I insisted from the time my sons (Matthew and Robert shown here in a photo taken in February of 2010) were able to talk that they address adults as “sirs” and “mams.” I value manners and simple courtesy from children over great grades. I am very proud of them, and I love them dearly. But, like most all kids, they have the capacity to be rude and disrespectful, if you let them. I am also keenly aware that they are children of color and that they should be aware of this and of all that this entails, especially when dealing with law enforcement personnel. People do have biases, and my children need to be aware of this and be ready to diffuse situations and move in a way that counters others’ expectations.
By John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
Money appears to be the thing that ensures “more justice” (actually “mercy“) when it comes to punishment. In my observations through the years, I have seen Black kids as well as White kids who come from prominent families receive breaks when it comes to the law. I tell my colleagues: “When you have more money, you get more justice [mercy].” But, let’s just face the hard, cold facts: Most of your systematic disciplinary problems in today’s public schools are located in large, urban school systems which are inordinately populated by more minorities and more children from poverty. The major disciplinary problems in Georgia‘s schools are not coming from Trion City Schools, Bremen City Schools, Harris County Schools, or Lee County Schools. Most of the hard-core discipline problems are in inner-city, heavily-urbanized schools.
Does discrimination occur when administrators mete out discipline? Well, I am sure that in many cases that it does in situations where the poor and the minority students attend majority White and affluent schools. I have seen disparate treatment. Administrators have to be determined that in good conscience he or she metes out the punishment for disciplinary offenses in an equitable way…treating all children firmly and fairly, without being arbitrary and capricious. I remember the first year that I was an Assistant Principal at a large high school (football powerhouse too). In the Fall quarter (not semester back then), I suspended the football star before the first game of the season. He was a Black kid, about 6′ 7″ or 6′ 8″ tight end. FSU sent three coaches to the first game to see him play, but he didn’t get to play. Coach Danny Ford of Clemson (which won the National Championship that year) personally came to the school to recruit him. The kid made it to the NFL. I was 27 years old, and I refused to back off the suspension, even though the administrative higher-ups (including the superintendent) came to “see me,” hoping, I am sure, that I would change my mind. I didn’t. Everyone kid in the school knew by then that I was “crazy,” but they respected this. Fortunately, we beat Dublin High School in the home opener, six to zero.
This kid who made it to the NFL was never an ounce of disciplinary problem for the rest of the school years. Not an ounce. His behavior was exemplary. O. K., I was a little like former San Francisco 49ers Coach Mike Singletary in his disciplinary treatment of tight end Vernon Davis, whom he sent to the dressing room during a game because of his selfish ways on and off the field. Both Singletary and Davis acknowledge that this one action alone was one of the best things ever done for Davis, who, by the way, is an NFL star.
When the kids in this high school saw that I would suspend the White kids whose parents were prominent in the community just as quickly as I suspended the poor or minority kids, then I had the endemic respect that any good administrator needs. I remember a White kid left campus and went to McDonald‘s for lunch. This was an automatic three-day out-of-school suspension. (I don’t even remember if we had in-school suspension back then.) I suspended this kid. His father of some prominence came and talked to the principal. The principal called me in with the parent present (just as he had done with the football star’s Mom). I gathered that the principal again was trying to get me to back off the suspension. I would not budge. The kid was suspended. Almost immediately when he returned from suspension a few days later, he left campus again to go to McDonald‘s for lunch. I suspended him again. No more problems from this spoiled brat. Yes, he was indeed spoiled and apparently accustomed to his Daddy bailing him out of situations. But, it helps to be “crazy” like I was.
I can sympathize with parents of minority kids. My children are minorities, and their mother and I have to take precautions about how they are to behave and carry out every day functions. Last week, Robert‘s Mom called me from an auto dealership about buying Robert a new car (actually a Jeep Wrangler, on which his heart was set) for college. I was against this move. But, I was outnumbered. I felt that a two or three year old car was precious plenty, even if he had to drive a little distance back and forth to college. Plus, the insurance was going to be high. I had to deal with this insurance yesterday. Ha! But, Rob‘s Mom bought the all black Jeep Wrangler, and I was worried about Robert being racially profiled on the Interstate highways in particular. (For White parents who think that this is just a myth, it is not. Mr. Norreese Haynes, one of my colleagues at MACE, got a new Dodge Magnum and was stopped constantly on the roads and highways, even though he was a sitting school board member.) My advice for Robert and his Mom was that Rob put a “U. S. Ranger” sticker on the back of the Jeep. (His maternal uncle retired a couple of years ago as a First Sergeant, U. S. Ranger at Fort Benning, with 12 tours to Iraq alone, not including other employments. He now works in diplomatic security.) I told Rob that I would get him an University of Georgia Alumni sticker as well. (I use a UGA Alumni sticker and a McIntosh High School Booster Club sticker on my Town & Country “family van.” These stickers seem to work well. Ha! I always admit to my speeding and “yes, sir” the heck out of the Officer. Don’t spread my secrets around too much, OK?)
I have told my children from the time that they were tiny that they must always use “sir” and “mam” around adults. Their friends’ parents seem to really like my children, saying, “They are so polite.” This was drilled into them, with no excuses being allowed. I told Robert that if his Jeep is pulled over, his is to remain super polite, no matter the circumstances. He can later call his “crazy” Daddy, me. Both Robert and his Mother hastened to let me know that the “Jeep Wrangler” is “a white boy car.” So, this was supposed to help as well. Also, his tag will be “Fayette County.” Can you believe that these things have to be considered? Initially, his Mother was against Robert signing a football scholarship to a university in Mississippi, saying to me, “You don’t wear the skin.” I hastened to tell her that “things have changed in Mississippi” (and I believe that). I said, “Hey, they named the airport after Medgar Evers.” Robert visited the school and loves it. Prudencia (Rob‘s Mom) came around. In fact, they both traveled to Mississippi early this morning in the black Jeep Wrangler (“the white boy car”) for two days of Freshman Orientation. I think that Rob‘s Mom will return all excited about the Belhaven University and Jackson, Mississippi.
So, does racial and economic discrimination exist? Yes. But is this the major problem in the public schools today when it comes to discipline? No. The major problem is that too many students will not comport themselves properly, and when they do not, too many administrators are either too lazy or too afraid to get them in line. This is bad because this lack of administrative diligence only works to the detriment of the children. (c) GTSO, June 16, 2011.