Land of the Free?!
I was born with a target on my back & chest. The chances of me being arrested or murdered by a police officer are very high. This is true for every other Black boy and Black man. Will we ever live in a time when police aren’t treating Black men as animals they have to shoot down or cage, as if we need to be tamed?
When students are “running” late they run down the street to make it on time. Me and a few other staff members stand outside welcoming students every morning and celebrate them getting to school on time as if they won the 400m race in the Penn Relays.
On Friday morning, myself and another staff member were taking our daily breakfast run to the store across the street as we noticed one of our students running as if a cheetah was chasing him. He sprinted pass me and ran into the school building.
It wasn’t a cheetah chasing him. It was police officers. Three police cars pulled up to the school seconds after he went into the building. One of the cars had a female student in the back of the car. I immediately asked the officer why one of my students was in the car. The officer ignored my question and ran into the school with 3 other officers. At this time, about 7 other police cars pulled up in front of the building along with a patty wagon. All of the officers got of their vehicles and ran into the school. You would think one of the officers called for back up, telling other officers that a black boy was running with a gun. Did they?!
At this point, I didn’t want breakfast. I ran back into the school to see what was going on and there were 20 police officers running rampant through the school like escaped zoo monkeys; looking for a student who was running to school. I called the Director of Student Life to tell him what was happening and he asked me to bring the officers to his office because the student was with him.
I lead three of the police officers to the directors office and while walking to the office, I told the officers that the student was relaxed and they could just walk in calmly. That fell on deaf ears. The officers barged in and slammed the student on the director’s desk and quickly put him in cuffs. The director and I immediately yelled at the officers telling the to ease up and relax. Of course they didn’t.
The officers escorted the student out of the office and up the hallway. I assumed that they were walking to the elevator but they stopped, telling him never to run from police, pressed him up against the wall and searched him. The director and I tried to explain our late policy and that we have students who run to school when they’re late. They ignored us. While being searched, the student was yelling “I don’t got nothing!! I don’t got nothing! Please don’t put nothing on me!!” After searching him, (finding nothing) they escorted him out of the building and into the back a police car. Strangely, when the put him into the car they let the other student who was being held out of the car. She hugged me and repeatedly said “I just want to be in school!!” I walked her to her case manager and walked down to my office.
Once I got to my desk, I broke down and cried. Seeing all of that felt unreal. The police criminalized those students because they were Black. The police were suspicious of the student who ran into the building, because he was Black. These two students did nothing wrong and all they wanted to do was get to school on time.
I called the student a few hours later and to my surprise he answered the phone. He told me he was okay and wanted to apologize for bringing so much commotion into the school. I immediately explained that the whole police district owed him and the school an apologize for the way they acted.
I’m worried that because he’s had so many negative interactions with police officers that he feels like a criminal no matter what he does (because he’s a Black male), ESPECIALLY IF HE’S RUNNING TO SCHOOL.
As I read the news of yet ANOTHER horrendous assault and murder of a black woman who had the audacity to rebuff the overtures of a dusty stranger who felt entitled to her attention and body, I have to wonder…when will the men as a collective take this as seriously as say, police brutality? When will the blatant misogyny reach a critical enough mass to be something that will be addressed on hip hop radio shows, NOI mosques, street corners, Twitter, and by black male actors, sports starts and other influencers?
Janese Talton-Jackson, 29 years old, and mother of three was shot dead when dusty, ashy Charles Anthony McKinney approached her with interest at a bar. She wasn’t interested, but he followed her out anyway and continued his unwanted, and presumably uninvited pursuit. She again rebuffed him, and in his outrage, he shot her in the chest, killing her.
When we hear stories like this, it very difficult to continue to downplay the pervasiveness of this, especially when I and countless black women I know have been subjected to bullying men who feel they are entitled to our time and attention simply because we share skin color. Let’s be honest. These same ‘dusty ashies’ aren’t accosting white and Asian women like they feel free to do so with black women. It’s that false familiarity, that “hey sista!” attitude that makes these dudes take liberties they wouldn’t with others.
What I wish is that more men like Damon Young, editor at Very Smart Brothers, would speak up for the verbally assaulted, bruised, battered, and murdered women who have fallen victim to a cultural practice that seems to be consistently escalated.
And this, again, is fucking scary. Not just because of how frequently this happens. But also because I know there will be people — men and women — who’ll hear about this murder. And will immediately think “Well, she must have said something disrespectful” or “She didn’t have to embarrass him by saying no. Just give him a fake number” or “How was she dressed?” or “What was she even doing out that late in Homewood?” As if this — men responding to disinterest with violence — wasn’t epidemic. As if any of this was her fault. And as if “What could she have done to prevent this?” matters at all, and “What can and should men do to stop men from doing this?” — which, ultimately, is the only relevant question here — doesn’t.
I think that the next time I read on someone’s Facebook wall that we black women are squawking for some harmless public social interaction customary in the black community, I might need to create a list of all of them and post it on this blog along with their photos, so women know who they are and stay the hell away from them.
Remember the 18 year-old-(barely) woman who was gang-raped by five boys in Brooklyn who ran her father off in a park in Brooklyn? This stuff keeps happening again, and again and again, and the reality of the danger black women face within the black community should be addressed in some collective, assertive, and meaningful manner. Not just by a few enlightened brothers, but all of them.
“No excuses” charter schools have become a prominent feature of modern school reform. What exactly are they? This is how Joan Goodman, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the school’s Teach For America program, defined them in this post:
These schools start with the belief that there’s no reason for the large academic gaps that exist between poor minority students and more privileged children. They argue that if we just used better methods, demanded more, had higher expectations, enforced these higher expectations through very rigorous and uniform teaching methods and a very uniform and scripted curriculum geared to being successful on high-stakes tests, we can minimize or even eradicate these large gaps, high rates of drop outs and the academic failures of these children. To reach these objectives, these schools have developed very elaborate behavioral regimes that they insist all children follow, starting in kindergarten. Submission, obedience, and self-control are very large values. They want kids to submit. You can’t really do this kind of instruction if you don’t have very submissive children who are capable of high levels of inhibition and do whatever they’re told.
Here is an open letter from Ramon Griffin, the former dean of students at a New Orleans “no excuses” charter school, who urges teachers and staff at such schools to question the model’s social and emotional costs on young people. Griffin was also a charter school teacher and a juvenile probation and detention officer. He is currently working on his doctorate in educational administration at Michigan State University. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website.
This appeared on the Edushyster website of Jennifer Berkshire, freelance journalist and public education advocate who worked for six years editing a newspaper for the American Federation of Teachers in Massachusetts. She gave me permission to run this post. Here is Ramon Griffin’s open letter to teachers and staff of no-excuses charter schools:
You were selected to teach at your school because of your intelligence, spunk, tenacity, vigor and, most of all, your passion for public education. You are a risk-taker. You have a can-do attitude with swag to match. You believe that every child has the capacity to achieve academically and are committing your life to ensuring that you affect change in every student you encounter. Your dedication to ensuring that traditionally marginalized students receive a first-class education is commendable. But do you know how much power you hold? Do you truly understandthe “no excuses” school culture that you are part of? Do you know the psychological and emotional costs that the “no excuses” model has on students of color? Furthermore, do you care to know?
Two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Colonizing the Black Natives: Reflections from a former New Orleans Charter School Dean of Students.” I started the piece by asking if some charters’ practices were new forms of colonial hegemony. It is vital to add that while I was employed at the school, this thought never crossed my mind. My writings were taken by some charter management administrators and staff as an “attack” instead of an opportunity critically engage and refine, deconstruct and reconstruct practices that are doing more harm than good. This time around, I’m hoping to encourage teachers and staff at “no excuses” charter schools to acknowledge what is transpiring in their schools so that we can begin to push back against these practices and transform our schools.
I’ll start by offering a few examples of my own. When I chased young black ladies to see if their nails were polished, or if they had added a different color streak to their hair, or when I followed young men to make sure that their hair wasn’t styled naturally, I could have been critically engaging my administrative peers on why these practices were the law at our school—and how exactly they contributed to getting students into and through college.
When my school punished young people for not having items school leaders knew their families couldn’t afford, I could have been pushing back against policies that effectively punished students for being poor.
When we pulled students out of their classrooms for countless hours for minor infractions even as we drilled them constantly on the importance of instruction time, we could have been taking our own advice.
Or when we suspended students from school for numerous days, we could have been providing alternatives that disciplined them but kept them in school.
I recently spoke on a panel in Nashville about the psychological and emotional costs that “no excuses” school cultures have on students of color. Afterwards, I was approached by a young white male who told me that he couldn’t understand why parents of color complained about “no excuses” school cultures when they’d chosen to enroll their children in the schools. But the idea that parents should not complain because they purposely enrolled their children in these schools is flawed.
Parents, whether they’re in Nashville or New Orleans, desire that their children attend schools that will provide them a rigorous and first-class education. They’re sold a school culture “package” that claims to bring out the best in every student, challenging them to be creative, take risks and think critically. Yet too often, once the package is unwrapped and a culture of compliance is unveiled, students and families feel that they have been sold a dream.
Is it realistic to expect parents to inherently grasp the psychological and emotional costs of the “no excuses” model when many of the teachers and school disciplinarians who enforce these policies don’t have a deep understanding of their effects either? In my experience, staff members are trained to follow the rules regarding discipline and school culture without questioning school leaders about why rules and practices exist in the first place. The idea of critically engaging administrators at these schools seems to intimidate staff, who fear potential backlash for speaking out against culture and disciplinary practices they don’t agree with. They don’t know how to push back critically and meaningfully without being disciplined or even losing their jobs.
Whatever the reason, the lack of inquiry by and pushback from highly educated professionals regarding the questionable socialization practices and disciplinary policies of “no excuses” schools is striking. Even more astonishing is that the same things young people of color are punished for in these schools, their teachers were probably raised and encouraged to value. As students themselves, they were probably given the opportunity to be critical, to take risks, to disagree, to not conform, to ask for clarity, to push back, to show emotion and to be relentless about finding their own truth.
Many of these educators are no doubt raising their own children to do similar things. But as teachers and staff at
“no excuses” charter schools, they are trained to instill the opposite values in youth of color, even punishing students for being critical or showing emotion. Why? I ask this question, not as a researcher or as a doctoral student, but as a colleague who has navigated the same terrain that you are currently treading. I understand—trust me. I am truly concerned that we are not asking the right questions. Why has “no excuses” been celebrated, packaged and sold to people of color as the prescription for educational and career excellence? Why is it “no excuses” for some and not for all?
Ask yourself if you would allow your own children to be treated the way that some of your students are being treated. If the answer is “no,” then there is no excuse for complying with rules and policies you’d never tolerate where your own children or loved ones are concerned. Your students are young people, not robots. They are human children and sometimes their circumstances do warrant exceptions to the rules. Sometimes their excuses are legitimate.
For example, a student who shows up out of uniform because he doesn’t have a washer/dryer at home has a legitimate excuse.
A kid whose family has been transient and is currently homeless has a legitimate excuse to not be in proper uniform. The school should be aware of the situation and at least attempt to provide clothing for the young person.
A kid who has three younger siblings he has to care for, clean up, help with homework, protect and teach because they live with their elderly grandmother who was thrust into legal guardianship because his mother was abusive and they never met their father has a legitimate excuse.
A kid who has witnessed his mother being shot by his father has a legitimate excuse to not want to walk on a line, talk to anybody or participate in class.
A kid who hasn’t eaten a nutritious meal in weeks, but makes it to school every day has a legitimate excuse to feel tired, to not want to participate in an activity or to look at an adult in the eye while shaking their hand. But what happens at most “no excuses” schools is that students get detention or worse because there are no excuses.
Is this what John Dewey meant when he described school as “the social center” of the community and as a site for building a democratic society? Are “no excuses” schools preparing citizens, training workers or preparing individuals to compete for social positions? If the answers to these questions aren’t clear, it may be time to seriously re-evaluate the goals of your school.
Lastly, I believe that it is time for a thorough examination of the psychological and emotional impact of “no excuses” policies and school cultures. It is time for everyone involved to start asking some critical questions. Stop being fearful. Let your voices be heard.
Ask questions, push back, critically engage, and transform your school and your workplace.