School Suspension is an Adult Problem Not a Student Problem
by Macheo Payne, Ed.D., MSW, Senior Director of Equity & Educational Initiatives, Lincoln/ Assist. Professor at California State University, East Bay
There have been numerous articles flagging the over suspension of black male students in schools. What is not said is how this trend likely reflects a systemic pattern of discrimination by race and gender. What also deserves attention are solutions that address this problem. Much like Brown vs. Board, the basic premise of the problem is focused in the wrong direction. When the supreme court ruled for desegregation, they found Black students to be harmed by segregation and attempted to correct the harm with integration. What got lost was the fact that the children were not the problem, the flawed system was and nothing was done to repair that system.
With discipline of Black males, first glance assumption is that Black males simply misbehave more but studies have shown this to be false. Instead of focusing on Black males, we should focus on a still biased and flawed system so we can explore solutions that can truly address the root of the problem.
Critical Race Theory seeks to address this problem by acknowledging ideological and implicit bias against African-Americans. By examining decision making processes, teachers and schools can be coached to approach discipline differently. Teachers in Oakland, CA have been getting training in behavioral health intervention techniques that support teachers in being reflective of their own biases and triggers. This has led to a shift in discipline practices that lead to significant reductions in out of class referrals and thus lowered the suspension rate of Black males at key middle schools.
Solutions like these need to be explored further and highlighted to shift focus away from blame and toward results.