Advocate for Your Child

I am going to give you some alarming statistics. Brace yourself. From the National Education Association’s report, Race Against Time: Educating Black Boys:

  • Forty-two percent of Black students attend schools that are under-resourced and performing poorly.
  • Black and Hispanic males constitute almost 80 percent of youth in special education programs.
  • Black boys are 2.5 times less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs, even if their prior achievement reflects the ability to succeed.

And from the U.S. Department of Education Office on Civil Rights, Data Snapshot: School Discipline (March 2014):

  • Black girls are suspended at higher rates (12%) than girls of any other race or ethnicity

If you’re a parent of a Black child and this doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. At some point during my college years, I read about the deplorable educational outcomes for Black males once they enter third grade (outcomes shift for Black girls, too, but not as noticeably as for boys), which in large part was the impetus to over-educate our children from the toddler years to third grade. I made sure they performed at least two ages/grade levels ahead. While I am not suggesting that you be that intense, I do recommend that you develop a sense of urgency about advocating for your child, especially your African American son.

There has been a lot written in recent years about the feminization of the classroom and the negative impact on boys’ education. Around third grade, teaching styles shift and social behavior (playful, talking out of turn) becomes less preferable to a polite “be still and listen” demeanor more in line with how girls are socialized. Add racism to the equation and the classroom becomes a miserable place for Black boys, particularly low-income boys who may not have the opportunity to expend energy outside the classroom (because of unsafe living conditions, etc.), unlike boys who have the advantage of participating in organized sports or have access to yards and green spaces in their communities where they can run, play, etc.

Our son went to an all-boys school from fourth to twelfth grade. In the primary grades, teachers would end class whenever the “boy energy” reached its height; the teacher would simply stop teaching and send them outside. After they played and ran around for a while, the teacher would call them back in to either resume class or move on to the next class. The school recognized and accommodated the need to work out the energy so the boys could focus and learn.

Also, be mindful that children who are extremely bright often get bored and disengage. Instead of considering the possibility of boredom, a teacher may immediately assume that the child isn’t intelligent or lacks appropriate home supports (adequate food, sleep, etc.) that facilitate learning. This happened to our daughter in first grade. However, when the teacher started administering quizzes and tests, she realized that our daughter was at the top of the class. We chose to switch schools so that she could benefit from a challenging curriculum.

I’m assuming you’ve already read the Education – three E’s postings and that you are working with your son or daughter to ensure he/she is excelling in the classroom, or at least on the path. I’m also confident that you have established a good rapport with teacher(s) and are actively participating in your child’s school to the extent your schedule will allow.  Beyond that, you should question any and all occurrences that you feel may potentially undermine your child. For example, if your son is a top performer and a teacher puts a derogatory comment on his report card that suggests he has a behavior problem, you should challenge it immediately and insist that the comment be expunged from his record and a new report card issued (true story). As a rule, you should not allow any biased action towards your child to go unchecked. It is the parents’ job to remedy any and all problems with teachers and administrators so that your child doesn’t suffer in the long term. If an issue arises, document the alleged offense and request an immediate meeting to resolve it. Experience has taught me that the squeaky wheel gets oiled. Once individuals know that you absolutely will not permit them to mistreat or malign your child, they’ll stop doing it, if for no other reason than not wanting to answer to you.

Also, if you feel your child is not being adequately challenged or that he/she requires supportive services, request the teacher’s or school’s assistance in securing the necessary resources. If you believe that your child belongs in an accelerated course or program, ask about the protocol (e.g., testing, teacher recommendations) and follow through to ensure that the required process is underway and progressing towards a positive end. I encourage you to allow your child to witness your advocacy efforts on her behalf. Seeing you in action gives her a model to follow when she must advocate for herself. It also bolsters a child’s sense of self-worth when he knows that you will go to bat for him.

Next month’s topic is Sacrifice.

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