What Black Lives Matter Should Protest

The group wants a teacher fired now, maybe it should change its focus.

Devin Foley | March 8, 2016

The group wants a teacher fired now, maybe it should change its focus.
What Black Lives Matter Should Protest

Recently the St. Paul, Minnesota chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) threatened to protest a local high school. Finally, one might think, BLM is getting to some root issues, such as how poorly Black students are prepared in schools. But, no, it turns out that the group just wants a teacher fired.

What did the teacher do? He spoke his opinion about discipline problems.

Now, before the offending comments by the special-education teacher are shared, you should understand that for a number of years the St. Paul Public Schools have been embroiled in a public relations nightmare of its own doing.

Fearing the “white privilege” of its teachers, the district has spent millions with a consulting firm, Pacific Educational Group (PEG), to reduce racism in the district. A slide supposedly from one such teacher-training session inspired by PEG essentially accused any white teacher of being a part of the KKK. 

The proof of racism for PEG and the district is the fact that a higher percentage of Black students are disciplined than white students. As the Pioneer Press reports:

“Last school year, 14 percent of the district’s African-American boys were suspended at least once, compared to 3.4 percent of white boys and 1.2 percent of Asian-American boys.”

To remedy the problem, St. Paul Public Schools severely restricted the abilities of teachers and administrators to discipline children, particularly young, black males. Predictably, violence within the St. Paul schools has sky-rocketed with the community being rocked most notably when a teacher suffered a traumatic brain injury after being "slammed against a wall, put in a stranglehold, and then thrown into a table and the floor.“

According to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, "the cases have almost doubled in the past year, and also represent a 60 percent increase over the previous five-year average."

Naturally, the community and the teachers are upset about the chaos and violence in the schools. Theo Olson, the special-education teacher at Como High School now targeted by Black Lives Matter clearly reached his limits and spoke out on Facebook about the problems. Black Lives Matter leader Rashad Turner took a screenshot of those comments and decided that the teacher should be fired for racism. Here are the two posts that wildly offended Black Lives Matter: 

Theo Olson appears to know exactly what’s going on in the schools and is venting his frustration with the district and its policies stripping teachers of “adult authority”. Racist? It doesn’t seem like it.

But that doesn’t seem to matter to the Black Lives Matter leader who, despite being offered an opportunity to sit down with Theo Olson, refused and just wants him fired. From the Pioneer Press:

“In an interview Friday, Turner characterized Olson’s remarks as ‘sweeping generalizations about black students.’

He said the teacher’s comments present a ‘perfect opportunity’ for the city’s Black Lives Matter chapter to turn its activism toward St. Paul Public Schools, which has far higher rates of suspensions for black and American Indian students than for their peers.

‘If all students can’t learn, they can’t be valued in the building, then no one needs to be in that building learning,’ he said of Como.

Responding on Turner’s personal Facebook page, Olson offered to speak with Turner and explain his views. Olson said he supports Black Lives Matter and that he marched with the group last fall.

‘I care deeply for all my students. Otherwise, why would I do it? We have a lot in common,’ he wrote.

Olson went on to say that rather than putting students on a path to prison, he sees himself as ‘a link of the school to opportunity and freedom pipeline.’

Turner said he has no desire to speak with Olson.”

Black Lives Matter doesn’t need to find a “perfect opportunity” to turn its activism toward St. Paul Public Schools. The Minnesota Department of Education’s data should be sufficient to start that conversation. There is an enormous disparity between how students of color are doing compared to their white peers. Consider the differences in percentages of kids who are reading at grade level in the 10th grade. 

But is racism actually causing the disparity? Is a district that is falling over itself to not offend people of color, particularly Black students and community members, and is actually telling its white teachers how racist they are and that it’s their fault that the students of color aren’t achieving, really a paragon of racism?

Maybe there’s something else at work.

What Black Lives Matter argues is the proof of racism is not primarily the disparity in achievement, but rather the disparity in discipline. In other words, more black students get in trouble and therefore the system is racist.

For a very long time now, Americans have been lead to believe that schools are the primary socializers of children. What if that’s actually not the case? What if parents are actually the primary socializers and that young children have to be socialized at home in order to do well in school? Do we really believe that a five- or six-year-old child can simply be ready to go to school, sit, listen, obey, and learn without the parents doing a lot of socialization in the preceding years?

Of course not.

There is a disparity that Black Lives Matter and the dominant cultural spokespeople refuse to address. They will talk about disparities in discipline, disparities in achievement, disparities in income, and on and on. Yet, there is almost never any mention of the enormous disparities in out-of-wedlock birthrates between the races.

After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the Minnesota Department of Health, we received the following data about out-of-wedlock birthrates in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the two counties those cities reside in – Hennepin and Ramsey, respectively. Here’s the chart:

In St. Paul, 90% of non-immigrant black children are born out of wedlock. For whites, that number hovers around 30%.

Study after study has shown that children who are in a home with both of their biological parents are much more likely to do well in school and life while also being far less prone to violence and a variety of acts of delinquency. The data at this point is irrefutable. Here’s just one recent example from the National Bureau of Economic Research:

“We find that while adolescent girls' behavior is largely independent of the presence (or absence) of their fathers, adolescent boys engage in more delinquent behavior if there is no father figure in their lives. This latter effect cannot be explained by the lack of fathers' active involvement in their sons’ lives per se, however, despite the fact that the time boys spend doing things with their fathers often does have beneficial effects. We also find a link between adult delinquent behavior and adolescent family structure that cannot be explained by fathers' involvement in doing things with their adolescent sons and is only partially explained by fathers' involvement with their adolescent daughters. Finally, the strong link between adolescent family structure and delinquent behavior is not accounted for by the income disparities associated with fathers' absence.

These results are consistent with others in the literature and underscore the complexities of designing public policies to reduce youths' delinquent behavior by strengthening their family ties.

Finally, while income maintenance programs are typically the backbone of any social assistance system, we find little evidence that higher family incomes, in and of themselves, are a panacea for solving the problems associated with youths' delinquent behavior.”

If you read the whole report and others like it, you will find that it is not wealth or spending “quality time” that decides how well kids can do in life. It is whether or not they come from a whole family, with a present father. That’s especially true for boys.

Are there advantages that come from wealth and amazing parents? Sure. But those are not the biggest determiners. 

When you have a 90% out-of-wedlock birthrate amongst blacks compared to a 30% out-of-wedlock birthrate amongst whites in the same city you are going to have different rates of behavioral problems between the races. And that will also lead to differences in educational achievement.

But Black Lives Matter doesn’t seem to want to discuss a root cause such as family breakdown. Instead, it rages against the injustices of “systemic racism” and “white privilege”.

The reality is that if Black Lives Matter wants to see black students achieve in school and life, it must turn its focus to the black family. As the family goes, so goes everything else.



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