Police brutality, shootings, stop and frisk, traffic stops, discrimination, perception of intelligence, discipline patterns, dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, anger management, optimism,etc…. All of these can and do have a significant impact on the health and development of black and brown children who attend k12 schools and impact their life quality both after and out of school. These risk factors are among the concerns of parents with children of color in the U.S.
Do schools address these realities in school settings? If they are not addressed in school, the perceived and real problems do not cease to be concerns for children and their parents.When society, and schools fail to address issues that reflect inequity in the lives of their students, there is no space that is created for change.
Parents express these concerns, across the board, and their children often experience incidents of discrimination on a daily basis. Concerns about bullying is a problem for both black and white children and their parents. However, in the black community, bullying takes on a different ‘look’, and then plays out differently. It can lead to gang involvement by males or lead to isolation among girls and increased probability of engaging in at-risk behaviors. Preparing for mass shootings is almost completely irrelevant to the predominantly black community school setting. Violent acts are more likely to be specifically targeted and personal.
Social-emotional literacy is a necessary growth skill, but it must be cultivated with relevance to life experiences. Black children, as do all, need to develop the words that describe their feelings relative to their experiences. Then they need to understand how to manage, express and cope with their emotions. Schools, when promoting SELs, do not address and promote the types of skills needed to properly frame their emotions because they don’t address the complexity of feelings associated with the black experience in America.
Schools teach kindness, but don’t place the instructional focus in the context of experiences of their black students. They teach children to have good manners and to be polite and friendly, but don’t frame this in the context of the unfriendly interactions these children and their families may and often do experience. Therefore, the skills being taught do not apply to their children. The impact of this irrelevance is dismissive, and that communicates to children that their lives and concerns do not matter-they don’t matter.This can easily be overcome, but for now, parents are concerned.
What needs to be done is that embedded strategies to promoting life skills development must include the fact that the lives of white and black students are hardly parallel to one another. It is hard to discuss or imagine that there are many experiences facing children of color which will shed a negative light on society at large. Namely, it’s those in power who are most responsible to us all who are dismissive or ignorant to the systemic barriers in their lives and longevity.
Parents are concerned that their children not only do well in school, but that make it home safely from school each day. What types of life skills are relevant to this reality?Parents of color are also concerned about whether their child will graduate from high school, whether they can afford college after high school. Concerns are about why their children enter special education programs and never emerge ‘fixed’, if indeed they are ‘broken’ at all.
Since schools are charged with preparing children for life and adulthood, folks are hyper-aware when a person of color enters a room or a space, then schools should address this with these persons and first and foremost, amongst the professionals within school environments themselves. Parents of color are concerned that their children will never be seen for who they are or the strengths they possess. This doesn’t just upset or disturb them but it it clear, by behaviors, absences, academic performance and engagement, that the children are just as upset themselves.
The keys to addressing parents’ concerns for their children lies in the school’s willingness to view their realities and their role in perpetuating that reality. Society is shaped by who and what comes out of the school systems. When change is always inevitable, schools are to lay the groundwork for youngsters to think and learn the skills, along with tools to facilitate positive change. There is no escaping that universal reality.
When we don’t face, discuss, and gain an honest understanding of life and the many realities which exist beyond the school walls, then children aren’t going to acquire the skills and tools appropriate to neither coping nor building the constructs of change. Parents of color are afraid for their children’s overall safety not against school shootings but police shootings.
In communities where there are tragedies such as mass shootings, the professionals, at all levels, come in to help everyone heal from the effects of the ‘possibility’ of trauma. In neighborhood schools of large numbers of lower income black and brown families, when a neighbor, friend or family member is killed violently, no one comes in to help those communities cope with their trauma. It’s treated as everyday ‘normalcy’.
Counseling professionals rarely come in from other communities to assist the population with the trauma-inducing events. Moreover, not even the littlest ones, children and youth aren’t provided a forum to discuss their feelings, anger or grief or confusion. Parents, if not concerned about this oversight and unfairness, ought to be. Anger and grief are powerful emotions, and when children aren’t offered the space to explore these feelings, they are at increased danger of internalizing these feelings, only to explode externally and unhealthily.
There’s a standard curriculum, with standard practices and standard policies. Schools must understand that, since children are not standardized human beings, they also do not have standard experiences. Teaching and learning is placed in a standard framework of practices, but subject matter need be uniquely tailored to the populations served. How can we expect a group of children to excel or succeed in or out of school, when we aren’t planning, teaching and discussing those topics which may very well fuel their success?
The concerns of black parents are no less valid than those of white parents concerning their children. With this in mind, we must design purposeful ways to address these concerns within the day to day instructional content and methodology. This type of planning and the mindfulness of intent to facilitate achievement, fully supports the tenet which says that ‘no child is left behind’, and that ‘every student succeeds’.
For those dedicated and determined educators, who have an authentic desire to ensure success among the children in their charge, you know what you must do. Continue to think outside the box, because it is about the children, not ourselves or our comfort with the same irrelevant perspectives. Try peering into the eyes of the students, the children and their families. This ‘novel’ perspective from which to teach and discuss, will demand that we address children’s concerns and present more opportunities and make evident the urgency to partner with parents.
The willingness to empathize with students of color opens up doors to relevant instructional strategies and present those ‘teachable moments’ valuable in promoting SEL.
There must be some disruption, for the purpose of teaching is to guarantee disruption. That’s how we change things and grow. Furthermore, because we would prefer to believe one way, does not guarantee it is that way. Remember: “Your opinion does not have to be my reality!”
How would you feel if you knew that a place that you are MANDATED to send your child everyday does not address your child’s life or future and therefore, not preparing your child for life? Would you not be concerned too?