In this part of Dan and Larry’s discussion, they talk about the importance of understanding adolescent development and how fear and stereotyping can play into disproportionate discipline. See previous installments here.
Larry: In our work we talk about both developmental and cultural competence. Among people who work with adolescents, there may be a lack of understanding of what is developmentally appropriate for pre-adolescents and teenagers. That includes a lot of behaviors that can push adults’ buttons. It’s a time when young people need to feel like they have ways of being powerful, so getting into power struggles is a natural part of what happens in adolescence. It’s incumbent upon teachers to figure out how not to get into power struggles.
Dan: Data from our report show that if you compare the elementary school suspension rates with the middle school and the high school rates, you see this huge difference. Middle school out-of-school suspension is more than twice as likely for every racial group and sometimes three, four, five times more likely, depending on which group you are looking at, than at the elementary school level. So I think the data support that the likelihood of schools using a developmentally appropriate lens probably decreases as kids get older and are changing dramatically.
Larry: In elementary school, there is more of a natural propensity to think of a whole child. Often by middle and especially high school, teachers are passionate about their subject matter. That may be what brought them into teaching. So there may not be as much of an affinity for learning to relate to students, especially those who are really different from them. All of that can be learned, but it takes time and intention.
Dan: We hear that black male students are thought of as older than they are. This racial stereotype might inform bias and may become more intense as kids get older. A sense of danger may be more likely to inform your perspective of what it’s going on or whether an intervention is needed when kids get older. That is probably why kids at that age are more likely to get suspended or expelled and face harsher treatment.