Education

It Takes a Video: Police Violence Against School Children

            The recent student-recorded video of a White male police officer slamming a Black female adolescent sitting in her school desk to the floor while her classmates and teachers looked on grabbed the nation’s attention about the unproductive presence of police in schools.  This past July Mother Jones magazine documented how police in schools (or by their Orwellian title, “School Resource Officers”) inflict horrendous and unnecessary injuries on young people. 

            This is not a new problem.  Ten years ago the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a comprehensive report about this problem  (“Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline”).  Similar to police violence dished out to unarmed civilians, cops in schools punish and arrest students of color at a disturbingly disproportionate rate –about which the American Civil Liberties Union issued warnings seven years ago.  Students of color on the average are disproportionately criminalized for the same behavior exhibited by their White peers.  

The rise of the carceral state since the Reagan and Clinton administrations mirrors the rise in the criminalization of normal youthful behavior/misbehavior – with lasting negative effects on life opportunities for arrested and incarcerated youth. 

            The numbers help tell the story.  In the past 40 years the rate of school suspensions and expulsions have doubled.  Diversity and Education documents that

“suspended or expelled students have 300% higher likelihood than their peers of having a direct experience with the juvenile justice system within 1 year… During the 2009–2010 academic year, California school administrators alone suspended 400,000 students.”

            A 2013 New York Times article – “With Police in Schools, More Children in Court” – observed how the presence of police in schools is associated with

“a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially non-violent behavior ... that sends children into criminal courts.”

Once in the juvenile criminal justice system, as noted in an earlier commentary (“‘Cruel and Unusual Punishment’ of Incarcerated Youth”), young people often suffer human rights violations.

            Over the past four decades too many schools abandoned a focus on providing young people with counseling and on using other non-punitive methods to handle disciplinary complaints.  Instead, public schools adopted a police-state strategy of law-and-order, a practice mirrored in the larger society that has resulted in the U.S. globally having the highest percentage of its population incarcerated. 

           With this most recent nationally circulated video and the growing research on the unproductive presence in of police in schools, we may begin to see policies that lead to the removal of all police from schools except under exceptional circumstances.

The Master Narrative: No “Slaves,” Only “Workers” in Texas Schoolbooks

            An attentive 15-year old let his mother know that a required Texas social studies book claimed that people of African descent brought forcible to the Americas to labor for Whites were identified as “workers” rather than “slaves”  in a section devoted to “immigration.” Mom took to social media, Black Lives Matter picked up a video she posted, and McGraw Hill had to respond to their “mistake”:

 “We conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.”

This latest example of Texas miseducation – despite the review process – along with McGraw-Hill’s admission of inadequacy would not have surprised the late Harvard historian Nathan Huggins. In 1991 Professor Huggins wrote that

a “master narrative of American history” is founded on “a conspiracy of myth, history, and chauvinism . . . [that] could find no place at its center for racial slavery, or racial caste which followed Emancipation.”   

The power of the “master narrative” that Nathan Huggins pointed out nearly 25 years ago is defended vehemently today by Texas political dominant conservatives (and by similar forces in other states).  This imposition of a Texas master narrative continues to White-wash U.S. history, as mentioned in an earlier commentary (“A Texas Educational Approach to Racial Truth & Reconciliation”). 

The Texas Republican 2012 platform is quite clear about how to present history to young people:

 “We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive.  We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty…”

Mentioning the inhumane treatment of slaves and the profits that were accrued for the nation’s economy apparently must be hidden from young minds in the name of a “common American identity.”

Meanwhile, the nearly 140,000 print copies of textbook that Texas did buy will continue to be used in the state’s 267 school districts – until mega-corporation McGraw-Hill gets around to it: “These changes will be…included in the program’s next print run.”  This is about money and conservative ideology, not about exposure to the nation’s actual story.

 

 

A Texas Educational Approach to Racial Truth & Reconciliation

            A recent Gary Trudeau “Doonesbury” cartoon shows a befuddled social studies teacher claiming – in accordance with Texas social studies standards – that secession from the United States by the Confederate States of America was primarily about so-called “states’ rights” while slavery was down the list of reasons.  The clueless teacher then is confronted with a student who notes that in the Texas Declaration of Secession “the word ‘slave’ appears 18 times.” The student is subsequently scolded for using “outside sources.”

            In Diversity and Education – after examining the Texas Administrative Code’s social studies standards – I concluded that

The anxiety by social conservatives over ethnic studies and multiculturalism extends to interpretations of what should be included and excluded in the public school curriculum. Representative of this trend is how the state of Texas reworded its social studies standards to reassert common culture privileging of Christianity along with more favorable impressions of patriarchy, the Confederacy, capitalism, and the military.

Additionally, the Texas Educational Standards to which a generation of youth are being subjected represents

a backlash against Islam and immigrants of color and overtly mutes a history inclusive of slavery, political gains of women, racial discrimination, labor unions, indigenous histories, and excesses of capitalism.

            This rewriting of history to conform to a sanitized White Christian narrative is indicative of the challenge to Racial Truth and Reconciliation, not only in Texas but throughout nation.  But hope rests with small but significant acts of teacher resistance.  Kirk White, a middle school social studies teacher in Austin, explains:

Are there some things in there that don’t belong? Sure, but I hope teachers don’t buckle and interpret the language too narrowly.  If we have to talk more about our so-called 'Christian nation' in class, then let’s talk about it— the good and the bad. A good teacher will know how to take advantage of this situation.

But it remains unclear how the world views of young people will be affected when exposed not to teachers like Kirk White but to such teachers as the one lampooned by cartoonist/satirist Gary Trudeau.