Geoff re "
'Race Gap' in School Discipline"

As an art teacher in a public school, I see some 500 kids a week. I have a pretty good idea of who does what and how kids behave. The truth is, our black kids fight more frequetnly than our white kids, and fighting is a rather serious offense, in terms of county-appointed consequences. I'm not prepared to say why the black kids get into more fights, but our school-based data shows that the vast majority of our suspensions are for fighting and that the vast majority of those students suspended for fighting are black. One thing I can say is that it takes two to fight, and black kids are usually fighting each other, so the data may seem more inequitable than it is. Every time two black kids go at it you have a discipline twofer--vulger, but true. A white kid who cheats or sets a fire or sexually harasses a teacher is one incidence of discipline; two black kids who get into a fight is two indcidences. I wonder what the numbers would look like if you counted every pair of disciplinary measures that involved fighting as a single disipline incident...

Facts is facts. Racism is ugly, but saying that black kids fight more isn't racist. Saying that black kids are built to fight, or that black people are just given to violence, or that if you'd just look at the mess Africa is in you'd see that there's no hope for these folks would be racist, but I'm not saying any of that because I don't believe a word of it.

If you want solutions (and by solutions, I mean ways to create a culture of learning and peace in schools where a significant part of the population comes from poverty and/or oppression) look for Ruby Payne and Dr. Habberman ("Star Teachers of Students in Poverty" is the name of his book, I believe.) These folks tackle both the social understanding of poverty's culutral norms and the nitty-gritty nuts-and-bolts process of creating a potitive, learning-centered school culture. A must read if you want to contribute anything practical to the discussion of how to make schools work. (Which is different from how to reform schools. Making schools work today, right now, is a separate issue from reforming society so that poverty and culutral issues rooted in poverty, segeregation, and ultimately slavery, are eliminated once and for all.)

January 2005

Thanks for your perspective.