Yesterday, I read Sophia Alvarez Boyd’s article, “His teacher Told Him He Wouldn’t Go To College, Then He Did” (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/04/23/520021794/his-teacher-told-him-he-wouldnt-go-to-college-then-he-did). In her essay, Boyd discusses Ronnie Sidney’s account of being “discriminated against in school as an African American.”
I know my share of Ronnie Sidneys. I lived with one, and I also taught several. From 1988-1992, I attended Bishop Noll Institute (BNI). BNI is a Catholic high school located in Hammond, Indiana. I had some wonderful instructors, and they pushed me to excel.
As I look back, I now understand that I was an African American female attending a Catholic high school, and my experiences were probably different than my black male peers.
My brother, and his African American male friends, had a different experience at the same high school. He attended Noll from 1995-1999. During his high school years, there were a significant number of black male students. From my assessment, I sense that they were not properly mentored. By the time that my sibling was in high school, I was college dealing with issues related to racial battle fatigue; however, I recall how my parents informed me about my brother’s lack of motivation. When I came home for holiday breaks, I watched my brother’s interactions with his close friend. I asked them about school, and they would roll their eyes and tell me that not everyone was like my “nerdy ass,” etc. . . I also noticed that my brother was nearly obsessed with talking about the black experience.
Everything made sense after he posted Boyd’s article on his Facebook timeline. My brother, like Ronnie Sidney, was one of the many black boys, who was told “none of you are going to college.” During our Noll experience, there was only one African American instructor, and he was a classic example of a Golden Negro. Those boys probably did not receive much mentoring from him.
Our family’s Ronnie Sidney is Ryon Jayson, Cobb, Ph.D. He is currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow at The University of Southern California.
Discrimination against African American male students, particularly those who receive special education accommodations is real, and it impacts graduation rates. Boyd states that during the 2014-2015 school year, nearly “37% percent of black students with a disability left high school, compared with 23 percent of white students with a disability – a 14 percentage point difference.”
Sidney claims that his special education teachers were extremely supportive, yet his mainstream instructors failed to make a meaningful connection with him. He recounts how his English instructor had assigned the class to read aloud a book that contains the racial slur, nigger. When Sidney was asked to read excerpts of the book aloud, he replaced the word with “neighbor,” and other words that began with the letter, “N.” He was reprimanded for not taking the task seriously.
Sidney is not the only one. Boyd reports that “one in four black boys with a disability were suspended during the 2013-2014 school year, compared with one in 10 white boys with a disability. “ Consequently, the probabilities of black boys, who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), are likely to drop out of high school.
Sidney graduated from high school and college. He also has a master’s degree in social work. Sidney wrote the children’s book, Nelson Beats the Odds. It is based upon his experiences with special education.
Dr. Donna Y. Ford, a Vanderbilt University education professor, strongly argues for teacher training that requires educators to be “aware of their own biases – implicit or explicit.” She is 100% correct. I witnessed racial biases against African American special education students. I taught in both urban and affluent high schools, and the comments made regarding black males, who had an IEP, were atrocious. These were some of the comments that I heard:
· - Cicely, why are you wasting your time? His daddy is in jail, and he’s going to be in a cell right next to him
· - All the kids, in that family, are special ed. There’s only so much that we can do
· - Just pass him along. McDonalds needs someone to hand you your bag of food, or greet you at Wal-Mart.
· - Cicely, I simply don’t have the patience to deal with this anymore. You should see all of the accommodations mentioned in his IEP. I don’t have time to “cater” to him.
These teachers failed that to understand that they were making these comments TO a black woman. I would see them bend over backwards to:
· - Help a white student get tested for special education services
· - Cry along with white parents when their child was struggling with school work
· - Make follow-up phone calls with white parents about their student’s progress
I spoke with two white teachers from a Phoenix, Arizona elementary school district that proudly celebrates the fact that they have been providing educational services for 125 years. I asked them about black boys and how they are treated at their school. One woman said, “Cicely, it breaks my heart. My white colleagues do not know how to identify the cultural issues impacting these black male students, and rather than learn about it, they immediately get them tested for special education services and/or ask that they be removed from their classroom. It’s heartbreaking.”
After the conversation ended, I asked myself: How is this white female teacher, who has a black son, serving as an advocate for African American children at her school? Is she willing to stand up, or is she quiet in fear of retaliation?
Questions to consider:
· - Is the average black parent aware of how her child is being treated, or have white educators convinced her that her son is simply “bad?”
· - How many black boys are labeled “big dummies,” combative, and difficult per year?
· - How is this treatment only strengthening the pipeline of sending black boys to prison?
What is the correlation between special education and prison for black male youth?
· - What happens to white teachers who advocate for children?