A common argument for why the teaching force in Minnesota lacks diversity claims that college students of color are not interested in pursuing careers in education. A common counter-argument states: college students of color are not pursuing careers in education because a majority of them have bad memories of their K-12 experience. The latter argument claims that unfair discipline practices in schools have driven some students of color completely out of school and left those who remained in school with a feeling of distrust towards teachers and the education system.
It is clear that both of these arguments are true. Data has proven time and again that discipline practices in schools disproportionately affect students of color and that teacher diversity is almost absent in Minnesota. In other words, the chances any student of color will encounter a teacher that looks like them in their K-12 years is insignificant, and the chances students of color will be disciplined unfairly in school is incredibly high.
This reality highlights one of the more interesting flaws of today’s education system and it brings to the forefront topics that are inextricably linked: discipline and justice. What makes this flaw interesting is that everyone can easily recall a time where they have been disciplined at school, at home or in life, and that should have taught us a few things. It should have taught us that good or just discipline practices can play and do play a crucial role in correcting any bad behavior children or young adults display.
On the other hand, it should have also taught us that bad or unjust discipline practices can result in a dislike/distrust for authority or a lack of interest in school, at home and with life. Therefore, to assume that how one is disciplined in their younger years will define how one operates in society in their adult years is not a shocking assumption but one that is well-grounded and substantiated by historical reference and data.
Often we look at whether certain forms of discipline are good or bad and stop the conversation there, assuming good means ‘just’ and bad means ‘unjust.’ We find that even commonly acceptable forms of discipline can be unjust and vice versa. For example, many are swift to regard cultures where parents, educators and elders do not shy away from using physical discipline to correct bad behavior of children as backwards, cruel and harmful to child growth. It goes without saying that today in the 21st century, the fact that some children are more susceptible to being unfairly disciplined because of their race and economic background should also be regarded as backward, cruel and harmful to a child’s growth. And it is.
So, when talking about discipline in schools, we can’t only look at the method of discipline in schools. We must also talk about justice. We must also talk about race. We must also talk about class, income, religion and so on, even though we shouldn’t have to.
When we know that education serves as the main vehicle leading to upward social mobility for all, we still are finding ourselves needing to classify who that education is for and who and where that education comes from.
And through those conversations, many of us are learning that maybe, the lack of teacher diversity is not just a cause of, but also a direct consequence of unfair discipline practices in schools. We have to break the cycle.
Shakur Ali is a Youth Engagement Engagement Coordinator at the Minnesota Alliance with Youth. Originally from Somalia, he and his family migrated to Minnesota when in his 3rd grade. After graduating from Augsburg College, Shakur went on to work in the Middle East at the Doha Centre for Media Freedom and completed his M.A. in International Politics & Human Rights at City University London.
The MinnCAN blog allows Minnesota students, teachers, administrators, parents and advocates to share their thoughts on key education issues. Blogging fellows’ and guest bloggers’ views and opinions are solely their own.