For the past five months, my assignments in Montgomery County schools have taken me all across the county to about 20 of the district’s 26 high schools, and I have seen an unbalanced number of black students who arrive tired, unprepared, defiant and uncooperative.
According to the study, while black students comprise approximately 18 percent of all public school students nationally, they represent 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of students suspended more than once, and nearly 40 percent of all expulsions. The data were gathered by the department’s Office of Civil Rights. The self-reported data were collected from more than 72,000 public schools during the 2009-2010 school year. The survey represents about 85 percent of all public schools in America.
As a black man who has been a teacher in several states and an administrator charged with discipline in schools, it causes me immense pain every day to watch so many of our children reject a high-quality education that has historically been denied.
Over the course of my career as an educator my placements have included several vantage points through which I have observed black student behavior. I began in 1988 as a teacher in a poor, largely white Appalachian high school where the black students were bused across town; after that, a racially mixed, middle-class, blue-collar, suburban school with a 40 percent black population; from there, I moved to an upper-middle-class school where the black students were transported from the city’s worst neighborhood; after that, a low-working-class, white high school with only a 5 percent black population; then a highly diverse mixed-income high school with about 35 percent black students; and finally, a predominantly black suburban school.
In every case, the behavior of black students remained constant. Large numbers of them continue to demonstrate a resistant attitude toward learning. They were typically ill prepared academically and seemed to revel in disrupting the instructional flow.
Even in excellent school systems such as Montgomery County’s, many black students display oppositional behavior toward school and learning in general. This is a significant factor contributing to the achievement gap and the reality that black students, as a sub-group, rank dead last academically among all other students in public schools.
The vast majority of the black students in Montgomery County do not come from the kinds of neighborhoods and desperate economic circumstances where I have worked in the past. Yet here, too, these black students seem to identify closely with some kind of ghetto, thug mentality that has little to do with their reasonably privileged backgrounds.