Are You Committed To Marginalize Instead Of Cultivate The Black Mind?

When it comes to Black students, often overemphasized is both young men and young women are overly disciplined, and disproportionately so. The overrepresentation of Black students regarding school discipline rates is important to highlight so that it can be corrected. However, less commentary concerns the lack of honoring and cultivating the Black mind.

Tina Lawson, like all parents, desires the best education for her children. To that end, Ms. Lawson is an advocate for her three children; as Black parent, that means self-determining the education her children receives. Prior to high school, Ms. Lawson enrolled her children in private school. For high school, she chose to enroll her children in the local school district, the Upper Dublin School District (UDSD). Upper Dublin is a Philadelphia suburb located in Montgomery County, PA.

When time for her son to enroll at Upper Dublin high school (UDHS), he was referred to a college prep track history course for ninth grade. Ms. Lawson preferred that her son be enrolled in the honors history course for ninth grade due to his eighth-grade scores. Although there was some red tape, her son was placed in the honors history course. But what Ms. Lawson discovered was that her son wasn’t the only victim of tracking within the school district.

The genius of Black students is very often neglected by educators; the case of Tina Lawson’s son reminds us that this too needs our undivided attention.

Figure 1: Enrollment in Advanced Academic Programming According to Race

 % Enrollment% G&T Enrollment% AP Enrollment% IB Enrollment
Asian Students5%10%11%13%
Black Students15%8.5%9%14%
Latinx Students26%18%21%22%
White Students49%60%55%47%

Source: Civil Rights Data Collection

A recent article by the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted a report by the Public Citizens for Children and Youth that showed Black and Latinx students in Philadelphia suburban schools were disciplined more harshly than their white peers and underrepresented in AP classes.

According to the report, throughout districts in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, Black and Latinx students (who make up one out of four students in these counties) were criminalized while without access to the fully array of academic options due to district practices and procedures.  

While a revelation to educators oblivious to the plight of Black and Brown students, none of this comes as a surprise to those of us fighting on behalf of those students; the data has existed for quite a while.

According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, the data collection arm of the U.S. Dept of Education Office of Civil Rights, Black children are disciplined more often, as well as disproportionately, compared to all students. It does not matter the gender or the grade level. Sadly, this is happening as early as pre-school.

Racists, and even the ignorant, will cite racial pseudoscience to say that it’s because Black people are predisposed to displaying deviant behaviors. It’s because many white people have preoccupation with the Black body and policing it.

I am guilty, as many others, of being fixated on that crime. However, attention must be given to the crime of negligence of the Black mind by educators who say they care to guide those minds.

Figure 2: Black Enrollment in Advanced Academic Programs

 % Enrollment% G&T Enrollment% AP Enrollment% IB Enrollment
Black Students Total15%8.5%9%14%
Black Male Students8%4%3%5%
Black Female Students7.5%4.5%6%9%

Source: Civil Rights Data Collection

Nationally, Black students are underrepresented in both gifted and talented programs as well as in AP courses. In Pennsylvania, where Black students represent 15% of all students, they are grossly underrepresented in gifted and talented programs as well as in AP courses. The implication is clear: Black students are regularly excluded from schools’ conceptions of what it means to be gifted, talented, or advanced. This is a high crime.

Figure 3: Tri-State Enrollment in Advanced Academic Programming According to Race

 DelawareNew JerseyPennsylvania
 G&TAPG&TAPG&TAP
Asian Students10%8%21%20%9%8%
Black Students19%20%8%8%3%7%
Latinx Students9%9%13%14%3%4%
White Students60%62%56%58%82%79%

    Source: Civil Rights Data Collection

Even more criminal is how a lack of representation in gifted and talented programs happens because of Black students overrepresented in school suspensions, excluding Black students from access to academic opportunities.

School suspensions, whether in school or out of school means that students miss valuable time in the classroom. Students who miss time in school tend to perform worse academically – impacting their chances to enter gifted and talented programs. Black students miss more days due to suspension than any other students. 8 out of every 10 teachers nationally are white, however Black students are suspended less with Black teachers than with white teachers.

Therefore, we need more Black teachers, but I digress.

Figure 4: Average Days Missed by Black Students due to Suspension in Philadelphia Suburbs

 PABucksChesterDelawareMontgomery
Black Students6336646936
Latinx Students3113242110
White Students106695

Source: American Civil Liberties Union

Lawson, president of Concerned African-American Parents (CAAP), filed a complaint with the federal education department alleging a long-standing pattern of discrimination that steered Black students into low-level classes. Also, the complaint alleged that overly harsh disciplinary practices led to Black students being suspended at higher rates than their White peers who committed similar offenses.

The result of that complaint was a settlement by UDSD and CAAP through mediation. According to the settlement, UDSD will reduce the number of tracks in math classes from three to two in their middle school over the next two years. By the 2022-23 school year, the district will have no other tracks besides “academic” and “honors” at the high school.

Lastly, all staff must undergo implicit-bias training, while administrative and instructional staff at the high school must undergo training in restorative disciplinary practices.

Of course, parents must advocate for their children no matter what school district they’re located in and no matter the instance; Black parents all the more. However, educators and those who claim to care about the academic excellence of Black children mustn’t neglect to address the fact that the nutrients of gifted programs are withheld from brilliant Black minds.

Our world would be so much better if legacies were established by cultivating the Black mind as opposed to taking Black bodies captive.

What do you think?

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Rann Miller

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