Is my black preschooler just another statistic?

Article reposted from Omaha.com with permission from mother and author, Tunette Powell

Introduction by K. Cecchini.

I heard Tunette Powells’ story in This American Life a couple of weeks ago in an episode on school discipline entitled, “Is This Working?” and I was disturbed – but not shocked. I knew that her story of her son being suspended 3 times in a span of a couple of weeks from preschool is part of much larger conversations.

Yes, her son was suspended from preschool.

According to her radio interview, Powell blamed herself and her parenting before she stumbled onto the irrefutable evidence that her son had been disciplined in a manner that was unequal to that of his caucasian classmates.

Although, given Powell’s tenacity, she will do all that she can to ensure her son is not trapped in the undertow, it is still not difficult to see the link between her question, “Is my black preschooler just another statistic?” and justice reform.

Unfortunately, I am not drawing an imaginary line between school discipline and incarceration; experts have connected the dots and labeled it the “School to Prison Pipeline”. If our preschools are suspending kids – and focusing on African-American boys – than we really need to look upstream at how schools are addressing childhood. I am glad that Powell is standing up for her son and adding her voice to the conversation. 

“Is My Black Preschooler Just Another Statistic?” by Tunette Powell    (@TunettePowell)

My 4-year-old son JJ is the brightest preschooler I know.

And I’ve met everyone in his class.

He writes his name better than any other student. Not only can he spell his name, but he can spell his little brother’s and several of his classmates’ names. Earlier this month, he joined the church choir and has hopes of leading a song. If that wasn’t enough, he’s made home videos about heaven, Omaha’s weather and what he wants to be when he grows up.

That it is why I was shocked when I received calls in January and February asking me to pick him up from school. JJ was suspended from preschool three times in the past three months. My husband and I have sat in countless parent-teacher conferences trying to figure out what’s going on with JJ. The preschool staff thought it might be because I’m a working mom.
They also questioned our parenting tactics at home.

But after attending a birthday party where other parents, who were not black, shared stories of the horrific things their kids have done without suspension, I’m now a little skeptical. And now, after reading a story momaha.com published titled “Black preschoolers more likely to face suspension” I’m not sure what to think.

I would like to believe that the facts in the article are all leading to one big April Fool’s joke. But I can’t ignore the facts reported in the article: black children represent 18 percent of children in preschool, but make up almost half of the preschoolers suspended.

As a black mother, there are two things I have tried not to be: a black mother who plays the race card; and a loud and unreasonable black mother who defends her kid as if he can do no wrong. But even I admit it, I was shocked at the news of an unruly JJ each phone call.

JJ is a well-behaved child — for the most part. And he did what his classroom instructors accused him of… He threw a chair, refused to listen to his preschool teacher during nap time and he spit on another student. Believe me, JJ now understands the consequences of those things.

He’s been doing a lot better, and I was doing my best to forget about it. But earlier this month at a birthday party for one of JJ’s classmates, a few parents got together to discuss the preschool. Parents expressed their dislike and I agreed with them. I worked up the courage to tell them JJ had been suspended three times since the New Year. They were shocked.

“My son threw something at a kid on purpose and the kid had to be rushed to the hospital,” one parent said. “All I got was a phone call.”

One after another three white parents told me about the preschool fights and disciplinary problems their children were having. The most startling thing they admitted was that none of their children had been suspended.

After JJ’s second suspension, my husband asked the preschool staff if any other students had been suspended. Of course, they couldn’t share that information with us, but it was a question worth asking.

Since then, JJ has been walking on egg shells. If he doesn’t sleep at nap time, they leave us a note. If he doesn’t feel like being the life of the classroom, they leave us a note.

I’m torn on what to do or if I should do anything at all.

But I do know one thing: JJ will not be treated the way I was treated in preschool.

I was expelled because they said I talked too much. I will be a race-card playing, loud-mouth black mother before JJ is just a another statistic.

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About Tunette (From tunettepowell.com)

 

Nationally-known author and public speaker, Tunette Powell has received a host of prestigious public speaking awards, including being named the top persuasive speaker in the country in 2012, as she has traveled throughout the country motivating and encouraging young men and women at schools, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Powell has dedicated her life to being the change she wishes to see. Read more about Tunette on her site.

Follow her on Twitter: @TunettePowell and Facebook: Tunette Powell
You can read on Tuesdays on momaha.com
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