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Have You Slugged Your Kid Today?

If you haven’t, then someone else’s kid may do it for you. That most distinguished Marylander, anti-slavery orator and author Frederick Douglass, would be disgusted at newly-approved Maryland State school discipline policies that forbid measures having a “disproportionate impact on minorities.”  The State Board of Education promotes instead a “rehabilitative discipline philosophy” that would supposedly enable more students to stay in school and graduate.

According to the Board’s analyses, most suspensions requiring students to leave the school building do not involve violence but infractions ranging from insubordination to cell phone violations.  More than half of suspensions statewide involve African American students. (News reports about the suspensions do not mention that tutoring is mandatory for such students—they are not prevented from having an education.) The most violent students could still be expelled.

The State Board, admitting it doesn’t yet have evidence to support any claim of “disproportionate impact” on minorities or the funding to determine such disparities, is opposed to it anyway. All school districts ultimately identified as having “disproportionate impact” policies on minorities must develop one to three-year plans to reduce and eliminate them.

Douglass, a man who experienced the brutality of slavery, would be appalled at yet another attempt to use race as an excuse for misbehavior. “Give the negro fair play and let him alone.” On justice for blacks, with their history of appalling bondage, Douglass responded, “If he fails then, let him fail!”  In contrast to the brutality of the slave-breaker, this new policy cripples minorities through evading the most elementary responsibilities.

The former slave state of Maryland has still not yet left this legacy that makes blacks dependent now on a bureaucracy. Though more from good-will than from malice, these and other minority-focused policies attempt the impossible—to undo the past.  Thus, Douglass concluded that “The nearest approach to justice to the negro for the past is to do him justice in the present.”

Most disheartening of all to Douglass, the new Maryland policy is supported in an Executive Order from President Obama, signed two days after the Maryland decision on July 26, 2012, an “Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.” This executive order (about which much more could be said) seeks higher achievement for black students at all levels, K-12 and college, who, as a group, trail their peers.

The 6th goal of the order opposes “disparate use of disciplinary tools” and thus supports the new Maryland approach, through

(vi) reducing the dropout rate of African American students and helping African American students graduate from high school prepared for college and a career, in part by promoting a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools, and by supporting successful and innovative dropout prevention and recovery strategies that better engage African American youths in their learning, help them catch up academically, and provide those who have left the educational system with pathways to reentry.

One wonders whether the President favors racially segregated disciplinary and educational strategies? Why wouldn’t this approach, and the approach of the entire Executive Order, justify racially segregated schools?

While we cannot say for certain that Douglass would advocate whipping the School Board, any statistics-driven approach to justice is likely to produce injustice. Should girls be punished more than boys, to meet these norms? Should disciplinary actions against Asian-American students increase in order to meet the required racial quotas? Or will fewer problems involving black students be reported?  “Is our children learning?” Well, students of all races had better learn to protect themselves—or at least learn to keep quiet in the face of asocial behavior.

The other most notable Marylander, next to Douglass, is Chief Justice Roger Taney, who authored the infamous Dred Scott decision. He asserted that the founders believed that blacks had no rights whites were bound to respect—that is, they were not responsible for their actions. Taney would look upon the Maryland school discipline doctrine and the Obama executive order and sneer, “Douglass, my side is still winning.” It is our duty as Americans to answer for Frederick Douglass and all Americans.

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