The event I choose to attend for the Black History in San Diego Project was a discussion about “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” authored by Dr. Monique Morris. This “Pushout” seminar centralized the long relevance, importance, and mostly overlooked voices of Black females in schools. Dr. Morris aims to inform people about the prevalence of “pushout” and find healing-informed solutions within educational systems that lack consideration for the needs of Black girls. Though Dr. Morris specifically focuses on the criminalization of Black girls, the broader context explored in our African American History class focuses on the historical silencing and unjust criminalization of African American people altogether. As a Black female in America, the sensitivities and truth-telling heard throughout this talk provided me an analysis of the educational system being sustained with two end goals in mind since the integration of ethnicities beyond white Anglo-saxons into the school system; if you’re privileged, you have access to tools and information that can lead to your success within a school that provides a safe, healthy learning environment for you to thrive and relish in the teachings that amplify stories and systems that you identify with. If you’re not privileged, you can fall prey to the school to prison pipeline – a documented pathway that prepares targeted students to function appropriately in the prison system once pushed out of the educational system.
When a young person asks an adult, “why is school important? and why do I have to go?” Most adults who benefit from privilege would answer, “school is a place for learning and growing”, “school will shape you into a civilized intelligent being who can later contribute to society”, “school is fun”, “you need school to be successful in life.” For those who the educational system is created to guarantee success, these sayings may be true, and there is no documented path to prison. So why would schools ever be compared to prison? This school environment is becoming increasingly militarized, and historically, militarized institutions disproportionately impact students of color because of the underlying racism or implicit bias that exists within these systems.
Dr. Morris pointed out the adultification of Black girls which speaks directly to the fact that students of color, Black girls in particular, are disciplined at much higher rates than their white counterparts. Why? Because implicit bias would cause a teacher to believe that the Black girl who responds in confidence is being loud and aggressive which constitutes a behavior problem that needs discipline, according to student codes of conduct. That student, then, receives a referral; that referral goes on record and follows the student throughout their educational career. Administrators and other teachers will note that history and be hypersensitive to any perceived behavior from that student until the student has so many referrals, they are pushed out of school. That student is being “educated” in a hostile environment that is not optimal for their successful achievement. In fact, that student gets labeled and sent to an alternative school or doesn’t finish school at all and is subjected to targeting of law enforcement outside of the school environment. The next step is incarceration. A direct pathway from the classroom to the prison cell based on underlying bias.
Now let’s think about that same student’s white or white-passing counterpart. This student may emphatically express, “school is boring”, “school feels like it’s a repetitive cycle going nowhere”, “ I don’t like the people here”, “I HATE school.” These statements were typical of my high-school experience. When those students “acted out” because of feeling this way, it was usually attended to with care and concern, treated with counseling, medication and alternatives to ensure that their educational environment was comfortable so that valued learning time wasn’t lost. Those students got accommodations, advocacy and support which created a welcoming learning environment. The psychology suggests that people function better in healthier environments. Let’s just imagine that there was equity in schools for the two students described, new studies report that even when a Black student achieves educational success, they are still subject to implicit bias and are less likely to have access to the same opportunities as their white identified counterparts.
Dr. Morris clearly highlighted that there is no equity in schools for students of color, and even less equity for Black girls in schools. Additionally, these inequalities show up in most of the systems that have silenced and criminalize African Americans for generations. It is so heavily significant to hear narratives that remind us that racism, discrimination, and inequality are all still manifested through updated pathways. Dr. Morris reminds us that “Education is freedom work.” To stop the erasure of Black girls and our people altogether, we need to be educated in a way that recognizes us as individuals in this world also, especially when we are the reason why America has lasted, survived, and prospered to this day.