Black Girls Matter

black girls matter

Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected

Kimberlé Crenshaw (editor) 2015

(Free PDF)

Black women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. Black Girls Matters summarizes the research linking Zero Tolerance schools with the growing percentage of black girls and women in the criminal justice system. It fills a big gap in a narrative that mainly focuses on the effect on black males of the “school to prison pipeline.”

While Zero Tolerance policies and high rates of school suspension and expulsion greatly increase the risk of incarceration. as Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, the mass incarceration of black males is more directly linked to discriminatory treatment by the police and courts. The crowing percentage of black females in the criminal justice system relates more directly to Zero Tolerance school policies that subject them to high rates of violence, arrest, suspension and expulsion.

The report starts with six extremely alarming examples:

1. The 12 year old girl who faced expulsion and criminal charges in 2014 after writing the world “hi” on the locker room wall of her Georgia middle school.
2. The Detroit honors student suspended for her entire senior year in 2014 for inadvertently bringing a pocket knife to a football game.
3. The 16 year old girl arrested in 2013 when her science experiment caused a small explosion.
4. The 12 year old threatened with expulsion from a private school in 2013 unless she changed her “natural” hair style.
5. The 6 year old arrested in Florida in 2007 for having a tantrum in school.
6. The 16 year old arrested in California in 2007 for dropping cake on the floor and failing to clean it up to a school administrator’s satisfaction.

In their research, the authors found that Zero tolerance schools provide extremely chaotic environments that are neither safe nor conducing to learning. A heavy law enforcement and security presence (ie metal detectors) make girls much likely to attend school. Researchers also found that black girls get much less attention from teachers, due to the expectation that they’re more socially mature and self-reliant than boys. Despite lip service given to zero Tolerance, these schools fail to protect girls from bullying and sexual harassment – then punish them for defending themselves.

School age black girls tend are often likely to have a history of sexual and physical abuse. In the absence of school counseling services, they can often act out in response to personal trauma. In addition, black and Latino girls are more likely than boys to be burdened with family caretaking responsibilities.

The tendency to separate and stigmatize girls who are pregnant or parenting in ways that decrease their motivation to stay in school.

The report also makes the following recommendations:

• State and federal government need to include girls (as well as boys) in their outcome research and programmatic interventions.
• School administrators need to help black girls feel safer at school without relying on harsh discipline that negatively impacts their motivation, achievement and attendance.
• Schools need to genuinely enforce zero tolerance of bullying and sexual harassment.
• Schools need to end policies that funnel girls into the juvenile justice system (such as arresting six year olds for tantrums).
• Schools need to expand programs that support girls who are pregnant, parenting or otherwise assuming significant family responsibilities.

Below the 2009 documentary The War on Kids, provides more background on Zero Tolerance schools:

The War Against Children

My next two posts relate to the unspeakable trauma Americans experience as children. The first film concerns the transformation of American schools into virtual prisons. The second discusses the deliberate targeting of children by corporate advertising. In both cases, parents are largely helpless to protect their kids. The scars created carry into adulthood.

The War On Kids

Cevin Soling 2009

Film Review

The main focus of The War on Kids is the Zero Tolerance approach to school discipline. The goal of Zero Tolerance is to keep guns, drugs and so-called “super-predators” out of public schools by treating all students like criminals.

The film is full of examples of high performing students receiving lengthy suspensions (as long as six months) for bringing so-called “contraband” to school. This includes nail clippers, nail files  (“weapons”) and Scope mouthwash, Alka Seltzer, Midol and ibuprofen (“drugs”). The documentary describes one girl being suspended for drawing a soldier with a machine gun. A boy who threatened to throw a spitball at another student was referred to police and charged with felony assault.

The increasing presence of armed police in public schools is especially chilling. Instead of allowing school principals to deal with minor behavior problems, police are called and alleged perpetrators (as young as six) are handcuffed and taken to jail.

Often these arrests violate children’s Fifth Amendment rights, especially when the principal asks the alleged perpetrator to write out a statement and hand it over to the police. This typically happens in the absence of legal representation, parental notification or a Miranda warning that students may be incriminating themselves.

Teaching Learned Helplessness

As part of Zero Tolerance, schools demand absolute conformity in dress, appearance, attitude and behavior. Teachers enforce conformity by constantly bullying and yelling at kids. Curiosity and creativity are systematically discouraged by an educational approach that force feeds kids with information.

Near daily exposure to this brutally oppressive environment is inducing a state of learned helplessness and apathy that persists into adulthood. Students are leaving high school with absolutely no idea how a democratic society functions. In a recent survey, 36% of high school students indicated that all newspapers should seek government approval for the news stories they publish.

Erroneous Information about ADHD

The two parts of the film I have a problem with are one that blames declining achievement on teachers’ unions (an urban myth promoted by neoliberal champions of the charter schools movement) and one in which psychiatrist Peter Breggin and two psychologists assert that ADHD is a fictitious disorder promoted by lazy teachers and drug companies.

Breggin, who is an adult psychiatrist without specialized child psychiatry training, makes a number of assertions that are factually inaccurate. The first relates to the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD). Here Breggin quotes out of context from the American Psychiatric Association’s to make it appear that schools and teachers are deliberately trying to drug bright and energetic children to shut them up. He also makes claims that Ritalin and similar stimulants cause permanent brain damage and lead to drug addiction. These are also urban myths which are totally unsubstantiated by peer reviewed research evidence.

The assertion by one of the psychologists that Britain has banned the use of Ritalin in children is a blatant fabrication. In 2010, UK doctors dispensed Ritalin prescriptions for 661,413 British children.

Although ADHD is a genuine disorder documented by decades of careful peer reviewed research, the real issue is that 1) it’s being over diagnosed in the US compared to other countries and 2) American kids who take Ritalin and similar stimulants aren’t receiving adequate medical monitoring. There’s also an alarming increase in children’s prescriptions for antidepressants and antipsychotics – despite the lack of efficacy or safety research in patients under eighteen.

It would have been far more helpful if the filmmakers had stuck to established facts, rather than focusing on urban myths and half truths.

The Myth of Homework

The documentary features excellent segments at the end on cliques, bullying and the failure of homework to enhance learning.

Link to film: http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/the_war_on_kids_2009/