Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Social Justice Blinders


I write less than I used to.  It’s not that I don’t have something to say.  It’s that sometimes speaking the truth just isn’t worth it.  If something I write has even the slightest variation or divergence from “The Progressive Agenda”, the Cancel Police will come after me.  In some cases, I am not even allowed to agree with their positions, because I’m an old, privileged white guy and anything I say would be disingenuous and patronizing.  I cannot possibly understand the systemic  rottenness of racism in America nor do I realize that I am the problem….therefore justifiably cancellable.


Inevitably, this one lane, one note, one truth assessment of our nation’s problems blinds us to other things that are also true and may, in fact, be even more relevant.  As an example, the Dallas Independent School District has been challenged to ban the practice of suspending trouble-making students from school.  Social justice activists point to the disproportionate number of black students who are suspended.  This has now become a Black Lives Matter issue.  Black students are 21% of the DISD student population and 1 out of 7 are getting suspended for misbehavior.  Comparatively 70% of DISD students are Hispanic and only 1 out of 28 are suspended.  Only 5% of DISD students are White (let that soak in)…and just 1 out of 37 are suspended. 


So clearly, looking at the numbers, Black students are being treated unfairly.  This is a problem with such grave consequences, that suspensions have been labeled “The Pipeline to Prison”.    Black leaders are demanding that schools offer other, more constructive alternatives such as:

“providing teachers and staff with the skills and tools necessary to support students’ social and emotional development, restore relationships within the school community and ultimately affirm each child’s humanity and right to learn”.

Well, there’s the answer.  Schools must stop suspending students for bad behavior and find ways to replace bad behavior with good behavior.  Social and emotional development, that’s the ticket. This is how we shut off the “pipeline to prison”.


Let me be clear, I agree that suspending kids from school is a bad idea.  It may provide some relief for other students and certainly for their teachers.  But it does more harm than good to the suspended students.  Keeping the students on campus, counseling, educating, even punishing (make them clean toilets and mop floors); is better than turning them out on the streets.  But it’s not going to solve the problem.


 The real question we must ask is who is most responsible for a child’s “social and emotional development”?  Perhaps we should be calling out parents and guardians as the ones most responsible for the “pipeline to prison” problem.  When black students are 4 times more likely to be suspended than other students, this is not just a matter of teachers targeting black students for suspension.  Oh by the way, the DISD has a HIGHER percentage of Black teachers than Black students.  And, I am just guessing that Black teachers may well be suspending black students more often than White or Hispanic teachers.  (If it were otherwise, I am confident it would be in the news).  


We need to look beyond the school suspension dilemma and get to the root of the problem.  One of the core tools of Six Sigma methodology is DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control).  Using this approach we Define the problem and the objectives.  Then we determine what needs to improve and  how should we Measure it.  Next, we Analyze the problem, defining the factors of influence.  Then, we Identify and implement Improvements.  Lastly, we establish Controls to assure that the improvements are sustainable.


Suspending students is a symptom, it’s not the problem.  Suspending black students may indeed have racial overtones. Maybe it really is about four hundred years of slavery and Jim Crow laws and segregation and lack of opportunity.  Fair enough.  But this is now.  What are we going to do about it now? Leave it to the schools to keep the trouble-makers off the streets and re-program them?  Perhaps magically transform these little devils into angels with a few extra hours of what amounts to “special education” (not that we would ever call it that.)


The real problems run deep and are complicated.  The solutions are neither quick nor are they easy.  Economic development and opportunity must be a priority.  Families, single parent or otherwise, must have the opportunity to succeed.  Better early-age child care and development is worthy of investment.  You can’t wait until a kid is 6 or 7 or 12, to start working on their “social and emotional development”. 


Why are Hispanic students so much less likely to get suspended?   Are teachers just looking the other way or is there something else going on here?  Analyze the problem and define the factors of influence.  There’s more going on here with these Black children than just the fact they are Black. 


What needs to change and how does it happen?  Not suspending kids from school is a good start. But just “locking” them up on campus and giving them a bit of extra attention, isn’t going to be enough for most of them.  If it saves a few, praise the Lord.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  The problems go much deeper.  We just choose not to see them.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored”- Aldous Huxley