Biased Policies Are Pushing Black Girls Out of School

[Reposted from New York Magazine]


Photo: Peter Muller/Getty Images

At a listening session in Philadelphia with the Education Law Center, a young woman of color told a story about getting her period in school when she wasn’t expecting it. After being denied access to the bathroom, she decided to tie a sweater around her waist to cover the back of her pants. A teacher then told her to remove the sweater — it didn’t comply with the school’s dress code.
These kinds of policies — clothing restrictions, codes barring certain hairstyles, policies that regulate kids’ “attitudes” and discourage “disruption” — are common in public schools in the U.S. But research shows that vague and implicitly biased guidelines are contributing to a large percentage of black girls being pushed out of the system before they even make it to graduation.
When children are punished for unfair and unspecific infractions like “defiance,” they are more likely to mistrust adults, they end up with lower grades from losing class time, and they have a higher likelihood of dropping out of school entirely. Black girls, according to research by the National Women’s Law Center, are on the receiving end of a disproportionate percentage of unfair discipline. This is responsible for what is known as “push-out”: when a school’s disciplinary actions encourage a student to abandon their education.
In 2014, the NWLC and NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund released a report that shared details on how often black girls were punished in school, and why. “African-American girls often encounter deeply embedded stereotypes that reinforce racial and gender biases in the classroom,” the report says. Because of this, in the 2011–2012 school year, “twelve percent of all African-American pre-K–12 female students were suspended.” This was six times as many suspensions as those doled out to white girls. It was higher than all groups of girls in general, and higher than suspensions given to white, Asian, and Latino boys.
Black girls accounted for 31 percent of all girls referred to law enforcement and almost half the number of girls who experienced a school-related arrest. “Although African-American students are punished more frequently than their white peers,” the report says, “they are not engaged in more frequent or serious misbehavior.” Worse still, African-American students are given harsher disciplinary measures than white students for the same behavior. Remember the South Carolina student who was thrown to the ground by an in-school police officer for having her cell phone out? That’s one type of disciplinary action that the NWLC would like schools to begin combating.
Adaku Onyeka-Crawford is the counsel for education at the NWLC and is responsible for a new initiative aimed at educating schools on their potentially biased and unfair policies. She put together a handy tool kit for schools called “Let Her Learn” to determine if administrators and teachers are unfairly and disproportionately disciplining young African-American women. “We’ve held a series of listening sessions with girls of color to talk about how they feel in school,” she told the Cut. “A lot of times girls think they are being disciplined for speaking up.” The tool kit helps schools properly assess their policies: Are they treating black girls unfairly?
“Is your school’s policy super strict? Does your school’s policy target hairstyles or clothing common to certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups? Does the policy punish students for vague ‘attitude’ violations?” These are some of the questions Onyeka-Crawford would like schools to start asking. “It’s time to have more culturally competent schools and curriculum,” she says. “What that means is actually valuing diversity and valuing the contributions of black girls, Latina girls, Indian girls, Asian girls, and Muslim girls. It’s time to start dispelling stereotypes and myths. That can start on a student level, but it can also happen by finding teachers, administrators, and principals who recognize and value diversity in their student populations.”
Onyeka-Crawford’s suggested method — reforms in schools’ conduct policies — is already happening in some school districts across the country.
The Philadelphia school district is one example where policy itself was preventing students from accessing a fair learning environment. “The school district’s policy excluded students for wearing clothing that is considered a ‘distraction,’” Deborah Klehr, the executive director of the Education Law Center, said. “We were explaining this to a white cis-male adult wearing a vertically striped tie and a horizontal striped shirt,” she added with a laugh. “But subjective language like this disproportionately punishes black girls. We approached the school district and said, ‘We want you to change your dress code policy and to stop excluding kids from class for “distracting clothing.”’ And they changed it. They removed that language. It was a great example of the power of working together with the systems that already exist.”
Suspensions and expulsions are also forms of discipline responsible for push-out, Klehr said. “Two years ago, the Philly school district had 448 suspensions of kindergartners, 1,500 suspensions of first-graders, and 1,900 suspensions of second-graders. Over 90 percent of those suspensions were for nonviolent offenses.” That year, 87 percent of suspensions given to black students overall were for “conduct,” not for more severe or specific infractions like drugs or weapons. After releasing these statistics, the School Reform Commission was able to remove suspension as a punishment for kindergarten students.
These kinds of changes are what Onyeka-Crawford and Klehr hope to see more of in the future. Monique Morris, author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, told The Atlantic in March that discipline reform in education is one stepping stone to interrupting oppression of girls of color. “Centering the voices of black women and girls moves us toward a deeper understanding about their lived experiences, and forces us to confront the routine (and often ignored) victimization, exploitation and discrimination that occur in their lives.”
Along with her tool kit, Onyeka-Crawford says that restorative justice is a promising future replacement of currently unfair disciplinary procedures. But educating the educators is at least a good place to start. “When we’ve asked administrators to look at the data, many of them have said, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that,’” she said. Klehr agreed that change can come from even the slightest shift in priorities. “We need to be especially thinking about these students who are at the intersection of race and gender and disability,” she said. “Are we ensuring that we’re providing them with the tools and resources they need to learn?”
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Albemarle County Kids are More than Test Scores

Virginia school district inserts maker education into entire philosophy

Dive Brief:

  • Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Pam Moran wants teachers to prepare students for state assessments, but the district’s makerspace philosophy brings a primary focus on preparing them for success in everyday life.
  • District Administration reports students begin using technology for basic research in pre-K, going on to harness the power of technology to produce and create solutions in older grades, mastering complex subjects like trigonometry in service of solving problems in their maker quests.
  • Students in the district are free and empowered to make decisions about their own learning and interests and teachers are similarly supported when they have ideas about innovation in their classrooms.

Dive Insight:

Makerspaces have popped up in schools and community centers across the country in recent years as a place for students to explore and create, learning along the way. Rigid years of test prep has prevented a lot of freedom in many classrooms. Giving students the space to try and fail and persevere on their way to creating something takes time, and traditional classroom schedules rarely allow it. But some schools have managed to carve out this time in the regular school day.
The Every Student Succeeds Act’s focus on whole-child education may support further moves in this direction. Students are learning a lot more than the equations necessary to launch a rocket when they troubleshoot the process. The “soft skills” they master in these learning experiences are the ones that might prove most helpful in the long-term.

A Prayer to End Poverty

By Marian Wright Edelman

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In December 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached what would be his last Christmas sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. At the end Dr. King spoke about the day he told the nation at the March on Washington that he had a dream for America’s future, but said in the uncertain years that had followed that dream sometimes felt like it was turning into a nightmare. But Dr. King said he was never willing to give up: 
“Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying that I still have a dream . . . I have a dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers. I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. 
I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda. 
I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. 
I still have a dream today that in all of our state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God . . . With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.”
It is up to us to make that dream and that day real for all children and their families in America. 
God help us to end poverty in our time.
The poverty of having a child with too little to eat and no place to sleep, no air, sunlight and space to breathe, bask, and grow.
The poverty of watching your child suffer hunger or get sicker and sicker and not knowing what to do or how to get help because you don’t have another dime or a car, money, or health insurance.
The poverty of working your fingers to the bone every day taking care of somebody else’s children and neglecting your own, and still not being able to pay your bills.
The poverty of having a job which does not let you afford a stable place to live and being terrified you’ll become homeless and lose your children to foster care.
The poverty of losing your job, running out of unemployment benefits, and having no other help in sight.
The poverty of working all your life caring for your own children and having to start all over again caring for the grandchildren you love.
The poverty of earning a college degree, having children, opening a day care center, and taking home $300 a week—or a month—if you’re lucky.
The poverty of loneliness and isolation and alienation—having no one to call or visit, tell you where to get help, assist you in getting it, or care if you’re living or dead.
The poverty of having too much and sharing too little and having the burden of nothing to carry.
The poverty of convenient blindness and deafness and indifference to others.
The poverty of low aim and paltry purpose, of weak will and tiny vision, of big meetings and small actions, of loud talk and sullen grudging service.
The poverty of believing in nothing, standing for nothing, sharing nothing, sacrificing nothing, struggling with others for nothing.
The poverty of pride and ingratitude for God’s gifts of life and children and family and freedom and home and country and not wanting for others what you want for yourself.
The poverty of greed for more and more and more, ignoring, blaming, and exploiting the needy, and taking from the weak to please the strong.
The poverty of addiction to more and more things, drugs, drink, work, self, violence, power, fleeting fame, and an unjust status quo.
The poverty of fear which keeps you from doing the thing you think is right.
The poverty of convenient ignorance about the needs of those around you and of despair and cynicism.
God help us end poverty in our time, in all its faces and places, young and old, rural, urban, suburban and small town too, and in every color of humans You have made everywhere.
God help us to end poverty in our time in all its guises—inside and out—physical and spiritual, so that all our and Your children may live the lives that you intend.

The Media Startup That’s Run By Black Millennials, For Black Millennials

The founders of Blavity, from left to right: Aaron Samuels, Morgan DeBaun, Jonathan Jackson and Jeff Nelson.
Photo by Sankara Sauvignon

For the co-founders of Blavity, there’s never been a more important time to spotlight, and diversify, the voices of young minorities.

In November, three days after the presidential election, African-American students at the University of Pennsylvania received racist texts through the messaging app GroupMe, including insults like “dumb slave,” a Nazi-inflected “Heil Trump” and a calendar event for a daily lynching. The New York Times ran a single sentence about the incident, buried in an article on A21; The Wall Street Journal gave it two. Online, at The Washington Post, quotes from administrators and UPenn College Republicans dominated the story.
Compare that to the way Blavity, a digital media company run by and for black millennials, handled it. They published a 1,473-word op-ed by Brian Peterson, the director of Makuu: Penn’s Black Cultural Center, about taking the hateful words as a call to action. Unlike the version so many national outlets ran, if they covered the news at all, Blavity centered the harassment on a black person’s experience.
With only 13 percent minority representation in newsrooms, headlines about African-Americans tend to skew toward extremes: Rihanna’s latest album on one end of the spectrum, gun violence in inner cities on the other. Blavity aims to provide a less sensational middle ground, depicting the multiplicity of ways to be black today. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the site reaches about 7 million unique visitors a month. And their core demographic, young people of color in America’s major cities, seem to like what they’re seeing: 38 percent of users make repeat visits.
“How does it feel to be stereotyped [in the media]? Sometimes, it feels bad. More often, it just feels false,” says Aaron Samuels, a poet and one of Blavity’s co-founders. “Watching news about black people that’s mass-marketed to non-black people, the facts are weird or the names are pronounced wrong. Or maybe the facts and names are right, but the story’s incomplete, and we’re not getting the entire perspective. That rings as inauthentic, and it makes people want to check out.”
A portmanteau of “black” and “gravity,” Blavity takes its name from a gathering spot for African-American students at Washington University in St. Louis, where the site’s four co-founders all earned their undergraduate degrees. Because black students are underrepresented at the institution, a table in the student center became the spot where they gravitated, says Jonathan Jackson, Blavity’s head of corporate brand. “We have to navigate spaces that we don’t own. When we find each other, we stick with each other,” he adds. As one of the few locations on campus where African-American students weren’t in the minority, the roundtable became a community nexus and a site for discussion.
Blavity, which launched in 2014, works much the same way, offering a chance to interact with writers and readers from similar backgrounds. “It looks like me, feels like me. I don’t have to bend who I am to be a part of it,” says Jackson.
Blavity is not about bridging the divide between black and white, but rather exploring more nuanced differences between, say, a first-generation Ghanaian immigrant and someone with deep roots in Atlanta.
Once there, surrounded by like-minded peers, readers’ identities deepen and grow more complex, according to the site’s co-founders. Blavity is not about bridging the divide between black and white, but rather exploring more nuanced differences between, say, a first-generation Ghanaian immigrant and someone with deep roots in Atlanta, between comic book–reading “blerds” (black nerds) and hip-hop fans.
“People assume that black folks don’t care about exploring this nuance, but the complexities are just as important as the similarities,” Jackson explains. “It gives a voice to people that we pretend don’t exist. ‘I’m a gamer but you don’t think I am, because you think gamers don’t look like me.’ This is not a subculture: We are the culture.”
To capture those diverse narratives, Blavity employs a team of 16 full-time writers. In addition, the company accepts op-eds and commissions freelance pieces from across the country. Their primary qualifications for contributors: “a quick pulse on what’s going on” and an ability to “translate that into meaningful conversation,” says Jackson.
Their stories delve into topics that receive little mainstream coverage, like black masculinity or the stigmas against mental healthcare. That’s not to say Blavity doesn’t cover the day’s dominant headlines, too: They devote plenty of space to Black Lives Matter and police brutality. But even there, the tech company has a different approach than most news organizations in that they refuse to share body-cam footage of officer-involved shootings, which they believe causes unnecessary psychological trauma.
To widen their reach, Blavity’s stable of reporters produces content on nearly every platform, whether it’s moderating a Twitter discussion on interracial dating, Instagramming the best black designers on Etsy or Snapchatting a tour of the African-American History Museum.
As America’s first black president leaves the White House, there’s much at stake for the black community. After his election, Barack Obama gave his first interview to Ebony, an African-American-owned publication. This past summer, the magazine, whose covers over its 71-year-history had been graced by the likes of Muhammad Ali and Aretha Franklin, was sold to a private equity firm — a sign, to observers, that black-owned media’s influence was slipping. Blavity’s recent success suggests the decline might simply have been generational. They prove there’s still a market and, more than ever, a need for news written by black writers for black audiences.
“We’ve been making and building things for a long time, but the ownership has not been ours in a meaningful way. Blavity is a medium to communicate our value,” says Jackson. “There’s never been a more critical time to have that than right now.”
Read more:

Holiday Gifts from President Obama ...

Give the Best, the Very Best

The Best Children’s Books of 2016

In his meditation on the three ways of writing for children and the key to authenticity in all writing, C.S. Lewis admonished against treating children, in literature or life, as “a strange species whose habits you have ‘made up’ like an anthropologist or a commercial traveller.” A generation earlier, J.R.R. Tolkien expressed the same sentiment in his timeless insistence on why there is no such thing as writing “for children.” And a generation later, Maurice Sendak, perhaps the most beloved creator of so-called “children’s” books in our own era, scoffed in his final interview“I don’t write for children. I write — and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’”
After the year’s greatest science books, here are the picture-books I found most imaginative, intelligent, and warmhearted this year — books that speak, even sing, to hearts of all ages and embody E.B. White’s proclamation that successful writers of children’s books “have to write up, not down.”
“Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead,” John Updike wrote“so why … be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?” Half a millennium earlier, Montaigne posed the same question somewhat differently in his magnificent meditation on death and the art of living“To lament that we shall not be alive a hundred years hence, is the same folly as to be sorry we were not alive a hundred years ago.”
Yet mortality continues to petrify us — our own, and perhaps even more so that of our loved ones. And if the adult consciousness is so thoroughly unsettled by the notion of death, despite intellectually recognizing it as a necessary and inevitable part of life, how is the child consciousness to settle into comprehension and comfort?
Now comes a fine addition to the most intelligent and imaginative children’s books about making sense of death — the crowning jewel of them all, even, and not only because it bears what might be the most beautiful children’s book title ever conceived: Cry, Heart, But Never Break (public library) by beloved Danish children’s book author Glenn Ringtved and illustrator Charlotte Pardi, translated into English by Robert Moulthrop. 
Although Ringtved is celebrated for his humorous and mischievous stories, this contemplative tale sprang from the depths of his own experience — when his mother was dying and he struggled to explain what was happening to his young children, she offered some words of comfort: “Cry, Heart, but never break.” It was the grandmother’s way of assuring the children that the profound sadness of loss is to be allowed rather than resisted, then folded into the wholeness of life, which continues to unfold. (I’m reminded of Maria Kalman’s unforgettable words: “When Tibor died, the world came to an end. And the world did not come to an end. That is something you learn.”)
This warmly wistful story begins outside the “small snug house” where four children live with their beloved grandmother. Not wanting to scare the young ones, Death, who has come for the old lady, has left his scythe by the door. Immediately, in this small and enormously thoughtful gesture, we are met with Death’s unexpected tenderness. 
Inside, he sits down at the kitchen table, where only the youngest of the kids, little Leah, dares look straight at him. 
What makes the book particularly touching, thanks to Pardi’s immensely expressive illustration, is just how crestfallen — broken, even — Death himself looks the entire time he is executing his mission, choked up with some indiscernible fusion of resignation and recompense.
See more here.
“If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work,” Muriel Spark counseled“you should acquire a cat.” Long before the cat became a modern literary muse, a monk whose identity remains a mystery immortalized his beloved white cat named Pangur. Sometime in the ninth century, somewhere in present-day southern Germany, this solitary scholar penned a beautiful short poem in Old Irish, titled “Pangur Bán” — an ode to the parallel pleasures of man and feline as one pursues knowledge and the other prey, and to how their quiet companionship amplifies their respective joys. 
The poem has been translated and adapted many times over the centuries (perhaps most famously by W.H. Auden), but nowhere more delightfully than in The White Cat and the Monk (public library) by writer Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrator Sydney Smith — one of four wonderful children’s books about the creative life, which I recently reviewed for The New York Times.
Smith, who has previously illustrated the immeasurably wonderful Sidewalk Flowers, imbues the ancient text with contemporary visual language through his singular, elegantly minimalist graphic novel aesthetic.
We see the old monk poring over his manuscripts in search of wisdom as Pangur prances around their spartan shared abode, chasing after a mouse and a butterfly. Each is totally absorbed in his task.
In a subtle story-with-a-story, one of the monk’s manuscripts contains an even more ancient depiction of another monk and another cat — a reminder that this creaturely communion is a primal joy of the human experience.
At the end of each day, the two rest into their respective gladnesses in quiet camaraderie. 
Written as a playful ode in the ninth century, today the poem lives partway between lamentation and celebration — it stands as counterpoint to our culture of competitive striving and ceaseless self-comparisons, but it also reminds us that the accomplishments of others aren’t to the detriment of our own; that we can remain purposeful about our pursuits while rejoicing in those of others; that we can choose to amplify each other’s felicity because there is, after all, enough to go around even in the austerest of circumstances.
See more here.
“To be an artist is a guarantee to your fellow humans that the wear and tear of living will not let you become a murderer,” the great French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (December 11, 1911– May 31, 2010) wrote in her diary toward the end of her long and illustrious life. That perfect fabric metaphor is not coincidental. Psychologists now know that metaphorical thinking is the birthplace of the imagination, “essential to how we communicate, learn, discover, and invent,” and it begins in childhood as young minds transmute the namable things that surround them into fresh metaphors for the unnamable things that they experience inside. 
Born into a family that restored tapestries for a living, Bourgeois wove the world of colorful textiles into her imagination and into the very work that would establish her as one of the most important and influential artists of the twentieth century. It was in this family trade that she came to see her beloved mother as a deft, patient spider repairing broken threads — the metaphor at the heart of the iconic large-scale spider sculptures for which Bourgeois is best known and which earned her the moniker Spiderwoman
In Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois (public library) — one of four marvelous children’s books about the life of ideas I recently reviewed for The New York Times and a crowning curio among the loveliest picture-books celebrating cultural icons — writer Amy Novesky and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault trace the thread of Bourgeois’s creative development from the formative years of her unusual childhood to the pinnacle of her success as an artist.
Novesky, who has previously authored a children’s book about Billie Holiday, tells the story of Bourgeois’s life in a wonderfully lyrical way. Arsenault — whom I have longconsidered one of the most gifted and unrepeatable artists of our time, the kind whose books will be cherished a century from now — carries the story with her soft yet vibrantly expressive illustrations. 
Louise kept diaries of her days. And in a cloth tent pitched in the garden, she and her siblings would stay till the dark surprised them, the light from the house, and the sound of a Verdi opera, far away through the trees.
Sometimes, they’d spend the night, and Louise would study the web of stars, imagine her place in the universe, and weep, then fall asleep to the rhythmic rock and murmur of river water.
The ever-flowing blue strand of the river becomes the thread of continuity across Bourgeois’s life. It flows into the Siene and takes young Louise along to Paris, where she attends university studying mathematics and astronomy. 
Bourgeois’s studies are severed by her mother’s sudden death, the devastation of which drives the young woman to abandon science and turn to the certain uncertainty of art. She cuts up all the fabric she owns — her dresses, her bed linens, her new husband’s handkerchiefs — and spends the remainder of her life making it and making herself whole again, putting it all together into cloth sculptures, colorful hand-sewn spirals, cloth drawings, cloth books, and many, many, many spiders.
See more here.
“It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis,” Henry Miller wrote in contemplating art and the human future. The beautiful Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi invites us to find meaning and comfort in impermanence, and yet so much of our suffering stems from our deep resistance to the ruling law of the universe — that of impermanence and constant change. How, then, are we to accept the one orbit we each have along the cycle of life and inhabit it with wholeheartedness rather than despair? 
That’s what illustrator and author Carson Ellis explores with great subtlety and warmth in Du Iz Tak? (public library) — a lyrical and imaginative tale about the cycle of life and the inexorable interdependence of joy and sorrow, trial and triumph, growth and decay. 
The marvelously illustrated story is written in the imagined language of bugs, the meaning of which the reader deduces with delight from the familiar human emotions they experience throughout the story — surprise, exhilaration, fear, despair, pride, joy. We take the title to mean “What is that?” — the exclamation which the ento-protagonists issue upon discovering a swirling shoot of new growth, which becomes the centerpiece of the story as the bugs try to make sense, then make use, of this mysterious addition to their homeland. “Ma nazoot,” answers another — “I don’t know.”
The discoverers of the shoot enlist the help of a wise and many-legged elder who lives inside a tree stump — a character reminiscent in spirit of Owl in Winnie-the-Pooh. He lends the operation his ladder and the team begins building an elaborate fort onto the speedily growing plant. 
But their joyful plan is unceremoniously interrupted by a giant spider, who envelops their new playground in a web — a reminder that in nature, where one creature’s loss is another’s gain and vice versa, gain and loss are always counterbalanced in perfect equilibrium with no ultimate right and ultimate wrong.
As the bugs witness the spider’s doing in dejected disbelief, a bird — a creature even huger and more formidable — swoops in to eat the spider and further devastates the stalk-fort. At its base, we see the bugs grow from disheartened to heartbroken. 
But when the bird leaves, one of them discovers — with the excited exclamation “Su!,” which we take to mean “Look!” — that the plant has not only survived the invasion but has managed, in the meantime, to produce a glorious, colorful bud.