Friday, August 14, 2015

Why Black Lives Don't Matter: The Case of Education

My Friend Andrew
Andrew sat morosely, staring blankly at the dingy white wall in front of him. He was one of a dozen children in the GLC room. They were wholly isolated from one another. They were not permitted to speak or even to look at one another. Each sat apart from the rest, with his back turned to the others.

GLC is an acronym for Guided Learning Center. However, it is more a place for behavior modification and for punishment than for learning. It is in essence an elementary school jail where insolent elementary grade students are sent to atone for their defiance. You see, Andrew is a third grader, and today is the third time he’s been sent to “the hole” in the past two weeks. He will spend the balance of the school day intermittently completing worksheets and being scolded if he turns away from the direction of the dismal wall.

It might surprise many to know that Andrew is not the hard case that his GLC record portrays him to be. In fact, the infraction that landed him in the hole today was “Failure to Complete Assignment.” Yes. You read that correctly. Andrew was instructed to “write a paragraph,” which was defined by his teacher as “five to six sentences.” Andrew understood this to mean five lines of text, which in his assignment actually made up only four sentences. For many children this would be a great teachable moment. But not for Andrew. This error was characterized as “defiance” by the school’s principal. A previous infraction was “Failure to Secure a Signature” on a notice sent home to parents. As it turns out, Andrew’s mother was traveling. Not to worry. Andrew will pay the price for his mother’s “negligence.” Andrew’s teachers and administrators have been callous in mislabeling him. They have been excessive in punishing him, and it is they who have been defiant in refusing to acknowledge the possibility that their system might be a disservice to children like Andrew. It is clear to me that in the eyes of this school staff… Black Lives Do Not Matter.

I learned of these events as they were happening. Andrew’s mother is herself a former teacher, a well-respected educator, and a leader in her local community. She began advocating publicly for Andrew when it was clear that the school had no interest in treating him with fairness and dignity. Her initial response was to approach Andrew’s teacher directly. She wanted to make it clear to this teacher that she was an involved and concerned parent. She also sought to better understand the reason that her son was so frequently sentenced to GLC. Andrew’s teacher is a young, white female, less than two years removed from a college classroom, and supremely confident in her decisions to remand Black and Latino children to GLC. Andrew’s mother made little progress with this teacher.

Her subsequent response was to approach the administrator at Andrew’s school. She worked to impress upon him that the punishment being meted out to students was out of proportion to their supposed “offenses.” She questioned the wisdom of a school policy that would interpret a child’s learning process as an act of defiance. This administrator was recalcitrant. As the sole author of this school policy, he was unwilling to have it questioned.

With the support of friends, family and her professional colleagues, Andrew’s mother took her crusade to the district superintendent, to the school board, to parents of other children at the school, and ultimately to the local community. Having failed to receive a satisfactory remedy at any of these levels, Andrew’s mother withdrew her son from this school system and began homeschooling. Andrew’s mother demonstrated by her involvement, her advocacy and her sacrifice, that in her eyes… Black Lives Matter.

An Empty Slogan
Andrew’s experience is the experience of hundreds of thousands of Black children throughout this country, and it stands as a shining example of the hypocrisy of the #BlackLivesMatter slogan.

Consider the chain of events. Each day, under the pretext of schooling, hundreds of thousands of Black children are subjected to the abuses of uncaring adults and the harassment of maniacal children. A spate of research studies on disparity in school discipline bears this out. Nationally, one in four (25%) African American secondary school students was suspended at least once during the 2009-2010 school year[2]. In fact, Black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students[3]. Although school leaders often point to a host of pathologies to explain the excessive discipline of Black children, the reality is that Black children are punished for “less serious and more subjective reasons.” Students who have been suspended even once by ninth grade are twice as likely to drop out of high school. Estimates are that only 59% of Black males graduated from high school with their cohort in 2013[4]. Over 70% of African Americans who drop out of high school are unable to secure stable employment[5].

So, we willfully send our children to schools where they are stigmatized, criminalized, and ostracized. We allow the state to take our tax dollars for education. The state in turn fails to educate over one-third of our children, and mis-educates the rest. We fail to provide any alternative system of education. We fail to provide any alternative system for employment. Consequently, our children become adults who are unable to provide for themselves and their families. And we have the unmitigated gall to proclaim to the world that Black Lives Matter. Unfortunately, by our collective mis-behavior we demonstrate daily to the world that… Black Lives Do Not Matter.

The Difference
It is not my intent to insinuate that there are no people of African descent to whom Black lives matter. I do, however, want to distinguish the majority of us from the minority of us. There is a decided minority who, like Andrew’s mother, demonstrate by their actions that Black Lives Matter. For this minority, #BlackLivesMatter is not a slogan. It is a realization and a commitment that shapes their behavior every day.

Historically, it has been this minority who has worked to sustain us as a race. Often maligned and unappreciated by the very people for whom they sacrifice their lives, this minority is ignored by the pages of history. Black Lives Mattered to Men-Kepre-Ra-Tahuti-Maes, Hannibal of Carthage, Queen Nzingha, Nat Turner, Queen Nanny, Robert F. and Mabel Williams, Marcus Garvey, and Elijah Muhammad. What can we learn from these leaders?

When Black Lives Matter to us, we are unapologetically committed to the well-being of African people. This should be contrast against those who are more committed to ideology, or the well-being of “everybody,” or to some other group whose interests lie outside of the Black community. Invariably those with such amorphous commitments, whether knowingly or unknowingly aid the ambitions of those who would exploit the Black community.

When Black Lives Matter to us, we sacrifice time, money, resources, creature comforts, position, and reputation in an effort to secure the well-being of African people. This should be contrast against those who would rather capitulate, negotiate, dissociate, appropriate, expropriate, and misappropriate… they will do everything to avoid sacrificing anything.

When Black Lives Matter to us, our organizations cannot rely on the financial support of non-Blacks. This should be contrast against those whose work and existence are primarily subsidized by those outside of the Black community. I once heard this characterized as the golden rule. The one who provides the gold, makes the rules. It stands to reason, that organizations and individuals will do the bidding of those that pay the bills.

Making Black Lives Matter in Education
Fortunately, there are many things that each of us can do daily to reaffirm our commitment to the idea that Black Lives Matter. I will provide three examples here. First, insist on education that is life affirming for African people. Education can be life affirming in both its structure and its content. The type of education to which young Andrew was subjected is structurally dispiriting. Each day that a child is made to endure this type of derision, a part of their spirit dies. This is one of the reasons that our young people seem lost and hopeless. Life affirming content should be such that Black children learn to live rich and fulfilling lives. How to prepare and consume healthy food; how to groom and dress; how to select a husband or wife; how to nurture a relationship; how to rear children; and how to maintain a home are some of the topics that are no longer taught in schools. These topics are infinitely more relevant to our well-being than factoring quadratic equations or distinguishing between hydrophilic and hydrophobic compounds.

Second, create alternative educational spaces for Black children. If we really believe that Black Lives Matter, we would work to better prepare our children to have a high quality and quantity of life. We would not wait for those outside of our community to do this for us. Fortunately, we have many spaces that could be used. Our homes, churches, barbershops, beauty shops, parks, businesses and playgrounds can all serve as spaces for the education of Black children. Wherever there is a teacher and a learner, there is an alternative educational space. Look for ways to provide education in a space that you control.

Finally, support alternative educational options for Black children and families. Homeschooling families and organizations, Black owned and operated independent schools, African-centered schools, Black owned and operated community organizations, mentoring groups, and science clubs are all examples of alternative educational options. These individuals and organization could greatly benefit from the time, services and money of others in the Black community. Many other communities have supported substantial educational infrastructure for themselves. In most states, Black owned and operated independent schools are far outnumbered by Amish, Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim and Jewish schools. We can change this sad reality. Will you be part of the majority of us or the minority of us? Will you be satisfied to repost videos, SMH-ing them (#emptyslogansmakemefeelbetter)? Or will you demonstrate daily by your involvement, advocacy and sacrifice that in your eyes… Black Lives Matter?

Jomo W. Mutegi, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Science Education at the Indiana University School of Education in Indianapolis. He is also a member of the (ES)2 Research Program, which works to advance STEM curricula that position people of African descent to improve their current social condition. To learn more about the (ES)2 Research Program visit:

[1] This article was published in the Indianapolis Recorder on August 14, 2015. It can be found at
[2] Ferris, Susan. (2013). New report highlights disproportionate school discipline for minorities. Juvenile Justice.
[3] Rudd, Tom. (2014). Racial disproportionality in school discipline: Implicit bias is heavily implicated (pp. 8). Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity: The Ohio State University.
[4] Beaudry, Ann. (2015). Black lives matter: The Schott 50 state report on public education and Black males (pp. 65): Schott Foundation for Public Education.
[5] Eckholm, Erik. (2006, March 20). Plight deepens for Black men, studies warn, New York Times, p. 1.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Study Reveals that Teaching Black Children about Black History, Culture and Racism Can Improve Their Educational Success

A recent study[1] presents very compelling evidence that African American children whose parents (a) prepare them for racial discrimination and (b) teach them about African and African American culture experience greater educational success than their peers. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University. Results were published in the September/October 2012 issue of the journal Child Development.

The study examined data from 630 high school-aged African American male and female students. The students completed questionnaires, face-to-face interviews and telephone interviews. The researchers also looked at students’ academic records and spoke with students’ primary caregiver. Findings indicate that instruction about racism and Black culture can lead to improvement. The four academic areas examined were: academic performance, educational aspirations, school identification, and cognitive engagement.

While the study is novel and offers an important perspective for both parents and educators, it is not the only study of this type. This study adds to a growing body of research that is providing evidence that Black children benefit when parents and educators teach them in honest open ways about both racism and about their Blackness. Below are ten interesting facts from the study.

The first five facts are drawn from prior research that was presented in the Wang and Huguley (2012) article.

Fact #1: African American youth have a keen understanding that systemic racism exists and that it works to their own detriment.  This is extremely important to acknowledge. The practice of many parents of Black children is to shield their children from racism by not discussing it and by pretending that it does not exist. However, it is clear from prior research that not discussing racism does not make it go away. Avoiding it is tantamount to sticking our heads in the sand. A more effective approach is to help Black children to better understand racism.

Fact #2: Anywhere from ¼ to ½ of African American teenagers report that they have been either discouraged from joining advanced level courses, unfairly disciplined, or have received lower grades than they deserved because of their race. Members of our research team have characterized this type of behavior as teacher brutality. It is the often unseen and unacknowledged version of police brutality. It receives less attention because it is harder to identify and the effects are not immediately recognizable. However, it is no less real and detrimental to Black children and Black communities.

Fact #3: Discrimination in schools has been shown to result in both psychological distress and lower academic performance. The negative effects of discrimination are more pronounced in African American males than in African American females. It seems that males are more likely to retaliate against perceived discrimination than are females. Teachers, administrators and sometimes peers use the retaliatory behavior to cause further problems for Black male students.

Fact #4: “Cultural socialization” is one way that Black parents protect their children. Cultural socialization is the process of instilling in children racial knowledge and pride.

Fact #5: “Preparation for bias” is another way that Black parents protect their children. Preparation for bias involves making Black children aware of racial bias before it happens, as it happens and after it happens and also giving them strategies for fighting against racial bias in ways that are productive.

The last five facts are drawn from findings that resulted from the study conducted by Wang and Huguley (2012).

Fact #6: Teacher discrimination was shown to negatively impact all four academic areas (academic performance, educational aspirations, school identification, and cognitive engagement). On one hand, this is not rocket science. It is a rather obvious outcome. There is an old saying that, “if a man will not treat you right, he will not teach you right.” On the other hand, little has been done in policy or practice to acknowledge or address this obvious outcome. For example, there are no widespread efforts to keep racist teachers out of classrooms with Black students. There is no effort to even test teachers to assess their degree of racial bias.

Fact #7: Parental cultural socialization was shown to reduce the negative impact of teacher discrimination. This is often referred to as a “protective factor.” To some degree, cultural socialization serves to inoculate African American students against discrimination from teachers.

Fact #8: Peer discrimination did not impact academic performance, educational aspirations, or cognitive engagement. However, it did negatively impact school identification. This suggests that discrimination from a peer would not necessarily result in lower grades, a decreased interest in going to college, or a disinterest in schoolwork. However, discrimination from peers would result in a disinterest in the school.

Fact #9: In the face of discrimination, either from peers or from teachers, African Americans showed lower school identification. This is great news! Black children do not like being mistreated. Nobody does. What is more, neither cultural socialization nor preparation for bias changed this result.

Fact #10: Increased cultural socialization was shown to lead to higher cognitive engagement, academic performance, and educational aspirations. This research suggests that time spent studying the history of African people is time well-spent!

Jomo W. Mutegi, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Science Education at the Indiana University School of Education in Indianapolis. He is also a member of the (ES)2 Research Program, which works to advance STEM curricula that position people of African descent to improve their current social condition. To learn more about the (ES)2 Research Program visit:

[1] Wang, Ming-Te, & Huguley, James P. (2012). Parental racial socialization as a moderator of the effects of racial discrimination on educational success among African American adolescents. Child Development, 83(5), 1716-1731.