• Donna Shannon


Updated: Nov 6, 2021

The school-to-prison pipeline was in effect long before it became a catch phrase. Explicit racism has been embedded in public school culture since its inception. When Black teachers were pushing Black children to excel in their segregated schools, excel they did. Unfortunately, winning the right to attend public school with White kids put Black children at the mercy of mostly White female teachers and their intense “implicit” biases, which often impeded their progress and eroded their self-esteem. Public schools weren't meant to prepare Black students to truly compete with, much less ever surpass, White students in school or career success. If you believe that has really changed, I have a bridge to sell you!

Children are naturally curious and eager to learn. They don't start out hating school. An honest look at current public school discipline and achievement statistics shows that efforts to hold Black children back and minimize their education and future employment success continue to this day. The goal seems to be to leave as many Black Americans as possible demoralized, hopeless, and resigned to playing the “lesser human” role trying to simply staying alive – but as the whole world has seen thanks to cell phone cameras, that hasn’t always worked out too well.

Keeping our children out of the school-to-prison pipeline requires some time and dedication. If your Black child attends a public school, you should never blindly assume teachers and counselors are treating your child fairly, or that the principal is leading teachers to do so. Your child needs you to be involved with his/her education. Meet the teacher(s) and principal. Visit your child’s class(es), especially in elementary school where the demoralization process starts. Let the school know you are paying attention and holding them accountable – but always calmly and politely. Don't give them an excuse to ignore you! You also need to do your part to help with studying at home.

You do not need a college degree to advocate for your children, but you do need to know your rights and options. To give yourself the knowledge you need to advocate effectively for your child in public school, I recommend you look up Dr. Umar Johnson online and get his book, Black Parent Advocate. He is arguably our strongest advocate for the education of Black children, especially the boys. He is truly committed to saving our kids from the ravages of public school inequities.

I do not exaggerate my concern for Black children’s education. For a glaring example of public schools in action working to destroy a Black child, read my son’s story in Beyond Mis-Education. The book contains documentation to support everything that is said. Advocating alone, my degree gave me the strength I needed to face teachers, “specialists,” and administrators on behalf of my son. However, I did not advocate as forcefully as I would have if I had understood our rights.

Two quick examples of how my son and I were disrespected by public schools: (1) Though they knew The College of William & Mary had found my son to be highly advanced at age 4, public schools confined him to age-appropriate classes and when he was bored and inattentive, the Gifted Coordinator suggested he had ADHD and needed Special Ed. (2) For two years they withheld a 4th grade State writing predictor test result from me on which he had achieved a perfect score. Had I seen that when those results were sent home to other families, I would certainly have advocated more forcefully during those two years, as I’m sure they suspected.

You can empower yourself to advocate for your child no matter what your socioeconomic status is. On this I can testify. Being a single parent, I abandoned career aspirations in order to be available every day to advocate in person and by mail, to do endless research trying to find help to get my son the advanced education opportunities he needed and deserved, and some semesters and years, to homeschool him to give him a break from the public school insanity. That left me financially challenged, but I have no regrets for doing what I had to do to help him survive.

My son defied all the stereotypes about Black boys from financially challenged single-parent homes, ultimately graduating from college with honors despite all of public schools’ efforts to crush him. No matter what your socioeconomic status is, seeing that you care enough to advocate will help your child defy the stereotypes, too. Advocacy doesn’t guarantee positive public school results (it sure didn’t in my son’s case), but seeing your efforts will inspire your child not to give up. And you do have other education options when all else fails with public school. My favorite is homeschool, and I'll talk about homeschooling in a future blog.

Listen to your “gut,” follow your heart, arm yourself with the information you need, and break the education cycle that plagues so many Black families. You can stand between your child and the school-to-prison pipeline!

For the children

Donna Shannon


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