In a recent article, former Chicago Bears football player Desmond Clark claims that Vernon Hills High School has a racist school culture. Schools that are dragged into the racism spotlight have a propensity to discredit Black parents instead of working with them to develop solutions that enhance the school experience for all students. Vernon Hills High School administrators may have made a grievous error by making a spectacle of former Chicago Bears football player Desmond Clark.
According to the article, Former Bears player Desmond Clark: Vernon Hills school has ‘racist culture’, Desmond Clark has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. Clark said that a series of racially charged incidents against his family which culminated in an argument in August at Vernon Hills High School resulted in charges being filed against the retired tight end and his wife – Maria Clark.
The racial challenge that Vernon Hill Schools administrators have perpetrated is associated with the school-to-prison pipeline. The have provided this evidence by how they have treated Desmond Clark.
Desmond Clark contribution to the Vernon Hills School racism incident should not be minimized. However, trained educators should know how to better interact with angry parents.
The incident could have been minimized if staff members refrained from using sarcasm. Clark’s son and other students disagreed with a decision that a female administrator made regarding a student-centered activity. Clark’s son responded to an administrative decision by stating “Why am I being treated like a criminal?’ ” The administrator responded “If you want to be a criminal, if you want to act like a criminal then just get out of the gym.” She exhibited her power over the student by kicking him out of the gym after calling him a criminal. Afterwards, the student called his parents.
The administrators response is problematic on two fronts. The sarcasm that the administrator used is damaging to develop positive relationships with students. Children believe sarcastic messages are negative. Educators should know that sarcasm may psychologically damage children. Even though sarcasm and ridicule may serve a corrective function in the eyes of the educator, the long-term consequence of diminished esteem in the eyes of students may make the immediate gains in terms of behavioral correction not worth the costs.
Instead of using sarcasm the administrator should have used praise. Administrators and teachers should use praise to engage students in the learning process. Verbal encouragement by teachers increases student participation and desired behavior. Praise is an effective reinforcement that provides encouragement to students and is a reinforcement for behavior performance improvement. Praise is an effective reinforcement that helps to build student self-esteem.
The response by the administrator will have an impact on Black and Hispanic student perceptions. In a school that has approximately 60 percent white, 20 percent Asian, 15 percent Hispanic and 2.5 percent black, Vernon Hills School administrators have demonstrated that any opposition from Black parents will result in intervention from the local police. Henceforth, they have demonstrated a trend where any opposition from Black students will result in severe punishment for the Black student and promote participation in the school-to-prison pipeline.
Distrust between schools and Blacks results from hostile treatment of Blacks and discrimination in schools. Blacks learn at an early age to be wary of people and systems in their environment. Black students who develop oppositional social identities that involve developing distrust for Whites and dislikes for behaviors associated with being White may resist academic achievement because it is associated with the White culture.
The Vernon Hills School administration has responded by holding several round table discussions on race. Information only will not transform the Vernon Hills Schools. It is the same tactic that other schools have unsuccessfully utilized.
Instead of Vernon Hills School administration focusing on the information format, they should end each meeting with a resolution that all parties can agree on. Once you agree on several resolutions, then have the parents help to outline the steps needed to accomplish those resolutions. Sadly, for the Vernon Hills School administration they may have made a life long adversary of the Black parent Desmond Clark.
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships and Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology
“The model that you use to analyze teacher-student relationships is a good one for most school districts”.
~ Joe Vas ~ Perth Amboy Mayor
“Dr. Campbell’s Cultural Relationship Training Program is comprehensive, informative, and should be required training for all schools”
~ Darrell Pope ~ Hutchinson Kansas NAACP President