Under White privilege, zero-tolerance policies harm Black children

By Rev. Mary Flowers-Spratt
Contributing Writer

What is the connection between White privilege and zero tolerance in our educational system, and why is this connection important for understanding the adverse effects of zero tolerance policies on our children? I will explain.

What is White privilege from the White folks’ perspective? White privilege is a way of conceptualizing racial inequalities that focuses as much on the advantages that White people accrue from society as on the disadvantages that people of color experience.

In 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois described White privilege as all classes of White people being admitted freely to public functions, public parks and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness.

White schoolhouses were the best in the community and conspicuously placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to 10 times as much per capita as the colored schools. The newspapers specialized in news that flattered the poor Whites and almost utterly ignored the Negro except in crime and ridicule  with the exception of our African American newspapers like the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder not showing bias to anyone and promoting equality to all.

Has anything really changed from the year 1935 to 2010? Let’s examine the facts:

According to Stephanie M. Wildman in Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America, education policies in the U.S. have contributed to the construction and reinforcement of White privilege.

Even schools that appear to be integrated often segregate students based on abilities.

This can increase White students’ initial educational advantage, magnifying the “unequal classroom experience of African students  and minorities.”

Often the material that Black and other minority children are tested on in school is culturally biased, not taking into consideration dialect and other differences between populations. Minority students are less likely to be placed in honors classes, even when justified by test scores.

Visibly minority students are more likely than White students to be suspended or expelled from school, even though rates of serious school rule violations do not differ significantly by race. Adult Education Specialist Elaine Manglitz argues that the educational system in America has deeply entrenched biases in favor of the White majority in evaluation, curricula, and power relations.

Zero tolerance in our public schools

Because of the White privilege biases described in the above paragraphs, the community needs to revisit this issue.  Is the zero tolerance policy causing collateral damage to our children? Is it overused and misunderstood? Is the discipline too severe?

We understand that zero tolerance has been around since the mid 1980s and ’90s with laws to combat crime in our public schools, and is a term very difficult for the administration and teachers to define. But are vulnerable children being abused by the policy?

I can answer that question: The answer is yes. As Carolyn R. Scheidies reported in a 2007 article on zero tolerance in schools, “Some members of the school administration and teachers have thrown common sense out of the window.”

USA Today reported on May 12, 2008, that tens of thousands of children are suspended each year for minor infractions under the zero tolerance policy.

Critics also say that the policy has harmed the most “vulnerable children.”

Nine percent of students were suspended, and the rate was much higher for African Americans, special education students and boys. Here in our Minneapolis school system, our vulnerable kindergarten children are being suspended at an unbelievable rate that warrants an investigation.

North High

I will direct this last comment to the members of the school board that are so in favor of closing North High. You created this mess when you closed all of the nearby elementary schools. The last time I checked my memory bank, in order to enroll in high school you have to graduate from an elementary school, but if there are no elementary schools to graduate from, where do you get the enrollment numbers to keep North High open?

Well! I’ m not a very smart person, but I figured that simple solution out: You bus the White kids in from the suburbs.

The Pastor’s Corner will continue to follow up on these issues. Rev. Mary Flowers Spratt welcomes reader responses to 612-827-9264 or 612-354-7181, or email maryawmin@yahoo.com.