Considering Michael Brown.

Considering Michael Brown.

A year ago St Louis, and most of the nation, was up in arms because of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. And rightfully so.

Regardless of our thoughts on what happened that night, there is a racial divide in St Louis, and in America, that cannot be tolerated.

This NY Magazine article “White Kids Get Medicated When They Misbehave, Black Kids Get Suspended – or Arrested” is one of many that share stories and statistics that point to the same devastating inequalities: Black kids get harsh consequences. White kids get second chances.

These inequalities place me and our white foster kids on the side of privilege.

Our experience in a St Louis city public school matched that tune.

Nick, our five-year-old, was the terror of his kindergarten class. He earned us a parent-teacher-and-two-principals conference in the first week of school.

Text messages from his teacher reported that he hit other students and ate library books. Sometimes video clips were included, showing the class sitting for reading time as he climbed on desks in the background.

Being called to the principal’s office is never fun, but the tone couldn’t have been kinder. We were a team trying to brainstorm creative ways to help this hurting fella calm down.

And together we found it. The perfect solution.

Sweet, but often destructive, Nick had a crush on the second grade teacher, Mrs. W.

He fought homework but penned her notes. He acted shy toward adults, but showed her his muscles every chance he got.

And so we agreed good behavior earned time with Mrs. W. during recess or lunch.

With that newfound motivation, Nick turned a corner.

He got a second chance, I recognize, that is rarely afforded. To any child, but especially to black children.

According to these statistics, another child of another color at a similar school would have been suspended.

I can’t fix that. But I can see it and name it. And stand against it.


Add yours
  1. George

    I admire your sensitivity on the issue. More of us would benefit from it.

    And yet…

    When my kids were attending two different St. Louis schools (both charter schools, admittedly) not only did we not observe any trend toward suspending troubled black students (or students of any color). Quite the opposite. The teachers and administration were so committed to helping disruptive students that they erred in the other direction, keeping them in class long after their behavior had become a serious impediment to the other students’ concentration.

    I am sympathetic to those students, even if their presence had a negative impact on my own kids’ learning. It bothered me to no end, not that these troubled students were allowed to stay in class, but that — and this is the key — no effective plan was ever implemented to help them.

    In your instance, you worked with the teachers to root out the core issue, to come up with and implement a plan.

    All too often, regardless of color, families of troubled kids don’t make that effort. Indeed, it is the disconnectedness of the families, usually low income and incredibly unstable, that lie at the root of the kids’ behavior issues.

    In brief, without the assistance and support of the families, teachers of troubled students eventually find no recourse but to suspend troubled students for the benefit of the rest of the class.

    I suggest that this is not a race issue. It is a poverty (of both the financial and parental variety) issue.

    • Liz

      Thanks for your thoughtful words, George. I consistently learn from you even when I disagree. Here, I don’t disagree that poverty is an issue. And one that cannot be ignored. But I think disregarding the race issue isn’t fair. There are complexities beyond my own understanding, but enough statistics and stories for me to say that we can’t say it’s not a race issue. Even if we can say that it isn’t just a race issue.

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