The whole world opened to me when I learned to read. —Mary McLeod BethuneHistorically, Black people have recognized education as a pathway to freedom. We know this because of the stories of the slaves who read in secret, the small schoolhouses that arose in homes and churches and the many Black heroes who laid the groundwork for education in this country. Education and the opportunity to learn was and always has been a pathway to freedom and opportunity. However, Black students still face many barriers to education in this country. Instead of welcoming them into classrooms and supporting them through their educational journey they are victims of the bias, racism and sexism that have long plagued this country.
The true worth of a race must be measured by the character of its womanhood. —Mary McLeod BethuneBlack women have a strong and painful history in this country. Black women and girls are often viewed as angry, loud, aggressive and hypersexual. This plays out in American classrooms where Black girls are disciplined for not conforming to gender norms and for existing at the intersection of race and gender. Many Black girls are suspended for minor infractions like dress code violations, talking back and defiance. Instead of encouraging Black girls to come to school and develop healthy practices and a love for learning we perpetuate the falsehood that they do not belong in school. Black preschool girls make up 20 percent of preschool enrollment but are 54 percent of suspensions. In the 2013-14 school year Black girls were 5.5 times more likely to be suspended than White girls. Black girls with disabilities were 3.5 times more likely to be suspended than White girls with disabilities. Although far fewer students are expelled than suspended, Black girls were over six times more likely to be expelled than White girls.
The drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth. — Mary McLeod BethuneBlack children deserve the opportunity to learn and exist, and it is our responsibility to make sure that they have that opportunity. Now more than ever, it is important for parents, teachers and community members to advocate for Black children in schools and in our communities. We need to go out of our way to send the message that we care, support them and their education. In honor of Black History Month, look up your neighborhood school’s discipline policy and use this tool to discover if it is free from bias; make sure Black children are reflected in curriculum and in your home libraries; encourage a Black child to reach for the stars and offer them praise and support. This Black History Month and for the rest of the year, let’s support Black students on the road to education and success.
Kayla Patrick is a senior education policy analyst with a deep interest in using data-based analysis to inform U.S. education policy and practices, especially to improve the lives of underserved children of color. Her expertise includes school discipline policies and college and career readiness. Kayla worked at the National Women’s Law Center, where she conducted research and data analysis on critical issues that impact women and girls. While there, she led a team to produce a well-publicized report, Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout for Girls. She also co-authored a report with 20 Black girls in Washington D.C. titled “Dress Coded,” which highlighted the harmful effects of dress codes on girls’ education. This work was recently cited in the education platform of 2020 presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren and will soon be featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's exhibit on girlhood. Kayla received her bachelor's degree in political science from Wellesley College and her master's in education policy from Teachers College at Columbia University.
Your donation will support the work we do at brightbeam to shine a light on the voices who challenge decision makers to provide the learning opportunities all children need to thrive.