My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors. ~ Maya Angelou
In the third grade I experienced one of the most unsettling experiences in my life. I got held back deceptively for no reason at all. I remember vividly getting suspended that year for one day. Thinking back, I had a two-parent home, lots of family support and a Christian upbringing, so my sense of disobedience concerning school rules was nonexistent. My mind was focused, and I carried a quick wit concerning mathematics, reading and all levels of comprehension. I was sharp as a button, yet I got held back and had to repeat third grade all over again and not because I was intellectually challenged or had behavioral problems. So, why did I get held back? I am sure there was more to the story or that I just didn’t meet the necessary requirements to move on to the fourth grade.
Back in the days you were sent home with the suspension letter or note stating the infraction and how many days you had gotten suspended. The school would call home and let your parents know what had happened, and since I had working parents, I had gotten lucky that day because they missed that phone call. I was afraid of getting in trouble and missing school at the same time. I wasn’t perfect by no stretch of the imagination, but I had messed up. I just couldn’t look my mom in the face and tell her I had gotten suspended. The scenario was super crazy. Here I am super nervous with butterflies in my stomach walking to school on this narrow road, acting as if I wasn’t suspended the previous day.
As a nine-year-old black kid these are things you would think should be going through his mind. Yet, its these and other prevailing thoughts that takes a back seat to the control mechanisms of the Prussian educational model that forces the young from his own thinking patterns towards a system that claims to have his/her best interest in mind. Failing third grade was the tightening of the standardization rope around my neck. It literally choked out my ability to think for myself. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, author of “The Mis-Education of the Negro” Explains that “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions”.
Carter G. Woodson’s reminds us that while its important to understand that Mis-educating males of color is mentally abusive to the trajectory of their future, but it also sends a strong message that the teachers that teach these males are active participants in the destruction o f their future. Had my parents fought back and demanded a political recount for my 3rd grade retention a different outcome would have ensued. Instead of rejecting the gifted nature of my being and inserting me into a specialized or gifted program that would nurture my unsettled mind and broaden my horizons.
The educational philosopher Robert M. Hutchinson stated that “Education is not to reform students or amuse them or to make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, teach them to think straight, if possible. Putting more low-income students of color (Black & Latino) into special education classes versus gifted and talented programs is more about a belief system than anything in my opinion. Up until the third grade most elementary students test out around the same measure. Although, I felt like I should have passed the 3rd grade, it was more about belief, bias, and racial stereotypes.
Fast forward 30 years and the public education system still is creating barriers for students of color to utilize their talents in advanced coursework or classes. In an article by edtrust.org titled “Inequities in Advanced Coursework” breaks down in great detail the alarming trends concerning why black and Latino students are being locked out of gifted and talented programs. Kayla Patrick, P-12 data and policy analyst explain that “advanced coursework opportunities can place students on the path toward college and career success”. Since, there is a bias that exists there needs to be a new policy for gifted program inclusion where adding Black or Latino students isn’t seen as taking away from the opportunities of white children or a threat to white privilege.
If you are an educator, activist, writer, education board member, parent or someone who runs a non-profit we need your help. It’s important that research, cross-cultural training and studies concerning the belief gap come to the forefront. It’s not an accident that racial and gender stereotypes dismantles the educational plight of black boys. As first mentioned, my suspension was part of a culture that expels black boys disproportionately at a higher clip than their counterparts. If black boys aren’t in school, they aren’t being given the opportunity to stay of task and make the most of gifted programs, for which no barrier should exist.