Growing up my #1 priority was doing well in school so I could go to college and get out the hood, school was a REFUGE from the bs at home and kids should treat it as such. Unfortunately, many PARENTS reinforce that gucci, Jordan and ballin is more important than behaving in school.

  • Toppin

    I get so sick of black people screaming racism all the damn time. The ish is second nature now.

    Listen folks the issues with many of you can be found right here in these comments. Too many of you have written dumb statements like “The teacherrs should do x, y, and z….” when the reality it is NOT the teachers job to raise your mistakes into productive well behaved adults. Stop outsourcing your responsibility as parents.

    If I were a teacher I would dump your unproductive kids in the slow class too. It is not fair for the children who want to learn but are forced to deal with a class clown. I went to a mixed school and most of the kids with behavioral problem were in fact black and most of them came from a certain environment…lower class. The teachers in the post are telling the truth. It is not solely about race but about class too in my opinion. Lower class black people in this country have dropped the ball in just about every way. I am sick of making excuses for them.

    • Gina

      ^^^^^^^^^^^^This!vBlack people wake up and stop crying racism in regards to your failures!

  • Queen Ki

    Honestly, I feel like the problem depends on each individual student. In one case, it COULD be racism, in another case, it COULD be poor parenting.

  • I would must rather my child’s school discipline students for unacceptable behavior whether it is or is not acceptable on the “street” than for the school to just say “okay, well since it’s okay for you to punch bookie’s lights out because he won’t let you use his bike while your outside of school, I guess we’ll let you slide with it.” What sense would that make? Schools have an obligation to keep the educational environment as safe as possible for ALL students. Lowering the behavioral expectations we have of black children is not going to make them better. It will only make them have a self-fulfilling prophesy in which they continue to act out because that what others expect them to do.

    If my child gets suspended for doing something crazy in school he/she probably deserved it. And when they get home I will be re-evaluating what might be causing them to act out, not blaming the school for sending them home. The schools are not there to parent your child, they are there to educate them.