This week we all saw the shocking video of a 6-year-old being beaten in Florida by her school principal. It was shocking, while it may not have been explicitly allowed in that school district, in Florida, it is legal to beat children in private and public schools. Melissa Carter, principal at Central Elementary School in Clewiston in Florida, beat that little Latina girl, because they beat children in Florida. That little girl’s mother was a HERO despite people’s judgment of her. That beating was an institutional norm, and usually, it’s Black children getting the beaten. Little Black children have been beaten in Florida since at least 1619.
There is a difference between discipline and punishment. To paraphrase Dr. Nancy Darling, Chair of Psychology at Oberlin College, discipline is having the expectation of behavior that benefits a child’s well being and punishment is giving an unproven by research subjective overreaction to a child’s behavior, which causes the child pain.
Most schools say they have a discipline policy, but when it comes to Black children (or areas with a substantial Black population), that policy more often than not is a punishment policy.
Corporal punishment in public school is allowed in 19 states, an addition four states defer to localities on its use. In 48 states corporal punishment is allowed in private schools. In all cases it disproportionately impacts Black children. According to 2011-2012 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights reported in the Huffington Post article “Black Children Are More Likely To Get Hit By School Teachers,” in certain areas that allow corporal punishment Black children were found 500% more likely to get hit than white children.
But even in schools where there isn’t corporal punishment, there is still a punishment, and it still disproportionately impacts Black children, even in preschool, but typically it is hidden under the guise of discipline.
According to a report by Maryam Adamu at the Center for American Progress this punishment disguised as discipline in early childhood education rarely has anything to do with the child’s behavior. It almost exclusively has to do with anti-blackness and ignorance of the basics of child development.
It even impacts non-black children in areas that have a sizable Black population, especially in the regions that legally allowed the enslavement of Black people during antebellum. But any pocket that has Black children beats Black children, but there are exceptions.
Maine has 1.7 percent Black population and it is wildly disproportionate—with Black children being eight times as likely to be hurt as white children. Colorado, Ohio, and California also have rates of corporal punishment for black children that are 70 percent or more higher than for white children.Brookings: Schools, Black children, and corporal punishment
Discipline is an expectation of behavior.
- Discipline is not time out.
- Discipline is not detention.
- Discipline is not denying a child recess.
- Discipline is not making children afraid to do things in front of you.
- Discipline is not beating children.
The education system’s interpretation of discipline regarding Black children and non-white is a combination of insincerity and ignorance. And it by far disproportionately impacts Black children.
Latino children in early education are typically less likely to be abused, but as we see in Florida, it happens. Though keep in mind data depends on honest reporting, you beat a child of an undocumented person, you might “forget” to document it.
If you pretend to be ignorant to the understanding of what discipline is and how child development works, you can beat children.
If you pretend that Florida was about an individual mean principal, you can continue to beat children.
You can beat first graders. You can use your racist perspective to beat Black kindergarteners. You can use your white hegemony to punish children whose parents are undocumented.
This purposeful misinterpretation of discipline is an especially deadly tool in the hands of a system that embraces neoliberal structural racism, refuses to acknowledge anti-blackness, and uses the narrative of Black people having deficits as a road to justice.
There was a time that giving a human being who “escaped” and was enslaved by another human being back to the person who he or she escaped from was viewed as justice, and that time was slavery.
During slavery, it was justice for Black people, adults, and children, to be owned by white people. The institution of enslavement is what abusing, expelling, and beating Black children is based in.
Some people in education might be upset that race is continually being brought up and of the use of the framework of critical race theory. Those people should be more concerned about the number of 6-year-olds being beaten in school their by sadists.
Black preschoolers, boys and girls, are disproportionately suspended, expelled, and beaten.
According to U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (2014) data, Black preschool girls have the highest suspension/expulsion rates in the nation for preschoolers.
Certain narratives need to be rejected in order to dismantle the acceptance of beating children in school. The narrative that beating is reasonable discipline is one.
It is reasonable that it was statistically possible that every Black man got searched at least once during “stop and frisk” in New York? Is it reasonable that if you’re Black and went to school in Mississippi or Arkansas it is highly probably that you were beaten in school?
That is how common it is in those two states. It’s statistically typical to beat Black children in Mississippi and Arkansas.
The lies in education must stop. The avoiding of discussing the very explicit racism in education from preschool to high school must stop. We must have these conversations to stop the normalization of physically harming children and Black people.
Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals