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Culture among the children

Not that long ago actually, concern was rising that expulsions of children under age 5 from public schools was becoming commonplace, among African American children especially.

What was said to account for it, at least in part, was the metaphoric “worlds-apart” aspect of traditional white culture which is dominant in schools, and the daily dynamic of black culture which is often at odds with it.

For instance, black children learn early from their culture to “hit back” if they’re hit first. And especially since the 1960s, there is a genuine overlay of civil rights feeling to “don’t take it, “fight back” and “stand up for yourself.” But the expectation in school is that the child will tell the teacher. It’s far too facile an example to account for all of this, but it illustrates enough to show how differences do matter.

And black parents often say that while teachers are generally “present” on the playground, they rarely intervene on behalf of black children.

The greatest concern coming from this is one more apparent addition to a list of education issues endemic to black children.

Whether it be attendance, English, SATs, insufficient credits to graduate, or training for a job instead of expecting to go to college, the saddest fact may be black children who are tagged for life by the time they’re three.

Anger management has become an educational necessity, almost a subject, in grades kindergarten through 12.

A Yale University study, now a decade and a half old, concluded then that “African American children in pre-kindergarten (were) twice as likely to be expelled as Hispanic and White children and more than five times as likely to be expelled as Asian children.” And the state expulsion rates for these pre-kindergartners exceeded those of students in kindergarten through 12.

Now it is essential to note that Walter Gilliam, who authored the Yale study, said that expulsion rates were lowest in public school classrooms and Head Start, and highest in faith-affiliated centers or for-profit child care, but that nationally 10.4 percent of teachers reported expelling at least one pre-kindergartner (in 2004).

This is an issue of connectedness between parents and teachers.

No child’s life – or his or her future – should be cemented by the age of three.

But Lynn Beaulieu with the National Black Child Development Institute has said, “It’s a very complex situation. I think we have a combination of children with very challenging behaviors … and teachers (who) aren’t trained to positively manage” them.

Besides latent aggression, those “challenging behaviors” are likely to include disabilities and “children … impacted by alcohol and drugs …”

But Gilliam insists that children should not be expelled from any setting unless alternatives are provided.

“When we fail to provide these supports, we place children and their families in a very difficult situation …” he said, “where some children are bounced from one program to the next and parents (may) end up viewing their child as a failure” before he or she goes to kindergarten.

 

Yolanda Robbins is a community columnists for The Vicksburg Post. Her column appears each Sunday.