Published by The New Press on March 29th 2016
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In October of 2015, 16-year-old Shakara was thrown from her school desk by a school resource officer because she didn’t put away her cell phone. While this recorded incident quickly gained media attention, similar situations take place in classrooms across the country on a daily basis. In her new book, Monique W. Morris explores the way black girls are often stereotyped and misunderstood by their teachers and schools, which can leave them excluded from the education they deserve.
“…a 2007 study found that teachers often perceived Black girls as being ‘loud, defiant, and precocious’ and that Black girls were more likely than their White or Latina peers to be reprimanded for being ‘unladylike’. Other research has found that the issuance of summonses and/or arrests appear to be justified by students’ display of ‘irate,’ ‘insubordinate,’ ‘disrespectful,’ ‘uncooperative,’ or ‘uncontrollable’ behavior. These labels often underscore the use of discipline, punishment, and the juvenile justice system to regulate identity and social status.”
Pushout is an absolutely eye-opening read, one that makes you gasp in some sections and whisper “Of course!” when lines are drawn in the next. I spent several years teaching in various settings, ending with two years in the juvenile correctional system, but reading Pushout was the first time I fully realized how distinct some experiences are for black girls. Those experiences are then highlighted in classroom situations, in which I could easily see former co-workers, students, and even shades of myself, in a completely new light.
“The student-teacher relationship is a critical component of whether a girl’s comments will be seen as a part of her expression and learning, or as a deliberate and willful affront to the teacher’s authority. Neither of these is against the law, by the way. Yet many schools punish girls who speak out of turn or challenge what they feel is injustice as if it were a violation of law rather than an interrogation of fairness.”
I actually underlined this with maybe the biggest YES I’ve used in a long time.
Let me throw professionalism out the window here and gush about how amazing it is to find someone doing incredible research that falls squarely in line with my interests. I’m starting a PhD program in Special Education and Disability Policy in the Fall and I’m very interested in developing interventions that help stop students with disabilities, particularly those with behavioral disorders, from being pulled into the justice system. That quote, and so much of what Dr. Morris writes about the role of teachers, is at the heart of what I want to do. The appendix was perhaps the most valuable part of the book for me as a researcher, as it lays out interventions to help black girls in schools and highlights gender/race research gaps that I’d love to explore in the future.
While I’m probably making Pushout sound like a niche read, it really can and should be read by everyone, particularly parents and educators. It even includes a fantastic Q&A section for girls, parents, community members, and educators that is incredibly valuable. I wish it had been around before I started teaching and I’d absolutely add to my Best Books for New Teachers as a must read.