Education

Do African Americans have a cultural dilemma that affects how children behave at school?

200342853ccfa4d08f66bd9a5f2d0159By Nehemiah D. Frank 

Do children, who receive spankings at home but not at school, misbehave in the classroom more because they know that school administrators can’t give them spankings? 

It’s a thought-provoking question that I’ve always pondered for years. 

If you’re from the South and an African American, you’ve probably experienced a ‘good-ole’ fashion rear-end whoppin’ from either your parents, an aunt or uncle, and maybe even a grandparent. 

I can personally and unashamedly say that I’ve had my butt spanked from nearly all of my aunts, uncles, and three out of the four of my grandparents.

I can remember the first time that I received a spanking from my grandmother.

I was playing on the phone one summer at her house and called 911. When a voice came through the other end, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my tiny trembling body. I quickly placed the phone back onto the hook. I tightly squeezed my eyes shut and uttered a quick little prayer to God in hopes that my action of placing the Victorian-styled telephone back on the hook would rewind time and usher an end to my little kid worries.

Not even a minute later, the phone rang again. It was the 911 operator; however, I didn’t have enough sense to pick up the phone and tell the dispatcher that there wasn’t an emergency.

I was seven-years-old.

Suddenly, I heard the voice of my grandmother answering the telephone from a nearby room.

“Hello,” she answered. Then there was a slight pause. “There is no emergency here,” my grandmother replied.

I remember the slight bell sound that the phone made when she placed it back onto the hook in the other room. 

I didn’t make a sound. For I knew, what I had done was wrong. I hoped there wouldn’t be a consequence, but I assumed that there would be.

“Nehemiah?” she summoned in an agitated tone.

I slothfully began picking up all of my Legos, which I had scattered across her living room floor. I slowly placed them one by one as to procrastinate my coming scolding.

“I’m not going to tell you again. Come here, Nehemiah,” she sternly said.

I stood up and walked into the kitchen where she usually could be found reading the newspaper and drinking coffee.

Then, the moment of judgment arrived.

“Did you call 911?” My grandmother gently asked.

“Yes,” I terrifyingly replied.

She explained to me that I would be receiving a spanking for calling 911 when there wasn’t an emergency. She laid me across her lap and delivered the judgment.

That day I learned that grandma didn’t ‘play.’

The funny thing is I never thought about playing on the phone and calling 911 at my parents’ house because I knew that I’d get my a$$ beat; however, I somehow thought that I was immune from receiving spankings from my grandmother. In my mind, I had convinced myself that she was too sweet and old to spank me.

Boy, I was wrong.

From that moment on, I maintained near perfect behavior around both of my grandparents because I knew that just like my parents, aunts, and uncles, Nonnie and Papa didn’t play.

I never redialed 911 until adulthood — after I recused an unconscious woman from a flipped-over and burning vehicle.

I was 22-years of age. 

When I was five, I remember throwing a pebble at my kindergarten teacher. I don’t know why I threw the pebble, but I managed to land the tiny rock in her left eye.

She was reading “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and continued seemingly unmoved by my mischievous action.

I didn’t even feel remorse for what I had done, and she never told my parents.

I received no rebuke or disciplinary action from the school. Perhaps that’s why I continued as a problem child, being suspended for fighting in school several times between elementary and middle school. 

I knew that my teachers couldn’t spank me like my parents could. Furthermore, the teachers and school would seldom call home for minor infractions. 

I eventually grew out of the teacher-terrorizing stage. Nevertheless, teachers and students have to put up with misbehavior all the time, adolescents that prevent other students from learning and affects high teacher turnover. 

Use of spanking differs across racial and education groups

African Americans statistically spank their children at higher rates than any other racial group in America. At home, Black kids are more likely to behave because they know that their parents may “open up a can of whoop a$$ on ’em.” 

If corporal punishment is the harshest of penalties that a child can receive, and its what a child regularly receives at home, perchance taking away classroom privileges and giving in-school suspension is tantamount to a slap on the wrist — thus they may continue to misbehave.

It’s a thought-provoking question that we as a community haven’t dealt with enough. After all, Black children statistically are suspended at higher rates than any other racial group in America.

Do we, African Americans, have a cultural dilemma that affects how children behave at school? How do we change in-school behavior when our kids receive harsher punishments at home and less at school? 

Here are a few more articles about corporal punishments:

Spanking is part of Black culture 

Parenting in America


lip_9760Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018. Nehemiah has recently been appointed to the Community Advisory Board at the Tulsa World.

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Categories: Education