Considering a post to flteach citing an article in NEA Today re the school to prison pipeline. I responded describing how Deasy stated that just by ridding the L.A. school system of “willful disobedience” as a disciplinary category, he retained far more Black students in school and got a lot more into AP classes. That fits with what I saw in my teaching: White teachers and Black students working at cross purposes. Neither understood each others’ signals, cues, modes of expression, styles of behavior, and on and on.
One of the worst thing a teacher can do with a Black student is send him to the principal; that means, to the student, that the teacher cannot handle him, admits defeat, and gives up on him. The teacher, raised in a hierarchy of top-down authority, uses the top authority to enforce his own authority, quite the opposite approach. The student will then see the teacher as soft and will redouble his efforts to destroy the teacher’s tattered authority. The teacher, unaware of the process, feeds into it by showing irritation and frustration with the student, what the student calls “losing his cool”, a sure path to total loss of authority in the classroom.
In an ethnically mixed classroom, non-Black students may join the Black students or may turn against them, showing contempt for them. The Black students do not understand that they are violating the authority structure of the school the way Whites see it and do not understand why their manipulation of this weak teacher’s, pressing his buttons, is not appreciated and may decide it is racism. The teacher’s escalating frustration fuels the scenario of a floundering person when in reality the teacher may be quite competent but not understand that Black students are used to fairly harsh discipline (see Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children), at least harsh in the eyes of MC Whites imbued with child psychology maxims. When the teacher resorts to a frank talk with a show of concern for the child, the student sees that as pandering, a useless appeal to the child’s better nature when what the child expects from the teacher is personal authority. That approach to the child communicates respect while the soft talk and pandering speaks of condescension.
Teachers may also misunderstand the role of peers and age mates in the raising of Black children. The diffuse authority, where older children and adults outside the family are part of the child’s upbringing is quite foreign to most MC Whites. If anyone but my mother said anything to me, incl. other family members, she went off on them. I was totally swaddled and protected (spoiled, my wife says). So it was with fascination that I entered a working-class Black church in my late teens and saw these very different child-rearing practices unfold before me.