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Real Talk: Save Our Sons at School

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Over the weekend, I noticed a trend in stories about Black students, and how some parents may need to adjust their discipline practices.

A Washington Post analysis found Black students in the D.C. area are suspended and expelled two to five times more often than White students. Experts for the story attributed the disparities to multiple causes, including a disproportionate number of Black students living below the poverty line or with a single parent, “factors that affect disciplinary patterns,” according to The Post. Other contributing factors could include unintended bias, unequal access to highly effective teachers and differences in school leadership styles.

On The Root DC, editor Robert E. Pierre was also tackling the fate of Black children, this time based on a Yale Study with troubling findings. “The statistics, the first time I read them, were startling,” wrote Pierre. Black students in state-funded pre-kindergartens were twice as likely to be expelled than Latino and White children. Focus only on Black boys and the expulsion rates were three times the rate of White children. “In pre-kindergarten!” Pierre added with appropriate outrage.

He added, “There is much handwringing from educators about socio-economics and other factors, all of which play some role. But the more disturbing reason is one that many well-meaning people loathe to admit: We see [Black children] differently. Adults attach to children their views of Black men, even when those children are too young to understand that they are anything other than children.”

Pierre thought that a good place to start changing this trend would be working with administrators and teachers “to develop better sensitivities toward African-American children, and for parents to impart better discipline at home. The current state of affairs is just setting children up for failure.”

I couldn’t help but notice that parental discipline came up in both articles. It reminded me of a recent article, “Are Black Mothers Failing to Raise Their Sons?” on Madame Noire. Writer LaShaun Williams suggested that the disadvantages of Blacks academically, professionally and economically could be traced back to how some single Black mothers “raise their daughters, but love their sons,” as the saying goes.

“We connect with our daughters and, in a sense, often push them to heights we have never reached,” Williams wrote. “But, when it comes to boys the journey isn’t so clear. Mothers do not have firsthand experience walking in the shoes of men. Too many mothers coddle their sons through life -- loving them as boys but not raising them to be men.”

Williams added an anecdote from her personal experience. “Offsetting discipline with praise and reward comes easier with my daughter than my sons. It is somehow more emotionally taxing to see my boys cry or get reprimanded, and I can almost always come up with a way to their excuse poor behavior. It is what creates the imbalance in households minus dad and ultimately stunts the developmental process…”

It’s a given that racism plays a part, along with the other factors experts mentioned. But what changes would you make starting at home to offset the problems Black children face at school?

Check out ESSENCE magazine's yearlong series on education, starting with "Mom and Dad Know Best" in the February issue.

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk
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