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!

A Case Study of Mis-Education

Dr. Q was a twenty-year, veteran educator of Jewish descent who had worked the vast majority of her career in a suburban ‘gifted’ school environment. For reasons deemed only as ‘personal’, she (rather abruptly) separated from service from her previous school district and successfully interviewed for a first-grade teaching position in our inner city, Title I PK-8 institution entrenched in a highly impoverished metropolitan Detroit community. With the initial period of tense salary negotiations aside (needless to say – the limited constraints of what we could offer her paled in comparison to the kind of salary that her level of education and previous suburban employment status commanded); In any case, Dr. Q readily agreed to begin the school year with 22 eager six and seven year old ‘live wires’ and by all accounts, seemed equal to the task at hand.

It was not long into the initial, fall semester before it became apparent that in spite of her documented years of classroom instructional experience and extensive educational credentials, classroom management was an elusive component of her skill set and an otherwise very real concern and looming obstacle to the daily delivery of standards-based instruction in Dr. Q’s wildly untamed 1st grade classroom. It must be noted for the record that this loosely disciplined and unstructured environment was an anomaly at our school (with the exception of the 1-2 classrooms covered by novice teachers in their first 1-3 years of experience and/or those being covered temporarily by substitute teachers). Initially, this realization presented no major concern, as a teacher’s weakness in a required instructional skill set is merely an opportunity for a consummate leader to provide tangible, immediate support. I did/do consider myself an exemplary administrator who is first and foremost an instructional leader and curriculum coach, with whom the buck stops in terms of academic achievement. Thus, I was eager to offer immediate support and Dr. Q was afforded with levels of remediation ranging from my classroom presence as a co-teacher during the most crucial core curricular junctures; to peer mentorship from her grade-level partner, an exemplary first-grade teacher with many years of expertise and a willingness to document and then properly model her own observations for improvement; to a personalized professional development plan which included, among other things, tons of resources to strengthen her knowledge, resources and skillful use of universally high expectations, positive reinforcement, automated classroom procedures and protocols. There was every anticipation that these efforts would in turn strengthen her classroom management expertise (as it had done for so many teachers before) and serve to transform her classroom from a disorderly holding pen, into a safe, vibrant and intellectually engaged learning environment in which children could learn/grow and prosper. The greatest disappointment was that all attention was met with hostility, resentment and even an incredulous persona of “I’ve got this”, despite the fact that Dr. Q’s children would literally be swinging from the rafters under her exclusive watch, on a daily basis. Sigh . . .

Perhaps adding insult to injury, this particular classroom had been historically manned by a young, novice and extremely successful African-American teacher with a slight build and who barely spoke above a whisper yet managed to maintain full, continuous command of her first-grade classroom from day one. This teacher was explicit in her instructions, rewarded positive behaviors frequently, implemented seamless procedures and protocols and essentially ensured that her classroom of eager learners, ran like a well-oiled machine. From an academic perspective, Mrs. T had always used the district provided curriculum, but personalized instruction and embraced a much more hands-on approach to meet the multifaceted needs of each of her vibrant, yet academically diverse students. So unquestionably, the easily remarkable rapport which had been established by the previous first-grade teacher was not even comparable to the wild, untamed environment developing at the hands of Dr. Q. And of all stakeholders, the parents were not the least bit amused by the new teacher seemingly harboring such unorthodox “freedom of expression” classroom views and discipline (or lack thereof), in instructing an entire class of spirited first-graders. Admittedly, the only reason we even needed to interview for the teacher vacancy in the first place was the painful realization that sadly, we had lost our ‘gem’ of an awesome teacher to illness, due to a debilitating, physical illness she had long suffered – ultimately forcing her into frequent absences and life-saving hospitalizations – spanning roughly 35% of the prior school year. In any case, this teacher was quite easily the hardest act to follow as an incoming staff member due to the fact that in spite of her unplanned bouts of illness, extended absences and her weakening physical state – Mrs. T’s students still garnered the highest achievement scores of any elementary teacher on staff. This petite, soft-spoken woman could literally manage a classroom full of spirited seven-year olds with the ease of a twenty-year veteran teacher, while still nurturing the academic strengths and weaknesses of each child’s varying in needs. Certainly, filling a gap of this magnitude was much easier said than done.

Alas, I digress and must attempt to set the stage for what became of Dr. Q’s intentionally creative and loose, yet highly unorthodox classroom environment and her ultimate demise. Early on, and in spite of instructional feedback to offer tangible levels of classroom management support from her colleagues in the PLC structure to an up close one-on-one approach with the lead administrator, it became clear that the discipline issue would seemingly be only one component of the disastrous impact of this case study. A glaring absence of academic rigor and refusal to teach the curriculum as outlined in the strategically designed pacing guide proved to be the ultimate undoing for all the vast, apparent knowledge base of one (whose qualifications might have otherwise equipped her to offer a wealth of high expectations or preferably a dose of her previous gifted curricular resources), to her students. Sadly, the greatest obstacle to Dr. Q’s classroom success, having newly transitioned from the nearly all-white, affluent school district to our all-Black, impoverished district, was her own admittedly lowered expectations regarding the ability of her Black students.

In a manner of exercising White privilege and scarcely affording full consideration to the rigorous standards and curriculum meticulously provided by her competent Black administrators, Dr. Q was convinced that she knew what was best for her classroom and that she could “handle” the little Black children under her watch, so she proceeded to spend the bulk of her days reading toddler level, sight word books on a beautiful, plush carpet she deemed “the beach” and to routinely speak in condescending, harsh tones to children as a result of their predictable, unruly behavior. The students were literally bored beyond belief and any educator can imagine the impact of all of the idle time. Meanwhile Dr. Q chalked up the children’s behavior to a lack of discipline as taught at home or an overwhelming majority of children harboring special needs, without ever considering to interrogate her own abject bias and ineptitude.

As further documentation of her cluelessness, any/all offers for assistance were abruptly declined and heavily frowned upon as nuisances and/or unnecessary gestures of kindness – largely because they emanated from her bevy of all-Black instructional and administrative peers – who she deemed well-intentioned (at least at first), but ultimately concluded were beneath her. Because of her staunch refusals and rebukes for any/all help and a worsening classroom environment and academic achievement forecast, an administratively coordinated joint meeting with the teacher and teacher’s aide was convened to address the concerns about lowered academic expectations and a laissez-faire classroom management style with a directive to implement the following, immediate interventions: a small group instructional strategy to divide the students into heterogeneous, small and flexible groupings for core subject instruction – to be strategically split between the two of them; implementation of a mandated peer observation schedule (especially given that in the past her co-teacher put in the bulk of all of the effort into Dr. Q’s own improvement plan); and finally, Dr. Q was formally made aware that she was subject to a firm progressive disciplinary plan to closely monitor her compliance with the administrative directive to begin to skillfully utilize daily common preparation periods and weekly PLC meetings to forge universal protocols for classroom management w/ her K-2 peer group in collaboration with her agreement to submit to and demonstrate documented evidence of having fulfilled her personalized professional development plan goals, uniquely geared to addressing her multiple areas of professional weakness.

As could have been easily predicted, as the year progressed countless formal and informal teacher observations yielded generally unfavorable results, citing strong knowledge of content area lesson planning (in written form) but reflective of unacceptable form in execution – as all instruction was offensively dumbed down to an infuriatingly slow or basic level instructional pace. Overall, poor instructional practice(s) and a less than tame, unpredictable classroom environment proved unequal to favorable student academic performance and increasing parental feedback. Within short order, the class size abruptly decreased from just 22 to 18 students as the parents of the most bright, high-spirited and otherwise gifted children demonstrated their most vocal form of silent protest to the existing class dynamics; by simply exercising their right to school choice (three children left the district within the first 3 months, while one transferred to the alternate, very high performing first-grade classroom of now 27 students). From an equally revealing and individually accountable data standpoint, while many students typically perform poorly at the start of a school year – there is always an expectation and precedent that slowly, but surely, even the lowest performing, below grade-level proficient students amongst the class would incrementally increase their social and academic performance levels over time. And although first-graders are not yet subject to state-mandated, high stakes assessments – the district administered universal formative assessments to assess proficiency and evaluate areas in need of remediation. In terms of high academic expectations, the same is anticipated for our K-2 students as is the universal expectation for those in grades 3 and above. In any case, all district assessment data reflecting the performance for this particular class demonstrated the reverse of the typical data snapshot of their first-grade peers. Those who languished in Dr. Q’s poorly managed and increasingly low-performing first-grade classroom (I.E. a large percentage of children who originally performed in the 70th and above percentile in the fall had regressed to the 50th percentile by spring testing, rather than increasing as was the common tradition and expectation). In terms of the logic to explain their performance? Dr. Q began lamenting in weekly PLC meetings and public staff meetings of the lack of preparedness which could be attributed to the prior grade level teachers, who had clearly inflated students’ readiness for her grade and/or failed to prepare them for the promotion to the next level. Really?! In the final analysis, the bulk of her previously high-performing, well adjusted primary students soon morphed into insecure, behaviorally challenged and bored scholar students whose proficiency improved less than a year’s growth should typically yield and who otherwise demonstrated alarming evidence of having failed to meet grade-level promotional benchmarks or even regressed altogether. Needless to say, this was an unacceptable and damnable indictment against this sole teacher’s unprofessional and unethical teaching practice. Within months, her job security was at risk and an unsatisfactory teacher evaluation rating loomed as testament to the failure of all efforts to date.

What happened to Dr. Q you might wonder? Well, despite the time, collaborative effort and proven, research-based protocols implemented to strengthen her professional practice, all such investments were for naught in the face of countering a lifetime of implicit bias and racist tropes driving her unconscionable lowered expectations, micro aggressions towards her students and rejection of all professional training improvement efforts. Over time, Dr. Q became even more defiant, and morphed into her authentic self: an angry, arrogant, overeducated and under qualified racist who used each day as another opportunity to model her disdain for her Black students and the inner city environment in which she taught. She was a literal nightmare to deal with, as she demonstrated half-hearted compliance, an overall nasty attitude, sulking and self-righteous indignation – while she secretly plotted, and quietly pursued (an anticipatory) wrongful termination lawsuit against the administrators and Board of Directors of the small, family oriented and all Black school district. Her intentions were rather transparent as she began to obsessively document and/or audiotape everything and became vehemently outspoken that all aforementioned exemplars of support were being regarded as punitive measures of discrimination.

Clearly, in a society which fosters so much implicit and explicit bias, abject racism and general disdain for Blacks (and to a lesser extent, other people of color), one would probably expect a base level of unpreparedness for the exemplary educational standards encountered in our all Black, Title I institution – particularly from one outside the culture who somehow expects to find stereotypical, low-performing staff and students who merely languished in a struggling school environment or perhaps pretended at educating our children against insurmountable odds. On the contrary, save the absence of a modern, state of the art facility and tangible resources which accompany the school funding allotment for suburban schools, there’s no less commitment or talent among the educators, students in the inner city zip codes. And for the record, I guess all assumptions be damned, because we too had hoped that a highly educated professional (with a history of having been brutally and unlawfully persecuted by the scourge of institutionalized racism), would be equally averse to allowing themselves to propagate mis-education among Black students to this extreme. It turns out that we were both wrong. In the real life scenario, certain to rival any Hollywood inspired, Dangerous Minds script, there was a level of rebellious resistance and a degree of abject racism which emerged over time to reveal the true, insidious nature of Dr. Q.

In the administrative followup session (which she dramatically audio-recorded), Dr. Q was presented with extensive documentation of her unfavorable classroom observations, a compilation of incident reports (reflecting injuries and referrals emanating from her small classroom), parental complaints, and most importantly evidence of each of her student’s dramatic academic decline in the course of the academic year. Though she reluctantly acknowledged the presence of several parental complaints as valid and even came around to agree with widespread, existing concerns regarding her increasingly ‘chaotic’ classroom atmosphere – by her own admission, she was never permitted to implement her own ‘best practice’ certain to prove the way in which she could best teach “these Black children” and she hastily retorted that she felt she lacked both disciplinary support from administration and the Dean, psychological support from the school’s social worker and the proper administrative confidence and support from the principal. Really?! Insert any gif of a Black woman’s eye-rolling face when she is less than impressed here. Nevertheless, Dr. Q countered by insisting that her struggles could only be attributed to ‘cultural/ethnic differences’ between her all-Black classroom and she, a middle aged Jewish woman; and that over time, if given the time, opportunity, space and support to administer her program of teaching (which had always worked well for her in the past), a common ground would eventually emerge whereupon academic progress and behavioral compliance would miraculously manifest. In other words, she foolishly believed her professional failings were nonexistent or would somehow work themselves out, or perhaps even that her abject disdain for Black people would have no impactful bearing upon her teacher/student interactions and their resulting performance (for the record, this is a common misconception which must be permanently laid to rest). It is worth noting that roughly 25% of our district’s instructional staff were White and had no such cultural/ethnic obstructions to account for their rousing success as classroom teachers.

Undoubtedly, the general consensus from a purely data based lens, is that this teacher’s inability to regard her students as equal to the curricular challenge as those she encountered at the gifted school – severely debilitated her ability to appropriately engage, teach them. Likewise the inordinate amount of time and energy spent on the re-direction of children’s (predictable) bad behavior severely detracted from an ideal teaching and learning atmosphere in Dr. Q’s classroom. The joint racist fueled/classroom management issue became increasing points of contention as the year progressed and as data (from Scantron, Star Reading/Math and Early Literacy tests and assessments) evidence mounted. Thus, under increasing administrative and exemplary peer performance pressure to raise student achievement and to resolve worsening classroom management issues all at once – Dr. Q resorted to vocally and quite frequently whining incessantly (in both PLC and during weekly faculty meetings), of the general unreliable nature and adverse affects the frequent testing requirements, particularly district-mandated assessments, were having upon “real teaching”. Her contention was to conclude that such tests were grossly unfit for either academic or teacher evaluation purposes and should be regarded as a necessary evil in upper elementary and middle grades, but generally frowned upon or given less weight and credence in the early primary grades. These impromptu ‘speeches’ were met with varying degrees of: agreement, apathy and a general acceptance of the inevitable nuisance of such mandated measurements by the majority of our instructional staff. It is rather commonplace that educators nationwide are universally and increasingly held accountable for similar or even more extensive evidence of academic achievement of their own students. The argument is certainly well intended, but in the case of an educator with a less than stellar performance record, then in many ways the point is moot and the premise for poor performance deemed an exercise in futility.

Alas, the final ‘line in the sand’ was drawn with respect to Dr. Q’s strongly held and increasingly contentious opinion on this issue when she rejected the validity of her year-end teaching evaluation status (a composite score based upon all previous classroom observations & assessment data). Upon receiving a formal copy of her unsatisfactory rating, she contested the validity of her students’ scores on year-end assessments, citing among other things, adverse testing conditions including: time constraints (a common concern on modern computer-adaptive tests), computer literacy (or lack thereof) of the mandated, technology based tests and when/how frequently (once every 6-8 weeks), the tests were administered by the district. She went on to counter that she had devised of her very own, teacher-created measurements of academic achievement, based upon the district-approved Common Core standards and similar to the format of the questions being assessed by the district’s formative assessment earlier in the year and noted that her children had performed much more favorably on this alternative, written and classroom administered test. Alas, when this assessment and the corresponding results were considered but then rejected by administration as an unscientific, unapproved, ‘subjective’ model lacking rigor and insufficient to meet the universal standards of the data driven results of all other K-2 students, Dr. Q abruptly ended her formal ‘exit interview’ with a profanity laced, shouting match to rival other speeches delivered in eloquent fashion and within the hour had tendered a formal letter of resignation.

In the final analysis, the environment for mis-education flourishes in the absence of a shared experience and an equal investment in the innately endowed capabilities and worth of Black students. As a longtime teacher and administrator, I have witnessed forms of disservice from mild areas of weakness, that one chooses to ignore and remain underdeveloped; to more severe cases of arrogance (I’ve got mine, you get yours), apathy (assigns busywork or uninspired, antiquated curriculum content), to outright ineptitude (varying degrees of unpreparedness, substance abuse, verbal/mental abuse or hostility) and each has resulted in the gradual erosion of our inherent right to be educated or liberated, as an African people. Rarely has an authentic case study of a real teacher, school district and administrator’s experience, been more of a cautionary tale of what not to do in future pedagogical practice. Please feel free to share your critical analysis on this case study and be mindful in your responses that the classroom is no place to experiment with one’s own interpretation of beliefs and best practices.