As a mother of three, one of the central concerns I have each is for the safety of my children. While my partner and I have opted not to use corporal punishment in our household, we know that some parents still advocate for its use in their own homes. However, corporal punishment in schools is something (I thought) was a thing of the past. Apparently it isn’t and it is happening far too frequently to Black children.
According to Huffington Post, data from the 2011-2012 school year from the Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education suggests that, “the 42,000 reported incidents of black boys being beaten, and 15,000 incidents for black girls, by educators in their school reflects two facts. First, black students are more likely to be located in states that use corporal punishment extensively. Second, in many states black students are disproportionately likely to be singled out for corporal punishment.”
The data explains that seven states, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, and Louisiana, account for 90 percent of corporal punishment against all children. Sadly, a large number of the instances of beatings of Black children happen in these states. Mississippi and Arkansas stand out from this group with roughly 8 and 6 occurrences of beatings per 100 Black students per year, respectively.
This news was particularly surprising to me because I wasn’t even aware that schools using corporal punishment was lawful anywhere in the United States. Because I grew up in California and moved to Chicago in 2014, I have not had the experience of living in a southern state where these practices are more likely to occur. But, the research shows that the prevalence of school beatings is not just a southern problem.
The authors note,
“While heavy use of corporal punishment is more common in states of the former Confederacy, racially disproportionate application happens in northern states as well. Schools in Pennsylvania and Michigan are nearly twice as likely to beat black children as white, although both have low overall rates of corporal punishment.”
This fact runs counter to the popular belief that issues of racism are unique to the South.
The use of excessive punishment against Black students is not limited to school beatings. Black children are also more likely to be suspended from school. In most states, Black students have a higher likelihood of receiving a suspension than White students. Specifically, the authors say “that an astounding 15 percent of black students receive an out-of-school suspension in a given year, a rate nearly 4 times that of white students; in-school suspensions are more than twice as likely among black students.”
This means that Black students across the country are more at-risk for physical violence or suspension than their White peers. Understood in this way, Black students have a lower likelihood of seeing schools as safe places for their enrichment and growth when compared to other children. I can only infer that these conditions contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline which is proven to impact poorer children of color more often than White children. These facts also connect with police occupation of schools and communities of color. A prime example is the young girl who was brutalized in a classroom at Spring Valley High School last year. While that instance involved a uniformed officer, it is indicative of the acceptance of force against Black children in these environments.
While I do my best as a parent to insulate my children from these forms of institutional racism, I am not naive enough to believe that they are immune. This is cultural issue and it socializes not only the children who experience in-school violence but the children around them who witness it. We are teaching children that, even in the classroom, Black people are more dangerous and require excessive force as punishment. This is unacceptable.
The key to eliminating these disparities is not simply wishing them away or ignoring them altogether. Instead, we must start thinking about how our normalization of this treatment shapes the relationship that upcoming generations have with the educational systems which are responsible for their safety and enrichment. And, we have to seriously consider that what we allow to happen in schools is directly correlated with what we see unfolding on the news every single day.