Education, Discipline and African American Students

“What if educators truly loved Black children and promoted and promoted pedagogical practices that challenged the social justification of poverty, sexism, classism, exploitation, and racism.” Dr. S. R. B. Reid

Impeding Academic Achievement

In most school settings, children from minority and low-income backgrounds are less likely, when compared to middle-class and majority students, to have positive relationships with their middle-class White teachers. These differences reflect teachers' biases, classroom management styles, and disparities in the severity of practices used for discipline. The use of prejudicial classroom management techniques with minority students, particularly African American, is a common practice. Teachers, often times, perceive the behavior of African American males as more aggressive and severe than the behaviors of their White counterparts. African American males who misbehave in the same way as their White counterparts are more likely to be punished resulting in suspensions and expulsions. The severity of these disciplinary practices with minority students impedes their achievement in the classroom, excludes them from advance courses, alienates them from the general school population, increases incidents of misbehavior, and leads to lower academic expectations and higher drop-out rates.

Socioeconomic Status

Classroom disciplinary practices are also influenced by students' socioeconomic status. Educators tend to view low-income students as having the highest potential for behavioral problems. Consequently, students from low-income homes, regardless of ethnicity, are disciplined more often by teachers than middle-class White students. Ina addition, teachers of low socioeconomic children most often use or support the use of corporal punishment, verbal punishment, or suspension, when compared to teachers of middle-class students. Some of the behaviors by culturally diverse, lower socioeconomic status students that teachers find annoying and/or problematic are behaviors that serve as a function in the students' world outside of school.

Locked Out

Student behavior is severely scrutinized when teachers and administrators do not understand and /or represent diverse backgrounds and situations. From this perspective, Black students' behavior is not just different from white students' in culturally arbitrary ways; it disrupts what schools are attempting to accomplish, causing hostile dynamics in the educational environment. Subsequently, black students are more inclined to misbehave when they are matched with White teachers versus Black teachers. The stressed relationship between Black students and White teachers leads to students eventually being locked out of education due to suspension / expulsion and prevents academic success causing Black students to resist schooling and other White-controlled institutions: which further perpetuates feelings of oppression and subjugation. In an attempt to maintain their racial identity, Black students develop peer groups that reject symbols and behaviors that are viewed as White and academically successful Black students, are frequently at risk of being sanctioned by peers for "acting” White.

Discipline and Cultural Congruence

On the other hand, many African American teachers are able to operate with ease when disciplining African American students.The teacher’s ability to achieve this task is possible because students and parents have culturally congruent backgrounds with the teachers.This cultural congruence helps the stakeholders relate to one another more efficiently. Identifying connections further bridges necessary gaps that foster healthy relationships and open communication between students, parents and teachers.Parents are more willing to accept corrective language and consequences when there are similarities between the participants.

Conversely, when a non-African American teacher is faced with the daunting task of disciplining an African American student, underlying factors must be considered; preexisting beliefs about poverty, racially discriminatory practices, disconnection and lack of trust to name a few. African American parents believe non-African American teachers view Black children as White Americans views Black people; the problem with educating Black children in America is precisely that, a problem because our school system is a microcosm of our society. Therefore, Black children suffer in schools because staff, who have the power to label, categorize, and define, are not always well intentioned, yet these feelings of oppression are mitigated when African American parents work with African American teachers.

The Transformation

Research clearly states that having more Black teachers in the profession improves the educational outcomes of all students. However, the focus must not center entirely on retention and recruitment of Black teachers in K – 12 classrooms, but it is also necessary to investigate the needs of African American students, and how these needs are met on a continuous basis.

In short, much can be gained from adopting a teaching philosophy that prioritizes student wellness and success over standardized testing and district compliance. The Educational Development Standards are derived from the historically successful roles of educators and emphasize the wellness and success of the whole child. At the very least, educators who serve as disciplinarian, advocate, counselor, role model and surrogate parent can meet the needs of students while simultaneously adjusting to an ever changing society.