Analysis: Teaching intolerance in the guise of promoting tolerance

Suspension policies advanced by the race-grievance complex harm both students and teachers

By ROBERT L. WOODSON SR. | July 14, 2020

A middle-school teacher in suburban Virginia confided in a friend about a troubling incident that was causing her nightmares. She had touched a student's sleeve when telling him to quiet down, and he told her: “Take your F--- hands off me, old woman, or I'll smash your face through a window.” She said she wouldn't bring the incident to the principal's attention because he was under pressure to reduce suspensions in the school and that a book called "Don't Kick Them Out" was required reading for his teachers.

As in all other school districts throughout the nation, the school where she taught had received a mandate from the Department of Education under the Obama Administration to reduce the racial disparity in suspension rates, which were three times higher for black students than for whites. In response, throughout the country, the method to do this was not to address and change the violent and antisocial behavior of students, but to target the presumed bigotry and discrimination on the part of the teachers.

This methodology was in sync with the dominant narrative of the powerful race-grievance industry that any racial disparity was evidence of racism. This conviction is held in abeyance only in the sports arena, where the fact that black males, who make up 6 percent of the population yet account for more than 70% of the players of the NBA and NFL, is a disparity that is attributed to their skill and talent.

“Don’t Kick Them Out” was amateurish, lacked logical structure and was riddled with grammatical errors and pretentious language. Its key merit was that it took to task the all-purpose villains of white privilege and institutional racism. Included in its guidance were comments such as this: “If a student uses profanity, why would we suspend him? He has proven that he has a limited vocabulary.” Others have held that penalizing youths for swearing is “linguistic racism.”

The aggressive student who had threatened the middle-school teacher was not reprimanded. Just weeks later, he was among a cohort of young thugs who cornered a learning-disabled boy in the bathroom and “beat him to a pulp” with a sink they had torn from the wall.

The sophomoric product of “Don’t Kick Them Out” pales in comparison to the polished power-points and finely honed workshops and conferences produced by the San Francisco-based Pacific Education Group (PEG), a company that has been given contracts with more than 50 school districts and has raked in millions of dollars for its slick productions. PEG plies its anti-white-privilege products with euphemistic titles such as “cultural competency training,” “courageous conversations” and “restorative justice” programs, in which teachers are told they are largely to blame for bad behavior of black students because they “misinterpret” African American culture.

The outcome for one of PEG’s early clients, the St. Paul, Minnesota, school district, indicates how this travesty will play out throughout the nation. In those schools, while teachers, school-bus drivers, janitors and lunch-ladies were indoctrinated with the racial-grievance message, meaningful penalties for violence were reduced and behavioral standards for students were drastically lowered.

The stage was set for the emergence of a new breed of “untouchables”—student-thugs who, in groups of up to 40, forced their way into classrooms to take revenge on rivals, rampaged through the hallways and assaulted teachers who tried to intervene, sending a number to hospitals with concussions, brain damage and other serious injuries. Despite the fanatical focus on reducing suspensions, violence in the St. Paul schools rose to the level that suspensions actually increased. Angry and frightened teachers and parents demanded and won the dismissal of the district’s superintendent.

The victims of this dangerous, failed experiment included not only the injured and battered teachers and the minority students who were trying to learn, but also the black youths who saw that their behavior was divorced from any consequences.

At the core of this “educational” initiative gone awry was the conviction that the black youths’ behavior can never change and that it is the inevitable response to conditions emanating from a history of slavery and discrimination. But if minority youths have been able to apply self-discipline to succeed on the playing field, they can do the same in the classroom.

In its Violence-Free Zone (VFZ) program, the Woodson Center has proven that even the most violent students can change their behavior through peer-to-peer counseling by young adults who serve as character coaches and moral mentors and have transformed the vision, values and attitudes of the young people they work with.

VFZ initiatives have been established in school systems in five states and, throughout the past 13 years, have been incorporated in 12 schools in Milwaukee. In those schools, the average number of suspension days fell by nearly 80%, the incidence in truancy decreased and academic achievement improved. In addition, police data revealed that even crime rates in adjacent neighborhoods fell where Violence Free Zones were implemented.

The mandate that spawned a race-grievance consultant industry should be rescinded. We must stop wasting millions of dollars in a dangerous, counterproductive agenda of blaming the teachers. Precious resources should be directed, instead, to those who have shown they can make a difference in the behavior and lives of thousands of young people.

Robert L. Woodson Sr. is president and founder of the Woodson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on neighborhood empowerment and reducing youth violence.