“And where false Ideas are twisted into our Minds, it is with Difficulty we get fairly disentangled.”
— John Woolman, “Some Considerations on Keeping Negroes” (1762), page 30
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi tells us that black folks are “Stamped from the Beginning” as criminals, as inferior to whites, as barbaric, uncivilized, cursed, unredeemed creatures. On pages 89-90 of his “definitive history of racist ideas in America”, Dr. Kendi quotes from John Woolman’s second pamphlet, “Some Considerations on Keeping Negroes”, admonishing us that associations that have been woven into our thought processes may cause us to arrive at incorrect conclusions, and ultimately deteriorates and destroys our objectivity. On page 30 of Woolman’s pamphlet, Woolman proposes a thought experiment in the context of the colonies in 1762; if a white person is orphaned as an infant and happens to become a slave, white people will think that is wrong and unjust; however, white people have no problem with blacks becoming slaves at all, no matter how honest and good the black folks are. Woolman says this is because of the association of Slavery with Blacks and Liberty (Freedom) with Whites. Dr. Kendi proposes a very well researched idea on how these associations have become entangled, twisted into our minds.
Taking a quick look at suspension statistics in Unit 4
There is not much available on the Unit 4 website for statistics on suspensions; I did find some data mentioned in the August 13, 2012 BOE meeting, and I also received a copy of the 5/1/2019 EEE report and the 10/17/2019 EEE report. From those three sources, I have the following numbers:
District Suspensions by Ethnicity
|White||Black/African American||Hispanic||Multiracial||Asian||Native American|
2) 10/17/2019 report
Discrepancy between the 5/1 report and the 10/17 report
I believe that starting in SY2016-2017, the district stopped reporting in-school-suspensions and attendance at ACTIONS, since the district was only mandated to report out of school suspensions to the state.
ISBE also reports the “Exclusionary Discipline – Districts in the Top 20% for Three Consecutive Years”, and the latest “Racial Disproportionality Data” for Champaign Unit 4 shows:
|Total||Explusions +Suspensions||% of Total||Total||Explusions +Suspensions||% of Total||Total||Explusions +Suspensions||% of Total|
|Students of Color||6423||442||6.88||6403||429||6.7||6296||585||9.29|
While I am still looking for more data (and better ways to analyze it), what I have found so far clearly shows that white students are being suspended far less often than Black/African American students. What is even more telling is the reason given for suspension – the top 5 reasons (using the total counts from all three reports) were:
- Physical confrontations w/student
- Verbal abuse to staff
- Physical confrontation w/staff
- Disruptive behavior
Each of these reasons are used more often than weapons and theft. How is it that such a disproportionate percentage of students of color are being disciplined, and for reasons that are rather subjective in nature? Have false ideas been twisted into our minds?
Board Member Elizabeth Sotiropoulos calls on her fellow board members, the administration and the community to dismantle a racist educational system
At the June 8th, 2020, Unit 4 School Board meeting, board member Elizabeth Sotiropoulos addressed the Board and the Administration (and indirectly, the community as well) with very strong words about “dismantling the system that fails our black students academically and suspends and expels our black students at levels that have been increasing in this past decade”. I suggest you read her entire message, or listen to her speak (Vimeo June 8th BOE meeting, 22:44 – 27:24; alternatively, I uploaded a clip of just her, shared from my box account).
Ms. Sotiropoulos has three points, all focused on educational justice:
- our plan to safely return to school in the fall
- the contracts between Unit 4 and the Champaign Police Department
- address our dire need to dismantle white privilege and systemic racism in Unit 4
“We need a plan that will intentionally create a new educational system and establish a new culture of anti-racism. This plan will hold all administrators, teachers, and staff accountable for dismantling our current educational system that benefits our white students and fails our black students. There is no question that our system is extremely racist – decades of data, court cases, and countless demands from our black community members, along with their allies, prove that our district drastically benefits white students while harming black students and their families.”
In “The New Jim Crow”, Michelle Alexander tells us the story of mass incarceration in the US. The documentary “13th”, pulling a lot of material from her book as well as many other respected researchers and subject-matter experts, paints that story on screen by correlating the effects of the “War on Drugs” and the red-lining housing practice in Chicago to the massive increases in the prison population, consisting mostly of African Americans. Wrong ideas twisted into their minds effectively resulted in a war on black people.
Even though John Woolman wrote his words 258 years ago, the echoes of bias and prejudices remain with us today. Dr. James Anderson (dean of the College of Education and affiliate Professor of History at the University of Illinois) presents “Race and Cultural Diversity in American Life and History”, in which he describes how Blacks are often seen as “uppity”, “having an attitude” and “loud”. Is the over-representation of Black/African American students in Unit 4 discipline issues a direct result of implicit bias (wrong ideas)? Do we think our black children are inferior to white (or Asian) children? No matter how you answer those questions, the fact is that we treat our black students much harsher than whites. During the Feb 27th EEE Committee meeting, committee member Jennifer Enoch rightly called this situation “morally reprehensible”.
In Dr. Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist”, he defines a racist policy as “any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.” (page 18). On pages 231-232, he outlines some steps one can take to “eliminate racial inequality in our spaces”:
- Admit racial inequality is a problem of bad policy, not bad people.
- Identify racial inequality in all of its intersections and manifestations.
- Investigate and uncover the racist policies causing racial inequity.
- Invent or find antiracist policy that can eliminate racial inequity.
- Figure out who and what group has the power to institute antiracist policy.
- Disseminate and educate about the uncovered racist policy and antiracist policy correctives.
- Work with sympathetic antiracist policymakers to institute the antiracist policy.
- Deploy antiracist power to compel and drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy.
- Monitor closely to ensure the antiracist policy reduces and eliminates racial inequity.
- When policies fail, do not blame the people. Start over and seek out new and more effective antiracist treatments until they work.
- Monitor closely to prevent new racist policies from being instituted.
I fall back on what I wrote in “It takes a village to raise a child“. Ms. Karen Simms has continued her work with the community and is now a powerful voice with the CU Trauma Resiliency Initiative (CU TRI). When talking to Ms. Simms, I was struck by the simple underlying theme – “love”. Ms. Laura Taylor (Unit 4 Deputy Superintendent) says the same thing undergirding the Social Justice Seminars put on by Unit 4 – “It’s just love”.
I will follow up in later posts to explore the topic of discipline inequity and system racism further. Unit 4 administration and board members have held several meetings to go over Strategic Planning (with paid consultant company FourPoint, a summary report is posted on the Unit 4 website), as well as review board policies via the Policy Review Committee and a representative from IASB (which I have asked Unit 4 to make more public on the website).
Ms. Sotripolous concludes with a call to disentagle those false ideas that have been twisted into our minds:
In dismantling Unit 4’s school-to-prison pipeline, we must demand more than “equity.” We must demand nothing less than educational justice.
The time is now.
This is a life and death issue for our black students.
Black lives matter. I am asking district administration to prove to the board of education that you agree.