In a recent article, a former Southington High School Black student was disciplined for alleged bullying behavior that is associated with her ethnicity. It is this type of misinterpretations that continue to fuel racism in education. Southington High School educators need to become more sensitive to Black student behavior that could be misinterpreted as bullying.
According to the article, Black graduate says minority students can feel alienated at Southington High, a former student claimed that she was treated differently by administrators due to an alleged bullying incident.
According to Tia Jones, during her final year of high school, she decided to take an Advanced Placement Politics and Government course. During one classroom session, the class was discussing the American policy on LGBT issues. During the discussion, Jones explained to her classmates that “separation of church and state meant that while everyone was at liberty to practice a religion of their choice, those beliefs should not restrict another person’s right as an American citizen, including their right to marry. Some students agreed with Jones and others did not.
The discussion became heated between her and another student. After this class the school’s guidance department contacted the Jones family at home and alleged that her and another classmate were bullying another student. The resulting discipline was to silence her voice by providing her five minutes after class to voice her opinion. The responses from the Southington High School administration does not take into consideration the debate behaviors of Blacks that are often perceived as bullying.
This perception of bullying results from cultural insensitivity. Southington High School has more than 2,000 students for which only three percent are Black and ninety percent of the students are White. According to the personnel department, the school district has no minority principals or vice principals.
Debates are not designed to judge the cultural tendencies of the individuals involved. Debates are important in the learning process because teachers use debates in the classroom to help students grasp essential critical thinking and presentation skills. Among the skills classroom debates can foster are abstract thinking, citizenship and etiquette, clarity, organization, persuasion, public speaking, research, and teamwork and cooperation. Many of these skills are misinterpreted which can result in labeling Black students as facilitators of bullying.
What debate behaviors do Black students possess that the Southington High School administrators may have misinterpreted as bullying?
The difference in Black and White debating behavior can cause classroom argument between minority students and White teachers. For example, Blacks not only debate the idea; they also debate the person while Whites debate the idea rather than the person debating the idea. Blacks attempt to evaluate a person’s intentions during a debate by determining the meaning and value of a particular behavior or attitude. Furthermore, Black students contrast White middle-class communication when they speak over others’ voices and repeat the communication until they are responded to or until they have someone’s attention which can complicate the classroom debate process and make others believe that they are victims of bullying.
Cultural differences can affect teacher-student classroom relationships when debates occur in the classroom. Blacks and Whites ignore communication failures because Blacks and Whites assume they are communicating with the standards set by socially dominant Whites. For Whites, the purpose of an argument is to ventilate anger and hostility. However, Blacks distinguish the a debate regarding a difference of opinion and a debate used to ventilate anger and hostility.
Blacks communicate in debates by becoming high-keyed, animated, interpersonal, and confrontational while middle-class Whites communicate in debates by becoming low-keyed, dispassionate, impersonal, and non-challenging. The difference in Black and White debating behavior can cause classroom arguments between historically underserved students and White teachers.
Whites misinterpret Black intentions to solve a disagreement and do not believe Blacks want to solve a disagreement. Requests from a Black person to a White person maybe viewed as a demand rather than a request.
The misinterpretation of Black debate cultural tendencies is the cause for Southington High School administrators misinterpreting Black debating behavior as bullying. Southington High School administrators can eliminate these misinterpretations of bullying by promoting positive racial teacher student classroom relationships.
Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships and Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology
The Raccelerate Phenomenon
Treasures of Hidden Racism in Education
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