A recent article about the Chapel Hill City Schools reveals a great disparity in student disciplinary consequences. The school district has infused a host of strategies to overcome this challenge. The fact remains that the challenges for Black students in Chapel Hill City Schools persist.

The article reports that, Simon Lee was relaxing on a bench outside Chapel Hill High School’s library. He says he wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary — he was gossiping, joking with friends before his free period. Nothing he should have been disciplined for.

A teacher approached the bench, and Lee said the group told her they would spend the period studying.

“A few minutes later a few security guards came over, and they said they had a call that a few people were skipping,” Lee said. “The security guard said if we were white, it wouldn’t have been an issue.”

The article goes on to state that the largest disparity in discipline between white and black students is in the categories that are hardest to define: defiance, disruption and disrespect. “There are countless examples of how the code of conduct is pitted against students of color,”

Why would a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School teacher believe that a Black student would disrespect them?

Black students and White teachers have different cultural perspective and expectations. Let’s start with eye contact. Whites believe that maintaining eye contact in face-to-face communication is the most desirable. However, in the Black culture, avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect. Black parents teach their children that looking an adult in the eye is a sign of disrespect while White children learn to do the opposite. Due to the initial eye contact between the teacher and students, the teacher developed a high level of distrust.

Did the conversation between the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City teacher and Black students compound the distrust which could have lead to perceived disrespect?

As the teacher approached the students and completed the non-verbal evaluation, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City teacher determined that the students could not be trusted. The next most likely question was: What are you students doing out here? This question sets the stage for a debate. Black students not only debate the idea, but they also debate the person. For many White teachers this is perceived as a personal attack on their character as a teacher.

The verbal exchange between the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City teacher ended with distrust because Black students are less likely to maintain eye contact with persons in authority. Since Black children tend not to look at the teacher as a sign of respect and the White teacher requires extended eye contact, the conversation ended abruptly and the teacher felt the need to report the students as indicated in the article.

This interaction between the teacher and Black students caused one of the Black students to feel that they were discriminated against. According to the article, Lee’s experiences, on a bench outside the library and throughout his time in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, have roused him to change classrooms for minority students. He has plans to study social justice in college next year and wants to be an advocate for minorities. The only thing that this interaction between the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City teacher and the Blacks students may have confirmed is the Black student belief that White institutions cannot be trusted.

Even though the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City schools have attempted to address this matter through several initiatives, they can only eliminate classroom racism (Elcloomism) by promoting positive teacher student classroom relationships (Properateasclaships).

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
www.positiveracialrelationships.com
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012

 

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