This post was written by NCTE member Grace Eunhye Lee.
The relationship between school culture and discipline practices should be designed to support all students. As an English teacher I believe in the power of social-emotional learning through literature. I strive to make sure, as NCTE’s Statement on Anti-Racism to Support Teaching and Learning states, that my students “have access to an education that is free of racism, bias, and other forms of bigotry.”
In many instances, school discipline policies work against this aim. That’s why it’s particularly unfortunate that the Trump Administration decided to rescind Obama-era discipline guidance.
While it was not perfect, this school discipline guidance recommended approaches that would enhance school climate. Such guidance could create positive, safe school environments through a community of practice lens. Schools and communities could collaborate in addressing exclusion and expulsion issues through a restorative justice approach. Such approaches are also recommended in NCTE’s Resolution on Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
The Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, Bobby Scott, addressed the decision to rescind this guidance as an effort that will “undermine access to a quality education for students of color and students with disabilities. The guidance was issued to help schools address the troubling and undeniable evidence that Black students, boys, and students with disabilities receive harsher punishments than their classmates for similar or lesser offenses, without jeopardizing students’ safety. Rescinding the guidance will stall, if not reverse, our progress toward addressing these disparities.”
This may be true, but educators can use their own platforms to advocate for a restorative approach. We as educators are the forerunners in promoting justice and safe learning environments for every single student regardless of their personal background.
It’s now more important than ever to share resources like NCTE’s Statement on Anti-Racism to Support Teaching and Learning, which includes the following recommendations:
In order to ensure that all individuals have access to an education that is free of racism, bias, and other forms of bigotry, and to support the intellectual development and growth of students from early childhood education to university studies, the NCTE Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English recommends that English language arts educators
- actively identify and challenge individual or systemic acts of racism and other forms of discrimination and bigotry in educational institutions and within our profession, exposing such acts through external communications and publications.
- express strong declarations of solidarity with people of diverse human and cultural backgrounds to eradicate forms of racism, bias, and prejudice in spaces of teaching and learning.
- promote not only cultural diversity and expanding linguistic knowledge, but explicitly push for anti-racism by participating in ongoing professional development for educators to succeed in countering racism and other forms of bigotry.
- support the enforcement of laws and policies that provide sanctions against racial and ethnic discrimination in education. Also, advocate for legislative reform that will lead to policies that provide sanctions against discrimination in education based on race, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, class, mental and physical abilities, nationality, migrant, immigrant, and refugee status.
Grace Eunhye Lee is a current NCTE Kent D. Williamson Policy Fellow, a teacher at Hinckley-Big Rock Middle School in Big Rock, Illinois, and a graduate student at the University of Illinois.