• Lasha Pierce MD

Rescuing our Children From the Cliff- A case study

KP is eight years old. He is a precocious, inquisitive and highly curious boy, who is a rapid learner with an excellent memory, has advanced comprehension, asks probing questions and enjoys problem solving. He is a sensitive child, who has deep feelings and a well developed sense of justice. KP is a delight to his family and his community. If he were of a certain culture and background, his teachers would have recommended him long ago for the gifted and talented program in the school district.

KP is African American. He is small for his age, but confident nonetheless. He has a generally happy and generous disposition. He attends a charter school in a suburban area. His co-teachers are White and Hispanic, and 25 of the 28 students in his class are Hispanic. He is one of three African American students in his classroom. He is the oldest of 2 siblings, his parents are married and live in the same household. His father works full time and his mother works part time to be able to care for his four year old sister.

KP plays baseball and competes in Track and Field. He is from a typical loving, working class American family. In recent months, KP has been given escalating consequences for “bad behavior” at school. He is accused of being disruptive in the class, which ranges from excessive talking to “horseplay”. He has also been assigned a mental health counselor for writing on an assignment that he had “thoughts of wanting to die”. His parents are anxious that he is suddenly failing to thrive at school and fear that he is being targeted and labeled by the school staff as being “bad”. His academic light is dimming fast.

Let’s examine KP’s current academic circumstance.

1) He is advanced academically. He often finishes his work before others in the class, and is then left to manage his own free time. He is an 8 year old, and the teachers don’t approve of the way in which he chooses to organize his free time. There is no accountability of the teacher, only the student for this poor classroom management and lazy differentiation of student ability. There is no effort to support his advanced mind and no consequence to the school staff for the neglect. The student, however receives the consequences for being neglected and being unsuccessful in navigating the neglect well.

2) He is small for his age, and stands out academically. This is a classic set up for bullying or social isolation. African American students are frequently assumed to be aggressors, and not in need of protecting. Students who feel isolated and unsupported may use the class period to recruit allies and supporters (in the form of talking and playing).

3) His cry for help by writing he had thought of death, was met with a cookie cutter response, lacking insight into what the potential causes could be. He was assigned a therapist/counselor at school. A therapist with no special training in Black Psychology.

KP shared with me what his counseling sessions entail: “They ask me stuff like do I like my parents”and “check in with me about how my behavior is going”. This is classic deflection of blame. The presumption is that the root of his problem is either internal to self (lack of control or poor choices) or a product of his family life/community. There is no examination of the role the actual educational system is playing. No examination of how cultural bias (implicit or explicit) among the teaching staff or his peers may contribute. No examination of the total invalidation he may be experiencing by his brilliance being met with hostility.

4) His unique culture is not acknowledged or valued. Researchers have long known, but are just now more frequently admitting that many psychological phenomena are shaped by the culture we live in. Studies have shown that cultural differences in thinking styles are pervasive in cognition and can affect memory, attention, perception, reasoning and how we talk and think. Cultural differences affect social relationships, motivation and upbringing and culture has a massive effect on how we view ourselves and how we are perceived by others. Only someone from his culture, with training in Black Psychology is even remotely qualified to do an assessment of his mental and emotional state and recommend a remedy for his particular challenges at school. Anything short of that is perpetuating the psychological and emotional assault he is already experiencing at school.

KP’s parents are working diligently to save their son from the neglect and abuse so prevalent in many educational institutions against African American students. We at AFRE are dedicated to that work as well. Restorative education identifies those barriers to success and works to deconstruct them.

There are millions of KPs in our community.

Millions of children who are considered expendable and set aside as problematic, unteachable or have their brilliance go either unrecognized or invalidated. They are ushered together, unsuspecting toward an emotional and academic cliff like sheep to slaughter. We have to spring to action, grab them by the back of their shirts and pull them away from the edge of the cliff to safety. We have to empower them with the wings they need to soar, and the lift only their loving community can provide. We are the wind under their wings!

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