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Black girls are routinely mischaracterized, mislabeled, and mistreated—and the issue begs for a deeper engagement and understanding from parents, community members, and especially educators. A new book, Pushout, examines the criminalization of Black girls in schools and offers interventions that can lead to more productive possibilities for these young women. My latest author Q&A explores this topic in more detail.

Melinda D. Anderson: Clearly some of the most blistering accounts emanate from black girls’ public-school experiences, where racialized and gendered expectations seem to leave them feeling simultaneously targeted and invisible. The use of zero tolerance and harsh school discipline is a culprit, along with the attitudes and behaviors of school staff. How do these elements work in tandem to derail black girls’ education?

Monique W. Morris:  When we combine latent misperceptions about black femininity with punitive discipline policies, we are paving the way for black girls to be disproportionately pushed out of schools. Black girls are the only group of girls overrepresented in all discipline categories for which data are collected by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. That is alarming. Zero tolerance and other punitive policies in schools leave many school leaders and educators with only one response to young people who act out.

[Further,] black girls express that a caring teacher is most important in their learning environment. When they connect with a teacher and feel a genuine love and appreciation for their promise as scholars, their relationship with school is more positive. However, research studies have found that African American children receive “more criticism and less support” from teachers—conditions that could alienate and push black children away from learning. Recent examples in New York City and Georgia demonstrate the hard work that is still needed to produce learning environments that acknowledge and invest in the positive potential of black girls.

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CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 28:  Chicago Police Sgt. Alan Lasch watches as students arrive at Laura Ward Elementary School on the Westside on August 28, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Lasch was posted at the school along with other police officers and city workers to provide "safe passage" to students walking to the school. The Safe Passage program was started because parents were worried about their children’s safety while they walked to school across gang boundaries after the city closed 49 elementary schools and moved the students to nearby schools.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Whatever title they hold – school resource officers, school safety agents or school police – the presence of law enforcement officers in K-12 public schools is a growing and, for some, disconcerting trend. In writing about school discipline this issue quickly began to assume outsize importance. With thousands of sworn law-enforcement officers now posted at U.S. public schools, social-justice activists, community leaders and parents are questioning the effect on campus culture.

Excerpt:

“The original point of SROs was to give young people the opportunity to interact with [police] officers in a positive way, and there is some reason to think this can be accomplished in some places,” said Emily Owens, a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “But of course, having an officer means that there will be an increased likelihood that law enforcement is involved in what would otherwise be a disciplinary event.”

While law enforcement’s presence at schools is hardly a new phenomenon, its value and purpose has lately grown especially contentious. As police officers, those engaged in school-based law-enforcement are, in a way, “beat cops” who are often called on to serve as school disciplinarian. And some experts and juvenile-justice advocates cite systemic educational risks when police patrol school hallways. A report published by the Justice Policy Institute in 2011, “Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools,” concludes that placing SROs and other police in educational institutions exaggerates how school misbehavior, much of it involving minor infractions, is interpreted—to the extent that such activities can be treated as criminal offenses.

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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)