Defining rudeness down

To lower the high suspension rate of black students, a Maryland county is “training staff in how to work with people of different backgrounds and giving troublesome students more support,” reports the Baltimore Sun. Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to be suspended.

Teachers and administrators may misinterpret the body language and occasional confrontational behavior that some African-Americans learn in their neighborhoods and use at school as a way of standing up for themselves, veteran educators say. They will often back down if they’re made to feel safe.

“Being rude means one thing to you and another to me,” said Ella White Campbell, a retired city school teacher and an education advocate in Baltimore County.

Why not teach students the school’s definition of rudeness?

Successful schools for low-income black students set high standards for their behavior, notes Education Gadfly.

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  1. “Why not teach students the school’s definition of rudeness?

    I think that would be considered racist, wouldn’t it? But does anyone think employers are going to lower standards for their employees?

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    “Solving” the problem of Blacks being suspended at a higher rate by excusing bad behavior on the part of these students makes as much sense as solving the high incarceration rates of Blacks by doing away with laws against assault, robbery and other crimes. What can be more patronizing than treating Blacks as if they just arrived in the US from some primitive tribe in Africa and are completely ignorant of how to behave in the US? If they are not going to learn the correct way to behave at school, when are they ever going to learn it? The Left does Blacks no favor by excusing their inappropriate behavior by claiming that it is part of their culture. When these students have to go out in the world to earn a living, they will find that this type of behavior is not tolerated in the workplace. Then these Leftists will wonder why there is such a high unemployment rate among Blacks.

  3. Bob Diethrich says:

    (I may have mentioned this story on this blog before, so if its a repeat, I apologize) I was shocked at the sliding standard for Black student behavior, and its tacit acceptance by the education establishment, in my first week of grad school at Duquesne back in 1994. It was my first class and since most everyone else in that Masters progam was already a teacher I mostly kept my mouth shut. But that mouth dropped wide open when I heard a Pittsburgh elementary teacher casually say, “Well everyone knows that if you walk into a black classroom it will be louder than a white classroom.” I was aghast at this statement and the fact that none of the vets even offered a differing opinion. Would a statement like “Hey a black classroom won’t work as hard” or “A black classroom will be more disrespectful” be allowed? I don’t know!

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    I was aghast at this statement and the fact that none of the vets even offered a differing opinion.

    Are you aghast because someone said this publicly, aghast because you think it is false or aghast because it is true?

    -Mark Roulo

  5. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I remember when my high school tried to even up the detention rates….

    My entire Calculus class (mostly whites and asians) got detention for being in the hall after the bell rang…. BECAUSE THE DOOR WAS LOCKED AND OUR TEACHER WENT TO FIND A KEY!!!

    The hall monitor wasted about 20 minutes of class time taking down our names and assigning detentions. Our teacher was furious…. but it was all about correcting the stats on student tardiness…..

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    There’s not quite enough information here to figure out what they are doing in Maryland. I believe that when the statistics are examined, generally the findings are that black kids are more likely to be suspended for the SAME behavior that white kids get lesser consequences for. This tells me that in everyday life it’s the white kids getting a pass. Which kind of lines up with my general experiences. I put in a stint in a mostly white, mostly upper middle class suburban quasi-educational position once. I was pretty shocked by how little focus there was on behavior, and how ill-behaved kids were as a result. Some of their sanctioned group activities would have gotten a group of black kids arrested. Not knives and switchblades–just outrageous behavior–and some pretty explicit meanness to kids on the outs.

    But I have also seen in urban schools a sort of tacit expectation that a certain percentage of kids will hang out in the halls rather than go to class–and an unwillingness to set an expectation of anything different–which always sort of looks to me like a fear of confrontation, accompanied by a desire for security sweeps and sort of strike force no tolerance actions to get rid of trouble makers.

    I do believe that it is possible to examine the meaning attached to the observation of behaviors–and whether it varies by the race (or gender for that matter)of the behavor, and whether responses are consistent, without lowering expectations. I also believe that such efforts can lead to increased ability to understand, confront and teach behavior.

    The statistics point to an equity problem. Responding meaningfully is important.

  7. It seems to me that the school would do much better to make perfectly explicit up front what behavior is expected at school, and create a “school culture” that in which all students can take part.

    One thing I see more and more often is people who have no sense of how to adapt their behavior to the prevailing culture they happen to be in at the moment. We all, regardless of race, have to participate in a variety of cultures every day. School, the office, home, the street, church, a baseball game… You get the point.

    Joanne had a post about “the Webster Way” in which exactly this occurred. I think, as the kids from Webster move forward in life, they’ll find the social flexibility they learned from the Webster Way to be an advantage over not only other poor kids, but over middle and upper class kids who are used to imposing their culture on everyone with whom they come in contact.

  8. Richard Nieporent says:

    It is bad enough that Black students who do well in school are derisively referred to as acting White by their peers. Now we have adults who are stating that Blacks shouldn’t have to conform to the norms of “White” behavior. While I have nothing against a school promulgating rules of behavior for their students, it is not as if Blacks are incapable of acting properly. What we have is simply a lack of respect by the students for their teachers. These same students would not act that way to their ministers or parents.

    middle and upper class kids who are used to imposing their culture on everyone with whom they come in contact.

    They are not imposing their culture on others, Quincy. What you are referring to is the norms of our society. Most foreigners in the past had no trouble conforming to our culture. Asians in particular have been able in one generation to adopt American culture and excel in school and the workforce. Unfortunately here we have Blacks who are not foreigners living in their own subculture that is largely responsible for preventing them from succeeding in life. Rather than trying to rectify this condition are we going to perpetuate their culture so that they can remain a permanent underclass? One of the purposes of school was supposed to be to teach the values of our society. If one doesn’t learn that in school, if will be difficult to succeed later in life.

  9. Richard –

    Apparently you misunderstand me. When I talk about middle and upper class kids “imposing their culture” on everyone they come in contact with, it’s things like thinking it’s OK to talk on a cell phone *anywhere* regardless of who they’re disturbing, not knowing how to act in a business meeting, expecting other people to pick up the slack when they flake, being rude little snots to people they consider lower on the totem pole than they are.

    If poor students can learn how to adapt themselves to a given situation better than their richer peers due to explicit practice in doing so, that’s a good thing. Everyone, poor, rich, or otherwise, should learn how to act “when in Rome”. There is a certain decorum in a corporate office, concert hall, movie theater, doctor’s office, or football game, and each situation calls for different behavior. We’re doing a poor job of teaching that. (In my experience, the absolute worst offenders are the yuppie brats who are so caught up with themselves that they can’t even consider the fact that they might be misbehaving.)

  10. Supersub says:

    Quincy – while I have had my share of yuppie students who act superior to everyone in the room… it has been less of a systemic problem for me than the “loud” urban culture.
    Not only that, but most of my students do act negatively to instances of yuppieness by others, while many end up emulating the urban culture.

    The problem with the “black culture” concept is a sense of inferiority by some black leaders and their followers. Having been raised in a culture that was not focused on education or strict social conventions, they are unwilling to declare that a weakness. Instead, they tightly grasp onto the idea that the way they were raised is equal to or superior to the mainstream… they just are “different.” Any lack of success in their lives is not due to their lack of effort in education but instead the oppression of the dominant culture.

    And, then, of course, there are those that have accepted this delusion in order to gain support from those groups. Its so much easier to blame others than to accept responsibility for your own faults.

  11. Richard Nieporent says:

    Quincy, I am confused about your reference to kids followed by your discussion of the work place. The last I looked, except for summer hires and places like McDonalds, there are no kids working at any businesses that I deal with.

    It is interesting that you define the use of cell phones as part of the middle/upper class culture. I can assure you that the cell phone “culture” has permeated the lower classes. There is just about no one too poor that does not own a cell phone. Also it is text messaging not speaking of the phone that is the bane of the younger generation.

    It appears that you have a problem with rude and immature people where you work. It is unfortunate that you have to put up with such people. However, I can assure you that in my long experience in the workplace dealing with both private companies and government agencies that is not the norm. Thus, I would not attribute that type of behavior to middle and upper class “culture”.

  12. Heck, it may well be a geographical bias on my part, as my particular corner of the world is filled with such people. Proximity to San Francisco I guess.

  13. They should just call the parents in and say something like, “Look, it will be very difficult for your son or daughter to succeed in the world without assimilating to school or workplace norms of the dominant culture. Will you help us? Will you help us enforce these norms at school in the best interest of your kids?”

    And then have explicit class discussions about the meaning of code-switching and the culture of power and multi-cultural and social literacy.

    Show the kids video of different forms of behavior. Have classroom discussions about the behavior. Use humor, compassion, and understanding.

    I tell my kids things like “Hey, this is not just about school. I want you to be able to walk into a bank or into the DMV one day in life and be able to talk to the person behind the counter in a way that will be advantageous to you. This is about your self-interest.”

    It works for 99% of my kids.

  14. Margo/Mom says:

    For many years I worked with a camping program that, although racially and economically integrated, looked to the rest of the world like a bunch of poor black kids. For many white kids, this was their first experience of overt racism (and this I would identify as things like strangers on the street calling the “n” word after a group of children–not to mention occasional intrusions on to camp property to do actual damage to buildings, etc).

    We got used to running a certain drill before going out in public to remind kids of what their behavior would say to people who weren’t used to seeing black and white kids together. Not only did we feel an obligation to display to the world that the behavior of our group of kids was acceptable, but we also knew that, in our rural setting, there could be real dangers in giving people any kind of excuse to pay attention to us. It happens that some years later I had the opportunity to work at another camp in the same geographical vicinity–this time the population was white and upper middle class. I have to tell you, I was terrified on my first trip to town with the staff and CIT’s to get ice cream. They were loud and demanding and (presumabley without realizing it) disrespectful to the people that they understood to be hicks who were waiting on them. I had to mentally unload my previous associations about physical danger(although one staff person did admit that they had sometimes been chased by locals with firearms and pick-up trucks who found their behavior obnoxious) The reality is these kids had no experience with the kind of treatment that other kids were likely to receive–even on a good day.

    Again–I can’t tell from what was written above what the focus of the Maryland program is, but I don’t necessarily assume that it is setting lower behavioral standards for kids who are black. It is vitally important to begin asking the question about how it is that black kids are more likely to receive suspension than white kids for the same behavior–or why Deirdre’s Calculus class was mostly white and Asian.