Sparing The Rod May Save Black Kids

Clarence Page, Baltimore Sun, August 18, 2006

Washington—Preschool expulsions? It’s not a joke. It’s a tragedy.

Harvard’s Alvin Poussaint, one of the nation’s pre-eminent child psychiatrists, drew audible gasps from an audience when he brought up the topic at a recent Washington forum on the state of young African-American males.

In particular, Dr. Poussaint wondered why African-American kids are being expelled from preschool at a much higher rate than other racial or ethnic groups.

Nationally, preschool programs expel children at more than three times the rate of kindergarten-through-12th-grade programs, according to a first-of-its-kind study by Yale University’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy.

Black children were twice as likely to be expelled from preschool programs as white or Latino children, and five times as likely to be expelled as Asian-American children, the study found.

“Now, what’s going on there?” Dr. Poussaint, a black man, asked the mostly black crowd at “Paths to Success: A Forum on Young African-American Men.”

“Is racial profiling starting at age 3 or 4?” he asked. “Or is there something going on before preschool that relates to the family and the community that already is making some of these young black males unable to adapt, unable to fit, in a preschool level?”

If you thought he was about to point fingers in knee-jerk fashion at white racism, you’d be wrong. Instead, Dr. Poussaint said he believes we all should be asking where that early anger is coming from. He zeroed in on abnormally high levels of child abuse and neglect, particularly in the homes of low-income black families. His principal target was what the forum’s featured speaker, Bill Cosby, has called in his own famously blunt terms, “parents who are not parenting.”

“There’s an overuse of beating kids—corporal punishment,” Dr. Poussaint said. “So that you have 80 percent of black parents believing you should beat them—beat the devil out of them. And research shows the more you beat them, the angrier they get. It is not good discipline.”

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Spare the rod and save the child? Like a good academic, Dr. Poussaint seemed to be more comfortable with raising questions and calling for more study than with making recommendations.

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