“My son has been suspended five times. He’s 3,” headlined one mother’s recent article in the Washington Post that helped kindle the conversation of school suspension rates in the American education system.
Gloria Ladson-Billings, Kellner Family Chair of Urban Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed racial disparity in school suspensions with HuffPost Live’s Marc Lamont-Hill on Tuesday.
She explained that schools’ disproportionately large percentages of black student suspensions has less to do with white teachers not understanding the behavior of black students, and more to do with fear they bring into the classroom with them.
“The majority of suspensions are linked to what is called ‘non-contact behavior,’” she told Hill. “Kids get suspended for wearing a hat. Kids get suspended for rolling their eyes. Some of the referrals will say they were ‘disrespectful.’”
Billings explained that the danger of discrepancy between the severity of a punishment and the nature of the transgression plays out in students’ later lives.
Her description of a correctional facility commencement address she gave -- at which every single graduate had been suspended from school at least once -- demonstrated the motive behind her concern for the long term effects of school suspensions and their relation to the school-to-prison pipeline.
“I want teachers to understand the consequences of starting down this particular road. It’s not merely about exclusion from school, it about starting to determine life courses because now you’ve decided this is someone who cannot be in the population.”
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