Current events have me thinking about education and how I, as an educator, can positively contribute the lives of black students in the long term. The obvious answer is to provide extra support for those students, which I will do. But individual action can only do so much. We are dealing with institutional racism, so we need to make changes at an institutional level. I want to hear what other educators think of these ideas and what black students think of these ideas as well.
I think that the disciplinary systems within schools are reminiscent of the justice system in many ways. As a country, we generally accept that there are laws and rules that we follow and that breaking them means that you are punished. The justice system is less about restitution and more about retribution. I think this concept should be changed in general, but it should especially be disregarded in schools. The idea that we must have absolute authority in our classrooms is detrimental to our student’s education. Order in classrooms is important, but is punishment really the best way to get it? I feel like we can become the cops of classrooms by arbitrarily enforcing rules with punishments. The person who decides on the punishment is essentially the judge, and we see clearly that judges are handing out disproportionate sentences to young black people in court. We are subject to the same prejudices as those judges, so how can we be sure that we are not doing the same thing to our students? I think that we all need to think about the consequences of suspensions, expulsions, and in-house detentions for our students. Is the rule they broke so bad that we need to set them back in their classes and hurt their chances of getting into college or have their parents punish them at home? Why do we prioritize rules over a student’s learning and well-being? Can’t we do better than that?
I think the best way to solve this is to abandon the idea of punishment for rule-breaking and instead offer support and counseling. We can take the time to understand why students act out and teach them better ways. We can be understanding of kid’s behaviors and offer them other outlets. We can hold people accountable for their actions without hurting them. This is, of course, dependent of school policy since teachers would need the help of counselors and support staff, but it can be enacted in small ways in classrooms until we can make that happen. We should be treating good education as a right rather than a privilege that can be taken away for bad behavior. I hope that we can make these changes and create a safer environment for black and minority students in schools. Let me know what you think