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Black Boys in Crisis: Is the Punishment Too Harsh?

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It's no secret that Black men are considered the trouble makers of society. In America's prison systems, black citizens are incarcerated at six times the rates of white ones - and the NAACP predicts that one in three of this generation of Black men will spend some time locked up.

Do these numbers tell the true story though? Are Black men inherently more dangerous than their white and Hispanic peers - or are they the products of racial profiling and a society that sets them up to fail?

In the first part of this series I looked at the connection between low reading ability and a lifetime of struggle for Black young men in the U.S., but today I want to focus on a non-academic area that impacts this group in childhood: punishment that begins in K-12 classrooms.

Troubling Stats in Schools

Nearly 75 percent of all schools in the U.S. report at least one violent incident in their schools each year, but that number rises to 82 percent for schools with a majority of Black students. Though Hispanic boys are the most likely to be involved with gang activity at school, it is certainly an issue for Black boys too - with 31 percent of students nationwide reporting seeing Black gang activity in their schools. Violence is just one part of the criminal side of K-12 hallways, though. There are also higher numbers of non-violent crimes, like theft, in schools where more students are Black than any other race.

All of that being said, there still IS violence in schools where Black students are the minority, and committed by non-Black students. Yet, over and over again statistics show that punishment for Black boys - even first-time offenders - in schools is harsher than any other demographic. Consider these facts:

Also troubling is the fact that not all of the Black boys taken from their schools in handcuffs are violent, or even criminals. Increasingly, school-assigned law enforcement officers are leading these students from their schools hallways for minor offenses, including class disruption, tardiness and even non-violent arguments with other students. It seems that it is easier to remove these students from class through the stigma of suspension or arrest than to look for in-school solutions.

Minnesota civil rights attorney Nekima Levy-Pounds writes that "it is a continual affront to the human dignity of black boys to be treated as second class citizens within the public school system and made to feel as though they are not welcome in mainstream classroom settings."

In Minneapolis, for example, an Office for Black Male Student Achievement has been created within the public schools to address the specific challenges that face young black males face when navigating the public school system. It appears that the effort may just be smoke and mirrors, however, as only $200,000 has been dedicated to it - which amounts to just $28 per African American boy.

School-to-Prison Pipeline

School suspension, and certainly arrest, is just the beginning of a life considered on the wrong side of the law for many Black boys. By 18 years of age, 30 percent of Black males have been arrested at least once, compared to just 22 percent of white males. Those numbers rise to 49 percent for Black men by the age of 23, and 38 percent of white males. Researchers from several universities concluded earlier this year that arrests early in life often set the course for more crimes and incarceration throughout the rest of the offender's lifetime.

Turning our backs on the misbehavior of our K-12 youth doesn't teach them a lesson, or lead to lives that are changed for the better. It only simplifies the present, paving the way for a future of crime and other misbehavior.  In order to change the troubling trends of Black men and crime, we first need to address the way Black boys are disciplined in K-12 schools and look for better solutions to suspensions and arrests.

If you would like to invite Dr. Lynch to speak or serve as a panelist at an upcoming event, please email him at [email protected].  

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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