NRO Paints Black Students As Criminals With Poor Impulse Control

Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP

National Review Online's Heather Mac Donald attempted to justify her irresponsible and false claims about black students by highlighting the story of a 14-year-old boy accused of murder, conflating the story with recent data on racial disparities in school discipline and absurdly claiming that the story is evidence that black students do not suffer from discrimination. 

In March, Mac Donald, who has a history of racially charged rhetoric, wrote an NRO column that misleadingly conflated the disproportionately high rates of suspension for black students with crime rate statistics and "family breakdown." The column also highlighted the story of 14-year-old Kahton Anderson, who was arrested for the shooting death of a 39-year-old bus passenger, to paint black children as inherently more likely to commit crimes, asking, "Did anyone doubt the race of the killer, even though the media did not disclose it?" later claiming it is "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive in class."

In an April 4 post, Mac Donald again highlighted the Anderson story, saying, "Naturally, he was raised by a single mother" and using information reported by The New York Times which she claimed "is a case study in everything that the civil-rights complex assiduously denies." Mac Donald went on to portray Anderson as being representative of black youth in general:

The bus shooting was hardly unusual. Gunfire among these warring crews is routine; one crew member was shot to death last July. And as in Kahton's case, the lack of impulse control that results in such mindless violence on the streets unavoidably shows up in the classroom as well. It defies common sense that a group with such high rates of lawlessness outside school would display model behavior inside school. Multiply Anderson's homicide several-hundred-fold, and you get the nearly ten to one disparity between the murder rate among 14- to 17-year-old black males and that of their white and Hispanic male peers combined. Multiply his classroom infractions several-hundred-thousand-fold, and you get the three-to-one suspension disparity that so agitates the civil-rights and education establishments. 

Mac Donald blamed "the constant pressure from the Obama administration and the civil-rights establishment" for creating an atmosphere where law-abiding students are "prevented from learning by the uncontrolled chaos in their classrooms, and the victims of criminals who never learned to master their impulses." She also linked to a study conducted by University of Indiana psychology professor Russell Skiba which found that students of color were disciplined for infractions that were more "subjective" than their white counterparts. Mac Donald interpreted the study to claim it provided evidence that racial discrimination was not the cause of higher suspension rates among black students:

Skiba's schema was meaningless on a number of fronts. Try telling a teacher being threatened with physical retaliation that her plight is merely "subjective." But even if one were to accept his strained distinction between objective and subjective offenses and its universal applicability, it doesn't mean that the allegedly "subjective" offenses for which black students were disciplined were not serious violations of classroom order, jeopardizing the ability of other students to learn. And Kahton Anderson shows why these so-called subjective offenses like "disrespectful chatter" and insubordination matter beyond the classroom, regardless of the perpetrator's race: They are a manifestation of deeper problems of self-control and the response to authority. As with the broken-window theory of crime, they need to be addressed in the hope of preventing more serious infractions stemming from a student's lack of self-discipline.

In fact, Skiba explained his finding clearly, writing that the "results of this study were consistent with a large body of previous research" on racial overrepresentation of students of color in school discipline, and recommending teacher training as one possible method to reduce the disparity.

In summary, the data from this investigation describe a robust pattern in which black students are suspended disproportionately due primarily to a higher rate of office referral. Socioeconomic differences in this sample were not entirely robust across varying methodology, and gender differences appeared to be to some extent explainable by large differences in behavior between boys and girls. Yet the large and consistent black overrepresentation in office referral and school suspension was not explainable by either SES or racial differences in behavior. Rather, racial disparities in school suspension appear to find their origin primarily in the disproportionate rate of office referral for African- American Students. Significantly different patterns of referrals suggest that black students are more likely to be referred to the office for more subjective reasons.

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Teacher training in appropriate and culturally competent methods of classroom management is likely, then, to be the most pressing need in addressing racial disparities in school discipline.

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