A 6-year-old black girl in Milledgeville, Georgia is handcuffed and arrested by police who were called by the school because the child was acting out.
A 13-year-old black girl with a history of tardiness and backtalk was called “nappy-headed” in front of the whole class by her white teacher. Then she was expelled from school after her mother complained to the principal about the child’s treatment.
While there was no question that the pupils in these cases likely deserved to be disciplined, the question is what is appropriate discipline, what signals do traumatizing physical or verbal punishment send children and does it result in the desired type of behavior?
“When I was growing up it was ‘Spare the rod; spoil the child.’ You remember all the hair salon banter (about beatings at the hands of adults in the family). When you turn on a black comedy on TV it was there. It was a perverse degradation …it became the expected thing to do,” Stacey Patton, creator of the blog SparetheKids.com , told BlackAmericaWeb.com in an interview last year, shortly after the site was launched.
“As a people, we expect to be dealt with violently, by the police, in adult relationships. As women we feel we have to protect ourselves and act tough,” Patton said.
In the Milledgeville case, according to WMAZ-TV, officials at an elementary school in the central Georgia city called police in April to report that a pupil was out of control and that they had been unsuccessful in reaching the child’s parents to report the behavior.
School officials told the TV station that they feared the girl was a danger to herself and others and that her behavior was over the top, knocking things off the wall, jumping on top of a paper shredder and knocking over a shelf, which hit the principal.
Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord said police were unsuccessful in calming down the child and that when she began to act out again a decision was made to handcuff her.
"Our policy is that any detainee transported to our station in a patrol vehicle is to be handcuffed in the back. There is no age discrimination on that rule," Swicord told WMAZ.
The young teenager in Inglewood, California was expelled from a public charter school last week after her parents complained that her teacher humiliated the girl in front of her science class by telling the child, “Sit your nappy-headed self down.”
The girl told KTLA-TV in Los Angeles that she had been the victim of teasing at school back in the fourth grade and that the teacher’s comments brought the memories flooding back. She also said the comments have left her feeling more self-conscious about her hair and that “I want to get it pressed, like straightened so she won’t see my hair nappy.”
The teacher later apologized in a cell phone message to the girl’s parents, saying “it was not intentioned in a bad way but it didn’t come out that way.”
The principal at the public charter school, however, had a different response. The girl’s mother told KTLA that the principal, who is black, told her, “I’m happy that my teacher called your daughter ‘nappy-head.’ You have a mean little girl and bad things need to happen to mean kids.”
The girl was then expelled from the school and a letter sent to the parents explaining the expulsion was a result of the mother scolding the principal when she questioned the teacher’s behavior.
“These incidents point to the need for adults to have a wider range of healthy, appropriate and effective disciplinary tools available to deal with challenging situations,” Patton told BlackAmericaWeb.com on Wednesday.
Her site provides several sections with parental aids to help adults find alternatives to corporal punishment.
Interestingly enough, however, many adults have sided with officials in these recent instances, saying that children overall lack discipline and that teachers have been stripped of the ability to handle these incidents with authority. Much of that attitude likely stems from the way the adults themselves were raised, whether they were subjected to corporal punishment and/or administered it with seemingly little to no repercussions.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, however, there are plenty of consequences that result from such punishment, including letting it get out of hand:
• Every four seconds a black public school student is suspended, 6,916 are suspended each day.
• Every 57 seconds a black school student is corporally punished, 442 are corporally punished each day.
• Every three minutes a black child is abused or neglected, 434 are abused or neglected each day.
• Every 14 minutes a black child is arrested for violent crimes, 104 are arrested each day.
• Each day one black child is killed by abuse or neglect.
• Every two days a black child or teen commits suicide.
• Every day four black children or teens are killed by firearms.
The scary part is that somewhere along the way, many of us have been participants – wittingly or unwittingly – in such disciplinary measures that many law enforcement, social work and mental health experts say fuels some of the behavior that results in poor outcomes for many black youth.
“Children are going to periodically act out and misbehave, whether at home or school or out in public. Extreme reactions like handcuffing a child do nothing to address the situation around the child's meltdown, and run the danger of turning a routine challenge into a much more serious problem,” said Patton who has said she hopes her site will help change the conversation about discipline, not only by parents, but all officials who bear responsibility for the welfare of children.
“Handcuffing is also reminiscent of slavery, and ‘criminalizes’ a small child for an emotional outburst, feeding the stereotype of black children as inherently criminal and destined for the prison-industrial complex.”