Featured

How Black Genius is Misdiagnosed as Disability

Full disclosure: I am an educator who has long fought against the tendency for Black students to be disproportionately diagnosed w/ disabilities, especially considering the huge error of margin in rushing to judgment in an institutionally racist system which regards our children as an “other” and given the common thread of behaviors which intersect an ADHD diagnosis and that of giftedness/exceptionalism. As an avid believer in the oft-neglected, innate genius of Black children (in particular), and one in awe of the indomitable spirit of our people as a collective, I am convinced that Black genius has routinely been misdiagnosed as a disability in K-12 schools in America. I argue that it’s time for the entire pedagogical profession to shift our myopic views of what constitutes a developmental disability and consider how our bias too often informs the disproportionate labeling of Black youth as special needs. If scholarly research determines the validity of an existing pattern of prevalent pedagogical practice, findings would likely augment the veracity of modern testing protocols and inform the measurement of youth of all other ethnicities as well. Academic testing – How Academic Testing is Racist – in any form is racist, as such disproportionate disability diagnoses can scarcely be deemed viable, when rendered in a system which is firmly rooted upon antiquated systems of oppression and when performed at the hands of educators suffering from the scourge of the perpetual mis-education of Black students.

Honestly, has it ever occurred to a large percentage of the reigning resident experts, i.e. “holier-than-thou” educational policy makers that the students most prone to “acting out” during daily instruction and/or those least engaged with the didactic (and predictable asf) teaching style, are merely bored beyond belief and grossly underestimated in terms of their scholarship and ability? Surely, we must shift the blame from Black students’ and other students of color supposed inabilities, given the unrealistic expectation to conform to a flawed, Eurocentric model of education which neither places their experience nor their uniquely cultural (and multiple intelligences inclusive) learning styles at the forefront of the learning experience. For example, if indeed restlessness, inattention, impulsivity, high activity levels, and creativity infused day-dreaming are regarded as evidence of superior intellect in African centered or AP (advanced placement) classroom settings, then such behaviors are also representative of the trademark virtues commonly associated w/ being gifted. Yet, these behavioral indicators are often only afforded a positive connotation in specialized, small, private or otherwise affluent schools, overwhelmingly comprised of White students. Unbeknownst to many non-educators, in the average public/charter schools, the exact 👏🏾same 👏🏾descriptors 👏🏾are used to disenfranchise Black students and to otherwise limit, or completely obliterate a universal belief in the natural genius of our Black youth. This practice typically manifests as a large percentage of Black students in integrated school settings (and especially those in large, urban, underfunded school districts), as belonging to a special needs population, encumbered with academically underperforming tendencies or severely developmentally disabled labels and treatment.

There is widespread knowledge among pedagogical circles that the behavior profiles of gifted students closely mirrors that of troubled and/or non traditional students. Therefore, the only discernible difference in opportunity, resources, service delivery and corresponding student performance data is how a student has been officially labeled while on the K-12 trajectory. In affluent districts, student’s who are not traditionally served by general education classroom settings are almost immediately assumed to be gifted and prescribed to being set apart as bright, talented, creative, or as markedly gifted children who would benefit from advanced academic placement and smaller class sizes (among other interventions). The corresponding academic and social expectations are subsequently raised, the requisite resources and teacher quality soars and students officially begin the lifelong trajectory of designation as “gifted”. On the contrary, in urban schools across the nation, our most gifted population of Black students show traditional signs of non-conformity and are immediately regarded as academically, socially and behaviorally disadvantaged and after enduring the referral process, they languish in poorly staffed, scarcely resourced and sparsely funded Special Education departments. In this model SPED students are otherwise relegated to a bleak future wherein academic, social dysfunction is expected and deemed as the norm. Sure, they are placed in small class environments too – only these spaces are not labeled as advanced placement classes, but resource rooms. The bulk of these students almost exclusively mirror the self-fulfilling prophecies of lowered expectations, poor academic performance, social stigmatization and exclusion from the lifelong learning opportunities afforded to their equally gifted peers (born to a different culture and socioeconomic class). Ultimately, the inherent bias, labeling, and level of services offered by educational institutions is predicated upon the slightest nuance in special needs classifications and despite the apparent and often overwhelming intersections between giftedness and diagnosis as “an other”, there’s a literal world of difference between the two categories. Sigh . . .

Until now, little attention has been devoted to the similarities and differences between the two groups, particularly from the viable perspective of race and class inequalities as manifested in educational settings, thus raising the potential for misidentification in both areas — giftedness and disabled. Overwhelmingly, White students are referred to psychologists or pediatric physicians for their non-conformist, ADHD behaviors while Black students are routinely referred to behavior interventionists, deans and even external law enforcement facilities and detention centers at an equal (or accelerated), rate. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that Black students comprising the disabled ranks in segregated, underfunded inner city schools, possess levels of, as yet undiagnosed genius and have been failed by a system intent on their mis-education. Instead, Black students are increasingly diagnosed with ADHD, ASD and/or as distinguishable only in the form of academically, socially or behaviorally significant statistics.

As a general rule in academic practice, when White students’ even begin to exhibit behaviors in alignment with boredom, misbehavior or not working up to his/her apparent ability, they reap the corresponding benefits of attending well funded, resourced educational environments in which their parents’ favorable property values, all but guarantee that the best available social workers, psychologists, counselors and highly compensated administrators and staff will service their every need. In such idyllic environments, every educational and familial stakeholder is well versed in engaging an all-encompassing protocol replete with early intervention allowances to ensure the academic and social success of the individual student’s. When afforded a timely opportunity to be assessed on their academic strengths and weaknesses, the student is then, more often than not, determined to be “gifted and talented” in one, or more, distinct academic disciplines or social emotional capacities. As a veteran educator and scholar, I am not the least bit critical of this high expectation infused protocol of educational service delivery. On the contrary, I merely interrogate the absence of the same tried and true procedural precision in widespread application in the urban schools where I have taught/served as an administrator and in environments in which Black student scholars predominate.

Perhaps as evidence of the grave disparity in being diagnosed as gifted, in a recent Twitter thread, one middle-aged woman courageously, unwittingly exposed the frequency of White, affluent students being diagnosed as “twice-exceptional” in adulthood for harboring a virtually undetectable disability as adults, after having already been labeled as exceptional/gifted during their K-12 years. The thread quickly went viral and it rather innocently exposed the wealth of people who admitted to having benefited from being gifted early in life, while exhaustively detailing the corresponding frustration at struggling academically (or socially-emotionally), later in life when their learning disability was finally diagnosed. For many people, the academic and social differences only frustratingly emerged while enrolled in Ivy League Colleges or whilst working in corporate America, so clearly their White privilege anesthetized them from the special needs shame uniquely experienced by Black students. This only increasingly underscores the reality that the traits of giftedness and disability seamlessly intersect w/ race and class being the only discernible distinction in classification. Common admissions on the twice-exceptional thread included statements in line with this one: “Identified as gifted in grade school. I “never paid attention” in class, always turned in homework late, but did great on tests. I was only later diagnosed with ADHD at 19…”.

Educators must consider that if a student doesn’t finish his/her assignments, or hastily answers questions without showing their work; if their handwriting and spelling or organizational skills are poor; or if the student persistently fidgets in class, talks to others, refuses to keep a seat and often disrupts class by interrupting others they might well be aptly deemed as requiring intervention. The pivotal question is whether the student is gifted or developmentally disabled, and furthermore who is in the best possible position to render such a profound diagnosis? When students’ prematurely shout out the answers to teachers’ questions it’s admittedly annoying (despite the fact that they are usually right). Likewise, when a particularly bright light of a student daydreams during whole group instruction or seems far too easily distracted – these tendencies are typical precursors to being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, because of the inescapable reality of institutionalized racism, in similar case studies involving Black students we rarely if ever, pause to consider whether he/she is gifted, developmentally disabled or some semblance of both? More often than not, Black students are overwhelmingly diagnosed as falling within the confines of the latter Special Education population. While this should not constitute a prescription for academic disenfranchisement, it usually manifests as just that. Therein lies the dilemma of mis-education.

Since in current practice, educational professionals reach the consensus of an ADHD diagnosis by initially listening to parent or teacher referrals (detailing the child’s academic/behavioral profile), w/ only the insufficient contribution of a few brief classroom and social observations of the child, we must make allowances for human error and bias. Even in other cases, when brief screening questionnaires or assessments are used, these measures typically supplement the parents’ or teachers’ subjective descriptions of the original behaviors. Admittedly, only students who are fortunate enough to have thorough physical evaluations, which include screening for allergies and other metabolic disorders, and those afforded extensive psychological evaluations – including assessments of intelligence, achievement, and emotional status – have an equal footing at being accurately diagnosed as either gifted or disabled. It is clear that any student, Black or White, affluent or impoverished, may well be gifted and/or have ADHD or ASD. The truth is that without a thorough professional evaluation, exclusive of the assumptions common in a codified system of oppression, it is difficult to tell. Determining whether a child has ADHD can be particularly difficult when that child is also gifted. The use of many instruments, including intelligence tests administered by qualified professionals, achievement and personality tests, as well as parent/teacher rating scales, can substantively contribute to discerning the the subtle differences between ADHD and giftedness. All evaluations must also be followed by appropriate curricular and instructional modifications that account for cultural competencies and nuances, advanced knowledge, diverse learning styles, and various types of intelligence.

In the end, thoughtful consideration and appropriate professional evaluation is warranted before concluding that bright, creative, intensely gifted and talented Black students have developmental disabilities – or not. We must collectively consider all of the characteristics of the gifted/talented child’s culture, class and background (as well as that of the resident experts) before rushing to judgment. Parents: Do not hesitate to raise the possibility of giftedness with any professional who is evaluating your child for ADHD or ASD, as it is your right to interrogate this possibility. It is vitally important for all educators to make the correct diagnosis, and for parents and teachers to be similarly obliged to educate ourselves, since giftedness is often neglected in our collective professional development training. Together, in mindful consideration of the prevalence of mis-education, we can curb the incidence of Black genius being misdiagnosed as a disability. Otherwise we are all guilty of a grave disservice to all of humanity.

#EducateToLiberate

Living and Learning While Black, Without Armor

One could scarcely imagine the Black Panther, whether it be King T’Chaka, T’Challa or even the brief reign of Erik Killmonger without the obligatory accompaniment of the indestructible Vibranium suit of armor. Needless to say, without donning the bulletproof, deftly Shuri enhanced, nanotechnology infused and upgraded Black Panther habit, or protective suit of armor, the proud tradition of being the warrior protector of Wakanda would have been virtually inconceivable. Mere Hollywood fantasy you may argue? Perhaps. But there’s still so much which powerfully resonates and is historically correct in the relevant concepts of African royalty; a Rites of Passage inspired tradition of passing the honored elder leadership mantle from one generation to the next; and of wisely, preemptively adorning oneself in armor as an essential and salient means of self preservation when at war. Perhaps Black people heavily identified and invested in the Black Panther film’s success not only because of the visceral pride we felt in the all Black director, cast and design team but because it overwhelmingly stoked our preoccupation with realizing a revolutionary reality. We can relate on a deeply spiritual level to an affirming narrative of our own shining, revolutionary representation. We nod in agreement at the delicate, unstable, complicated and warring juxtaposition of our African and American identities and relish in a depiction of a thriving Black on Black future unfettered by white supremacist oppression. The film is like our own personal imagination and was glowingly emblematic of how regal, genius, beautiful and incorruptible we see ourselves as distinct from the white gaze of who we are. We will always and forever stan the multifaceted beauty of our Blackness and have rousing appreciation for any /all art showcasing the unmitigated Black excellence of our narrative from our own unique point of view.

Black Panther the Marvel character, long believed to have been inspired by white creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in order to capitalize upon the Black imagination and conjure a fantasy version of the Black Power unapologetically coined in Kwame Toure’s uncompromising demand for Black freedom in the late 60s; was very much like The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the seminal grassroots movement, in that it normalized the concept of Black people being sufficiently armed for warfare. Ultimately there’s a salient argument for the fact that, in every meaningful iteration of authentic Black Power – both imaginary and true to life soldiers must be fully armed as a prerequisite to knowingly entering into battle or warfare. Given the general assumption that as a Black people, we collectively place supreme value on education and maintain that our genius intellect is our most viable weapon and significant attribute in our suits of armor in fighting against our own oppression; then too, our education must be a refreshing, liberation fueled and all-inclusive immersive experience, designed to wholly prepare us for a glorious future in which Black royalty, wealth, technological advancements and our intellectual prowess are nurtured and flourish without limits.

In the same way that a skilled warrior would essentially embark upon a suicide mission to even remotely consider engaging in battle while unarmed . . . So it is incumbent upon each of us to consider the ultimate sacrifice we instinctively bear by living in a contentious society, in which we are duly unarmed. Since we are neither sufficiently armed nor equally yoked with the oppressive forces against us – as a result, we continue to perish at alarming rates, not just for being physically subdued and slaughtered, but rather we perish because of a profound lack of knowledge. There’s little disagreement about the fact that it is the unique calling of Blacks in America to be the universal casualties of the literal war against us, that sadly many of us scarcely even acknowledge that we are fighting. As a Black people we must of necessity, navigate a grenade strewn terrain of living in an American society hellbent on our annihilation, via a white supremacist waged genocide. Certainly, our people the world over understand the unwritten, and all too palpable rules of engagement in a society, which still benefits from our forced labor, intellectual property, material wealth and creative contributions; but which incredulously harbors a neurotic “Fear of a Black Planet” and demands universal compliance to white male, female privilege in every conceivable form. We are therefore resigned to acknowledging that our very existence, in our own bodies/spaces/homes, are everyday subject to being unlawfully permeated by the murderous intrusion of white, unlawful enforcement officers and begrudgingly accept that we WILL unequivocally lose our lives for merely BEING Black in America. As a means of normalizing our oppressive existence, we methodically tiptoe on eggshells when navigating the mundane tasks in our everyday lives. And we attempt to unsuccessfully mask the most prevalent by product of our systemic oppression: internalized self-hatred. “We wear the mask” as poet Paul Laurence Dunbar brilliantly described, all while politically correctly diluting the harmful impact of systemic oppression’s unwanted gift, by casually referencing the symptoms of our inevitable self loathing as the “pop culture approved” phenomena of having imposter syndrome. Yeah right! Try PTSD for being the zombie like survivors of a 400-years long war, without the benefits of Reparations. Meanwhile, we walk around aimlessly and unarmed as the soon to be martyred casualties of an all-out warfare being waged against us. And even as we are subject to the barrage of the enemy’s unrelenting attacks, we somehow turn our disgust and rage inwardly towards one another and routinely send our most beloved and revered treasures and resources: our children, to oppressive schools which we naively regard as “safe zones”. Tuh! For a proper contextual framework we should consider that: Black students come to schools innocently armed with hopeful optimism and school supplies; Meanwhile teachers, administrators, staff, and policy makers equip schools to be armed to the teeth and dangerous. Educators and lawmakers are flush with degrees, certifications, racism, bias, prejudices, personal/political agendas and rampant white privilege or Black self hatred (or a unique combination of each of these potent power dynamics). Left untouched, an inescapable inheritance of these weapons of mass destruction, all but guarantees that mis-education is the universal inheritance and sole deliverable of the K-16 trajectory.

News flash American public: Black students are collectively unarmed! Indigenous students and other students of color are disproportionately unarmed! Black, Indigenous students of color are victimized first by systemic oppression within the culture at large and then acutely so in your failing, underfunded and total misfit factory producing school institutions. How else could this country have produced a Donald Trump, or assault weapon armed white males who commit mass murders in schools, churches, mosques and synagogues as if for recreation?! Marginalized students and their families are admittedly at fault for still, overwhelmingly regarding schools as a welcome refuge from the inescapable oppressive realities we face everyday by just living, breathing existing in the same space as those otherwise privileged with power. So in schools across the country, our children and the stewards of our collective future are being forced to defend themselves against enemies as formidable as Ulysses Klaue, Black Panther’s evil and bigoted arch nemesis, without so much as a ceremonial necklace, assegai or shield to be used as an ingenious tool to defend themselves or to effortlessly activate their suits of armor when they find themselves in danger. Our students are admittedly at war and instead of being armed with knowledge of self, or critical thinking abilities or technological survival tactics and solutions to the world’s problems – they are outfitted with an outdated and inherently racist reading canon and nightly reading logs, a meaningless collection of high stakes test prep notes and wooden pencils (and let’s be honest, it’s October and by this time of year many of them don’t even have a pencil). I promise you that their insufficient weapons are no match for the intimidating, Vibranium laced armored suits seemingly worn by those accountable for their academic success.

Mis-education is not rocket science. And though it certainly serves as an imagery rich, useful analogy in this frustratingly real asf blog post – mis-education is admittedly no #WakandaForever style fantasy with even the slightest prediction of a happy ending. On the contrary, the powerlessness that Black students and other marginalized students wield is 100% Factssss and all too painfully real in an educational system ill-prepared to duly arm them for the actual battles they face. Though Black, Indigenous students of color are clearly unarmed, they are behind enemy lines and suffer from an educational system designed to bolster white supremacy and keep them in chains. Far too many of the power brokers determining their academic and social realities are resigned to categorizing them as low-performing, irreparably damaged goods who are ultimately expendable in the collective vision of a New World Order. Black students are defenseless while their teachers are akin to the rest of the world, armed and dangerous. This works as a perfect complement to systemic oppression which prescribes a nonexistent future, in which the universal low expectation of Black students, becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. This is a vicious cycle to be sure – but one which must be valiantly thwarted by an Educate to Liberate ideology . Thankfully, our innocent, unarmed students are not alone. As divine providence would have it (and has always dictated), each generation is uniquely gifted with a small number but a nonetheless impressive cadre of warriors. I am one and have actualized my unique purpose since my teaching career began in 1994.

We are the parents, educators and even decision making legislative and executive bodies who battle alongside our innocently, unarmed students. We are wholly well intentioned, thoroughly burnt out, admittedly cash strapped and materially tapped out and yet, we manage to fiercely and courageously infuse passion, equity, anti-racism, diversity, inclusion and social justice into our professional repertoire as we live and breathe. We labor to ensure a tangible means to actively counteract the collective mis-education of Black students. We recognize that the education system is merely a microcosm of society and we know that to merely call the world dysfunctional is, well, an understatement. We accept the reality that we are at war, and we take our dues-paying earned positions on the front lines. We are in the system, but not of the system and as for me? I’m fully strapped, locked and loaded as I eschew cushy six figure salaries in highly perched positions in which my impact is if no consequence. Those who fight on behalf of our people acknowledge that the very same white supremacist ideology which wholeheartedly infects the rest of society has an indelible imprint upon the educational system. So we work tirelessly to overtly dismantle systemic oppression wherever it manifests from within the dysfunctional fabric of the pedagogical community and on many fronts, we win. For lack of a better term and as a final, albeit prophetic Black Panther reference: we are acutely conscious of the self-destructive armor we instinctively wield and so we are mindful and ever vigilant to engage in the necessary study and reflective practice which empowers us to disarm our weapons of mass destruction from behind enemy lines. We endeavor to be like the Dora Milaje in that we are the indestructible, first line of defense willing to be fired upon knowing that our own Vibranium infused assegai’s and shields can withstand the onslaught of oppression’s blows.

It is not fiction that Africa is the cradle of civilization. There is scientific evidence and widespread consensus that the Black Woman is the progenitor of the earth and irrefutably the continent of Africa is the most mineral rich land in the universe. So an afro-futuristic, African Diaspora reality with technological advancements throughout and warrior women no longer shackled by Korean, or Malaysian weaves but embracing our natural, beautiful Black selves is warmly welcomed. For me: a Black woman, mother, sister, educator, scholar, warrior and Queen innately imbued with magic and fashioned in the image of God, it is not inconceivable that I could accompany my other sister and brother warriors as the highest ranking force in the military. Without exception, it is the obligation of every Black man, woman and child to assume the protective armor of rigorously engaging our innate, African genius as a means to be free from oppression. As a closing note, in a comprehensive review of the long awaited Marvel film, prior to its release, Time Magazine had this to say of the applicability of art imitating life “The revolutionary thing about Black Panther is that it envisions a world not devoid of racism but one in which black people have the wealth, technology and military might to level the playing field—a scenario applicable not only to the predominantly white landscape of Hollywood but, more important, to the world at large.”

We couldn’t agree more. Asé.

Advertisements

Black Students And The Myth of School Choice

The current model of school choice is fashioned upon an assumption that Black students and other marginalized students of color have an unlimited range of exemplary choices to have their academic needs uniquely met in privately operated, for profit school institutions, when it is glaringly apparent that these students are not being equitably served in the traditional public school system. The problem with this general assumption is that there are actually a scant few options of excellence in accessible schools of choice nationwide and there is no existing, widespread precedent within which Black students are universally afforded a liberation infused, anti-racist, inclusive, minimally invasive, free and appropriate educational ideal in any significant educational model that is replicated on large scale. This means that in spite of our best efforts and for all the technological advances of the 21st Century; the reality is that for Black students, (those who most acutely suffer the deleterious effects of mis-education in a combined K-12 and post-graduate educational system which mimics the same exclusionary and oppressive power dynamics of larger society); we are simply not represented in the few, innovative schools touting (and more importantly), implementing nontraditional best practices by offering authentic student choice, rigor or those sharing alternative, counter normative instructional methods which are universally culturally responsive. It bears repeating the common mantra that indeed #RepresentationMatters.

In America’s pervasive system of white supremacy and institutionalized oppression, exceptional school performance is an anomaly and appears inextricably linked to racial and class divisions. Those residing in affluent residential areas have both the privilege and financial means to guarantee the quality of every, fully resourced public school in their area and still have the privilege to exercise school choice in that they have purchased homes in communities where high performing schools (public and private) abound. Supposedly, school choice programs are designed to break the link between housing and access to a quality education with the goal of expanding educational opportunity to all children, especially the most disadvantaged. Except that this is not exactly the reality for the vast majority of marginalized groups. Far too often, our “choices” reflect the same degree of ineptitude and poor track record as do the most unfit public schools and given the sporadic data and lack of evidence to prove otherwise, many charter schools fare much worse as their public school counterparts. The highest performing charter schools I have ever encountered working exclusively in large, Black and Brown communities were both founded, funded and wholly encompassed the admirable vision and clear priorities of the veteran educator and deeply invested leadership which reflected the majority Black student of color population. These schools are far preferable and always seemed to effortlessly provide a more wholistic and rigorous academic program than do their conservative, Christian or Fortune 500 business model charter schools counterparts. On the contrary, I have also witnessed first hand the stark contradictions or what Kozol refers to as the Savage Inequalities of Charter schools, which grossly mis-educate through a combination of outsourced mis-management, underpaid and poorly resourced staff/schools and which overtly value profits over academics or student productivity. You hate to see it, but the struggle is real and many of those students would be infinitely better served in their local public schools.

Even as we consider the dangers of the underrepresentation of marginalized students in accessible, high performing “schools of choice” paradigms, there’s a tendency to blame the victims of mis-education or to advance the notion that we, Black people, are not duly taking advantage of all of the school choice environments which might more readily and completely meet our academic and social needs. Except that when many of us do test the odds of exploring local charter school option (and the options are seemingly endless), it’s often a roll of the dice as to whether the school of choice will even be a neat fit for our children. On the other hand because of the aforementioned expansive tax base, affluent Whites don’t even need to exercise school choice, but can simply attend their local public-private schools and benefit from the elite academic foundation which otherwise affords them to a lifetime of privilege. We simply can’t ignore the potential double standards inherent in the overrepresentation of the white, privileged demographic (who overwhelmingly comprise the persons already in power) in the most affluent, high performing, public, charter and private schools across the globe.

In the current era of Trump and DeVos policies in favor of the carte blanche expansion of school choice options, The Washington Post reports that their priority “ is ultimately aimed at privatizing the most important civic institution in the country.” Despite the fact that, “More than 80 percent of U.S. schoolchildren attend traditional public schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, which uses the latest data available, (and) about 10 percent of schoolchildren in the United States go to private schools, about 5 to 6 percent attend charter schools, according to 2013-14 data, and a little more than 3 percent are home-schooled, according to 2012 data.” The school choice movement is on the rise, with no end in sight. Whole communities like that in New Orleans, have no public school alternatives whatsoever, and the degree of mis-education in their unimpressive roster of charter schools creates a monopoly which leaves much to be desired. The school choice movement is not monolithic however, and the wide array of choice options include: charter schools, vouchers, tax-credit programs, education scholarship accounts, home schooling and online schools. It is noteworthy that in a 2017 analysis, data journalists at The Associated Press found that charter schools were significantly overrepresented among the country’s most racially isolated schools. In other words, Black and Brown students have become the object of the re-segregation of schools from within charter schools, the very institutions that promised to “equalize” education. Because of the resegregation, under-resourced and underfunding injustices of charter schools (not to mention the sporadic, not necessarily improved academic performance of the so-called schools of choice), are now only overtly championed by wealthy, conservative and racist Republicans like Trump and DeVos. While public outcry increased from the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter movement which simultaneously called for a moratorium on all new separate and unequal schools of choice since 2017. Recent reports from Howard County, MD has White parents fighting against legislation aimed at desegregating the schools alongside written testimony that “We don’t want urbanized Blacks”. Wtf does that even mean? Is there an assimilated version available upon request?!

Among the small contingency of marginalized student “tokens”, able to access the heavily resourced educational opportunities of suburban or private schools as afforded by their own parents’ wealth and/or proximity to whiteness; there are egregious crimes committed under the guise of child’s play. For example, just this week at Immanuel Christian School in VA. an entire gang of racist, White boys pinned down a Black female student and forcibly cut her locs, while taunting her with names like “nappy” & “ugly.” Fairfax County Police are said to be investigating, yet who’s to account for the permanent damage to the psyche of the impressionable victim? As a pertinent point of reference, VP Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, teaches at this private, Christian school part time – so one would assume an exclusive school attracting such affluence would be somehow insulated from such an abject level of exposure to school choice failure. But such an assumption would be a grave mistake. Even in cases where the “token” students are not subjected to overt physical violence, the few Black students in these elite schools become exceptions to the average Black student norm and are celebrated for their “unique” cultural, academic or athletic prowess, rather than viewed in the context of their individual worth and genius as a representation of the whole. As such, in the same way that Malcolm X referenced his own degree of mis-education in his autobiography, as a “mascot” of sorts, rather than a valued partner/learner/contributor . . . So are Black students oftentimes symbolic of the abject tokenism which can only be understood as white people’s fascination and pre-occupation with all things Black from afar. In the tokenized mascot role, Blacks are valued solely for the expressed benefit of appropriation or for one’s attempts at feigning diversity and not at all for an abdication of generational White privilege. Not only are Blacks and marginalized people discriminated against or fetishized when we are either excluded or tokenized in majority white and affluent school settings, but the very power structure and design of these institutions ensure the perpetuation of the status quo. White students who are almost entirely educated in segregated groups, assume a centering power status in which their voices are always and overwhelmingly amplified. Whereas the powerful narrative of Blackness, Indigenous and other people of color are always, routinely ignored. This only exacerbates the oppressive paradigm played out in society.

As earlier referenced, in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, when he was (somewhat predictably), sent to reform school for being Black, the smartest in his class but otherwise irreverent for simply having worn a hat in the classroom; he wisely deduced his role as merely a tokenized mascot in the presence of white people. Of this demeaning experience he recalled: “They all liked my attitude, and it was out of their liking for me that I soon became accepted by them — as a mascot, I know now. . . They would even talk about me, or about “niggers,” as though I wasn’t there, as if I wouldn’t understand what the word meant. A hundred times a day, they used the word “nigger.” I suppose that in their own minds, they meant no harm; in fact they probably meant well.” Malcolm understandably bristled at the dehumanization of being forced to unsuccessfully navigate academic and domestic white spaces in recalling: “It was the same with the other white people, most of the local politicians, when they would come visiting the Swerlins. One of their favorite parlor topics was “niggers.” One of them was the judge who was in charge of me in Lansing. He was a close friend of the Swerlins. He would ask about me when he came, and they would call me in, and he would look me up and down, his expression approving, like he was examining a fine colt, or a pedigreed pup. I knew they must have told him how I acted and how I worked. What I am trying to say is that it just never dawned upon them that I could understand, that I wasn’t a pet, but a human being. They didn’t give me credit for having the same sensitivity, intellect, and understanding that they would have been ready and willing to recognize in a white boy in my position. But it has historically been the case with white people, in their regard for black people, that even though we might be with them, we weren’t considered of them. Even though they appeared to have opened the door, it was still closed. Thus they never did really see me. This is the sort of kindly condescension which I try to clarify today, to these integration-hungry Negroes, about their “liberal” white friends, these so-called “good white people” — most of them anyway. I don’t care how nice one is to you; the thing you must always remember is that almost never does he really see you as he sees himself, as he sees his own kind.” So there’s that. And arguably, not much has changed.

With charter schools leading the schools of choice movement and allowing for a vast selection of publicly funded schools-as-businesses models to reap private profits and provide virtually zero accountability for students’ performance; a palpable recipe for the mis-education of Black students flourishes. Personally, having worked for 14 years in traditional public school districts (in Detroit and New York) and for 8 years in both extremely high performing and persistently low performing charter schools (prior to my current pursuits in entrepreneurship and higher education); I have witnessed first hand what works and what constitutes an abysmal failure for Black students in both public and so-called schools of choice. Please refer at will, to the cited Washington Post article for a comprehensive overview of the bevy of school choice options but recognize that there is no panacea for Black students wishing to escape the degradation of mis-education via traditional or nontraditional school choices. Regardless to supposed benefits, it’s better to resign ourselves to the knowledge that our collective obligation is to ensure the implementation of an authentic, liberation based pedagogical model in all schools where our presence is predominant.

Trauma Informed: How Performative Pedagogy Informs 21st Century Mis-education

A popular presence of trauma informed educational movements tout themselves as the literal gold standard of school reform. Many are led by “pedagogical gurus”, who claim to be capable of healing what ails America’s overwhelmingly traumatized students. Never mind that these modern movements deceptively compartmentalize their professional development offerings or product lines at cost. Oh yes and the gurus? Well, they are primarily non-educators who seek to capitalize off the most recent #schoolshooting or cash in on the latest ‘EduPimpology’ trend. The similar thread tying all such movements together is the incredulous claim that their innovation is capable of addressing the growing divide between Blacks (and other students of color), whose academic and social needs are not being met through traditional means. Really? Where’s the wealth of qualitative research and scientific, statistical evidence to support the veracity of the claim that students’ traumatic life experiences can be effectively diagnosed and treated in the classroom? Please insert the chorus of cricket sounds here . . . Because of course, no such tangible evidence exists. There does exist a body of emerging research over the past decade, on the inextricable impact of trauma on students, thus popularizing trauma informed classrooms as education’s next best thing. However, based upon its disproportionate implementation in schools’ who adopt a one-and-done PD model (sigh) or those who serve majority Black populations, the trauma based pedagogical reform model largely inculcates a “we” v. “them” mentality, oppressively framing impoverished Black students as victims; and clueless, White teachers as saviors. In fact, one need only read the first paragraph of a recent NEA article quoted here, to attest to the harmful deficit mindset of educators who believe “What does normal mean? What we consider normal [may not be] normal for them. How many of our students sleep in a bed?” Really?! Please insert the eye-rolling GIF here.

Despite the absence of sound, intergenerational and cross-cultural scholarship and data to support the widespread implementation of #TraumaInformedPractices, this movement has taken hold of school districts and classrooms across the country, and in some cases with disastrous implications for Black students. According to a recent Education Week article “Federal laws on special education and poverty now encourage schools to use trauma-informed practices, and more than a dozen states have passed laws or created grants designed to encourage schools to explore the approach” (Sparks, 2019). All such reforms, schools of thought and mass movements are easily identifiable under a popular umbrella of catchy names “Trauma Informed Practices” “Social Emotional Learning” or creating “Trauma Sensitive Schools”. However, for all conscientious teachers committed to infusing anti-racism, social justice and culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy (#AntiRacism, #SocialJustice, #CRSP) please be duly warned to exercise with extreme caution in embracing any/all ideologies which potentially exacerbate harm, especially for marginalized students, by reinforcing a #DeficitMindset about a phenomena which is, as yet untested and otherwise unproven to have currency and value to the population most at-risk of #Miseducation. The very existence of life in America for Blacks and other students of color is of itself #TraumaInformed. So overt racism, forms of bias and subtle microaggressions from teachers, masked as trauma informed practices, only serves to compound the systemic oppression of marginalized students.

Please do not misinterpret my suspicion as unfounded or without merit for the mere sake of disagreeing with a popular educational norm. Rather, my argument is not whether trauma actually exists or has a profoundly negative impact upon the Black, Indigenous, Latinx or Asian students upon which the pedagogical movement has been uniquely geared. On the contrary, I concede that traumatic incidents do in fact exist and can even be statistically proven to be intensified in the racially hostile and school-violence ridden era, which we are all forced to endure. My particular critique regarding the prevalence of the trauma movement is that it is experimental. I interrogate the value of any movement which imagines our teachers, easily the most overworked and underpaid of all career professionals, as mental health professionals capable of successfully navigating the myriad of professional obligations related to: teaching, learning, professional development, behavior management, curriculum, assessment and authentic evaluation; with the added responsibility of assuming UNQUALIFIED roles as psychologists equipped to deal w/ #TraumaInformed #SEL trends that effectively arms scores of uninformed, biased or racist teachers to further #miseducate and harm their Black (and other) students of color. Sheesh . . .

In the earlier cited Education Week article, “Howard Adelman, a psychology professor and co-director of the Center for Mental Health in Schools, said he’s skeptical that schools can provide enough training and resources to create effective supports for students with a history of trauma. For example…the journal of School Mental Health concludes that few models of trauma-sensitive schooling have been evaluated rigorously enough to prove they are effective” (Sparks, 2019). As a pertinent case in point, what if a students’ trauma-inducing triggers exist not at home (as commonly believed and reinforced by the deficit mindset), but at school or in society at large only when interacting with people outside their culture who fancy themselves liberal or empathetic, but nevertheless foster savior-complex beliefs and racist, classist, sexist behaviors which only serve to reinforce oppression? Please don’t assume that trauma is universal for all students of color. And even in cases in which trauma is a factor of a student’s prior experience, oft-times that trauma can be expressly linked to the living in America which boasts of a codified system of institutionalized oppression. As such, there is no illusion of trauma training as capable of engendering a “safe learning environment”, especially when schools are notorious for adopting every reform except that which addresses #AntiRacism and bridges the cultural divide existing between teachers and students.

As addressed in a previous blog post, because of the sheer demographics of America’s schools, i.e. the dearth of diversity, inclusion and representation amongst Black and all other teachers of color; reforms dependent upon fueling the savior mentality of White teachers while reinforcing the grave deficits of students of color is Hella problematic. In fact, the power dynamics of White women teachers and Black, Indigenous students of color are so skewed, that the prevalence of White, non-educator led innovations like the trauma informed movement is staggering and offensive, at best. At worst, this movement only serves to exacerbate the harm imposed from poorly run schools, wherein classrooms are individual islands of oppressive zones which otherwise perpetuate White supremacy and systemic oppression in every imaginable form. Implementation of the flawed and admittedly emerging trauma reform movement, does not empower teachers to more readily empathize with or build relationships with their students (as it seeks to do). In fact, once trauma informed practices are centered from the vital perspective of the students’ point of view, rather than that of the teachers’ trying to mitigate increasing behavior problems – one recognizes the potential implications of harm for Black students being asked to “unpack their trauma” at the behest of White teachers who are at the opposite end of the spectrum of oppression by virtue of their inherent White privilege. If continued to be implemented in such an irresponsible and roughshod manner, this movement will only ensure that teachers are even more conditioned to oppress, as they might be more apt to: ascribe special education labels, inform a universal belief in the inherent lack of students’ academic ability and/or inspire them to write off marginalized students altogether (as future criminals, riddled with incorrigible behavior issues stemming from their history of trauma). In other words, in its current iteration, the performative pedagogy of trauma informed practices in education exacerbates the problem of mis-education.

To the extent that the trauma informed movement and every trauma sensitive learning environment seeks to bridge the cavernous gap which exists between the dichotomous extremes of White women teachers and the Black and Brown students who comprise the classrooms across the U.S., I am in favor of all meaningful, positive, anti-racist, non-biased and student centered informed initiatives. If it means providing a quiet space for students who need a non-punitive timeout; offering food or snacks to hungry students or offering positive behavioral interventions and supports to students who most acutely suffer the effects of unrealistic and harsh zero tolerance policies, I am all for the universal implementation. There is an intentional emphasis upon universal here, because a troubling, recurrent theme is for these movements to be framed under the guise of an ideal way to mitigate trauma (exclusively for large populations of Blacks and other students of color), when in application these practices have been found to be just as problematic and #RacisAF as classroom enslavement re-enactments or “openly share your preferred pronouns, baggage and lifetime of traumatic experiences openly” so that I can prove that my classroom is a safe space trauma-inducing experiences. In terms of playing savior, Dr. or subscribing to trauma informed practices in uneven, discriminatory application in individual classrooms, teachers are doing much more harm than good and are well advised to just focus upon teaching. In order to be relevant, universally applicable and culturally appropriate, we must ensure that all such initiatives are research-based, academic integrity driven and foster the kind of federal funding which places the accountability for implementation upon well paid central office and building level administrators and certified, competent mental health professionals – NOT our teachers, who already shoulder the lion share of ALL of the accountability for teaching and learning. Do I believe that trauma informed practices can be at all effective, you might ask? Absolutely, I do. My rather scathing critique is based upon the visible harm I (and many others) have already noted in clueless application across classroom settings. As a federally funded reform, universally applied in all schools at the district level? I have every confidence that this movement can morph from its current distasteful form as a reform pimped from outside the pedagogical sphere – to a policy based reform driven by systemic change from within.

“Often, district policies need a complete overhaul to support trauma-sensitive schooling, said Timothy Purnell, a former superintendent in Somerville, N.J., who was named his state’s superintendent of the year in 2016 for launching trauma-sensitive practices in his district. It took nearly three years to review and rethink “every single policy, be it a school handbook or even a teacher’s classroom rules,” Purnell said “through the lens of, ‘Does this disconnect students? [or] … Does this give us the opportunity to treat a child uniquely and with respect?” (Sparks, 2019).

On the well resourced district level, superintendents, principals and especially school psychologists and social workers can guide the schools’ successful implementation of trauma sensitive practices. By definition, “Traumatic experiences can range from discrete events like living through a natural disaster to the ongoing stress of parental abuse or homelessness. Emerging research has found repeated exposure to trauma significantly increases children’s risks of later mental- and physical-health disorders, poor academic progress and behavior in school, and other problems” (Sparks, 2019). As countless articles, evidence and studies continue to acknowledge the pattern of the deleterious effect that traumatic events have upon school-aged children’s learning and social capacity, it is highly probable that the reach and impact of these movements will only expand in the future. This is understood and the challenge to ensure that such trauma reforms “Do No Harm” has been duly accepted. For those of us committed to #EducateToLiberate, we can only maintain vigilance that as reform movements are implemented, districts are prepared to ensure that their adoption of same is unbiased, beneficial and does not exacerbate the trauma of the marginalized students most readily impacted by mis-education. We must collectively ensure that the trauma informed movement does not increase Black students’ disproportionate diagnoses as disabled or otherwise contribute to their all-inclusive alienation from an educational system, hell-bent on their mis-education.

Attracting Positive Energy

The most exciting, fulfilling and successful opportunities in our lives are a direct reflection of our own positive intentions. Like attracts like and to the extent that we greet each new venture, job, special interest, project, academic year and life in general with the full anticipation of an abundance of good things . . . What we envision, we can create. What we predict, manifests in the natural and when it shows up – ohhh, how sweet it is to reap the benefits of the good vibrations we have uniquely showered into the universe.

The law of attraction, as it’s more popularly known, has long worked in our collective favor in life – whether we are conscious of it or not – and is so profoundly accurate that many still stand in awe of the divine power of their own thoughts, especially when something shows up that we had foreseen in another context.

Early on in my career as an educator, while still an impressionable twenty-two year old, I would be met, at least twice per week, with the infectious, positive energy of Mama Ayo (a fierce Goddess-Woman, Boss and African Rites of Passage coordinator at our K-8 school), who greeted us all as both staff and students, with the same memorable phrase: vibrations my babies! You see, Mama Ayo literally translates into ‘she who brings joy’, and each day prior to the routine separation of the genders into their disparate, training groups to engage in hour long character development and manhood/womanhood instructional trainings at the feet of the elders for customary Rites of Passage (ROP) sessions; she would instinctively remind us of the importance of vibrating on a higher frequency and attuning our minds, bodies, spiritual and soul beings to their natural and elevated frequencies prior to transitioning into profound life lessons. It was in this context, even as a young adult college grad, former ROP initiate and novice teacher/leader that I recognized my own need to transfer my coveted inheritance to the rich legacy of knowledge of history/self, love of our cultural traditions and people and my role as a teacher to an inescapable obligation to #EducateToLiberate rather than to merely #TeachToTransgress (as brilliantly coined by bell Hooks). By being conscious about elevating my own personal vibrations and positive energy, I fully understood my weighty expectation to pass on the values of honesty, integrity, loyalty, love, justice, activism and a commitment to fight for freedom and liberation to the next generation. Since those pivotal early days as an educator, I am humbled to acknowledge that I have done so with honor and am proud to have never looked back in regret for the many personal sacrifices made along the way.

I won’t get too deep into my own personal testimony and positive experiences re: the relevance of intentionally operating on a higher frequency as a means to repel the blatantly oppressive evils of the times in which we are living. But for the sake of the converted, and those of us willing to readily accept ownership of manifesting our own good fortune, positive vibes, affirmations against all of the seemingly insurmountable odds; I will gladly offer my own best practices and advice for meaningful ways to attract positive energy into each of our lives, as we embark upon yet another academic year.

  1. The first step is admittedly pivotal as it is a recurring exercise to Increase your Mindfulness and Consciousness by observing all of our daily thoughts, beliefs (no matter how small or trivial), and then painstakingly engage in transforming their distinct, universal vibrations of doubt, fear and negativity from within. No matter how enlightened we are, not one of us is capable of continuously operating on the frequency of our higher selves, so we must train ourselves to ensure that all of our thoughts are on a higher frequency, thus enabling us to master our destiny’s on a deep, subconscious level.
  2. Secondly, we must Practice Gratitude every day and in every imaginable way. When increasing our consciousness on the path to attracting positive energy, we must be openly focused upon the little things that we typically take for granted but for which we are immensely grateful, so that the good multiplies. Somehow, what works best for me is to keep a gratitude journal. Interestingly enough, as long as this uniquely restricted journal is comprised of only the 3-5 things for which you are grateful you will find it to be a powerful tool to demonstrate the efficacy of your higher frequency. Likewise, when giving thanks becomes your automatic response to every day occurrences, not only will you find it much easier to acknowledge the good but you will similarly attract more good, blessings and positive energy to focus on. Ultimately, the object of our focus attracts like a powerful magnet.
  3. Next, Prayer and Meditation does wonders for soothing the spirit/soul and centering our breath, thoughts and mind at the same time. There’s no endorsement or requirement to subscribe to any particular religion but rather an urgency to cultivate our own altar, prayer rug and sacred traditions. The only other time that many of us are able to experience a truly authentic restorative state is when we’re asleep. However, it’s important to be able to access our own personal calm in the midst of the storms of daily life, while we are yet awake and able to appreciate the effects of our divine discipline and power of manifestation.
    Physical Energy Consciousness this difficult (for me) to achieve state, refers to maintaining optimal levels of high vibrational foods, and plenty of water to match the corresponding frequency of movement needed to maintain levels of optimal physical energy. As opposed to a myopic Eurocentric focus upon nutrition and exercise for the purpose of cosmetic outer aesthetics, I prefer to embrace an all-inclusive African centered focus upon Ma’at or balance – which centers upon health and wellness as a positive means to increase balance and offers insight to the final step . . .
    Cultivating Ma’at – As important as it is to increase our consciousness, daily practice at being grateful, prayer/meditation and synchronizing our physical intake with our corresponding exertions, all of these meaningful steps are for naught if we are able to successfully nurture the mind/spirit/soul and bodies and neglect to duly balance our lives in every way. Cultivating Ma’at is the foundational basis of ancient Kemetian existence, in the sense that everything (and especially, our hearts) were weighted in accordance with its constituent elements. The synergy of the seasons, the concepts of truth, honor, reciprocity, balance and ethical/moral harmony as a function in the universe, are each a reflection of the underlying nature of our lives (or lack thereof). Righteous actions and living in accordance with inherent spiritual laws are inextricably tied to the intentional cultivation of Ma’at and ethical principles must intentionally govern the collective consciousness of all educators, activists and leaders in order to access integrity and sacrifice necessary to work on behalf of the oppressed.

Ultimately, we are each capable of manifesting an elevated consciousness, higher frequency and consistent state of positive vibrations through concerted efforts to both attract and do good. Let each of us exude the divine light and love we so desperately seek in others and project our inner blessings and good outwardly in the universe this season and for the remainder of this year. Asé.

How Black Schools Perpetuate the Mis-Education of Black Students

This post will be brief. No need to embellish in narrative content, what a picture has shown us in irrefutable and undeniable proof. Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words and this particular one, speaks volumes. The only message that needs to resonate is that: Houston, Detroit, Brooklyn, Harlem, Queens, Dekalb, Newark, Jersey City. . . We have a problem.

Step #1 – observe the cover photo of this blog post. In case the photo is not at all clear, it depicts approved and disapproved or unacceptable hairstyles for Black male students. Sigh…

Step #2 – Go OFF on the countless, deep-seated problems inherent in such a photo on display in a school system overwhelmingly comprised of Black students and exclusively led by Black administrators.

Step #3 – Change and otherwise significantly transform the existence of this troubling paradigm, as a matter of utmost priority to our collective empowerment as a people.

My response when I saw the attached photo shared on Twitter? In less than the allotted 288 characters, my response appears below. However, all sarcasm aside. . . A wealth of scholarship from Black scholars (exploitive study on our internal enigmas from outside our culture be damned), is hereby warranted on the degree to which internalized oppression has sufficiently replaced racism as THE problem we are grappling with in countless institutions responsible for the scourge of the mis-education of Black students. In any case, a brief glance of the cover photo inspired this response from me:

🤔 Hmm. Exhibit A for a lesson or PD on Mis-Education 101? Criminalizing Blackness? Self-hatred personified?

I see it as a featured visual aid of “Learning while Black: How institutionalized racism is effortlessly perpetuated in non-white schools by admin in Blackface“. 🙄

That’s it. That’s the blog post. #EducateToLiberate. As always, your feedback is welcomed!