Pushed Out: The Injustice Black Girls Face in School
“I think education is important, because nobody can take that from you,” a 16-year-old named Jennifer told Monique Morris, author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. But Jennifer hadn’t attended school regularly for years. After being raped at age 12, pushed into prostitution, bounced around foster homes, and repeatedly suspended from school, her opportunity had been lost. This story of Jennifer’s “pushout” is the story of far too many Black girls in America. In her book, Morris, co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, shares the voices and stories of these girls, and also offers specific policy recommendations and strategies for educators. Recently she talked to NEA Today about the need for educators to “lead with love.”
Let’s start with the numbers — Black girls make up 16 percent of girls in U.S. public schools, but 42 percent of girls’ expulsions and more than a third of girls’ school-based arrests. Lately we’ve seen some of those arrests in the news — I’m thinking of that child in South Carolina who was thrown across her classroom by a police officer because she wouldn’t give up her cell phone. What’s at work here? What are the forces that have made these girls targets in their schools and communities?
Monique Morris: There are zero tolerance policies in schools and school districts that have really removed the discretionary decision-making abilities of educators and administrators to respond to the core needs of students. And within this elevated climate of punishment, typical adolescent behavior, when exhibited by Black girls coming from communities under extreme surveillance, is very often misunderstood. Their actions are taken—they are misunderstood—as aggressive, even when they’re not.
What I’ve sought to do in my work is deconstruct the historical legacy that misinforms our ability to really see Black girls, and see their trauma, and see the centrality of that trauma and how it shapes how educators and institutions interact with them. There are ways that Black girls are routinely over-policed, and there are ways that Black girls’ behaviors are read as a threat to safety, even if they’re really no more aggressive than their counterparts of other racial and ethnic groups. It results in them being cast as deviant and defiant, and being cast out of school, even when they’re expressing a desire to be educated.
How early in the lives of Black girls do these issues arise?