Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

I remember sitting at the dinner table with my parents at 8 years old. During that season, the “no elbows on the table” rule was in full force. In addition, my mother constantly chided me for using slang as opposed to proper English. Those 3-4 years seemed like hell on earth, Nonetheless, years later, I could trace my success in school to my family dinner table and a few great teachers. My parents always said, “For a black man to do half as well, he must be twice as good!” For them, education was almost a “sacred privilege” which had been denied my ancestors because of the black and Native American social status.

Today, I am shocked by the almost unfathomable swing from my black community’s sense of excellence and purpose to an entitlement mentality.

Not long ago, both the Washington Post and the New York Times reported a growing national trend: black students are suspended and expelled from school at 2-5 times the rate of white students. Both articles highlighted the unintended bias of teachers and administrators, zero-tolerance school discipline policies and school leadership styles as possible causes for this development, and undoubtedly they are contributing factors. But I wonder whether forcing teachers to sit through another mandatory sensitivity seminar or lobbying to relax school discipline policies will improve the long term prospects of black students in America?

Five years ago, Harvard’s Dr. Alvin Poussaint courageously addressed the elephant in the living room when he brought up the role that parents and the family play in the success or failure of black students. Dr. Poussaint discussed a shocking study by Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy which noted that black children were expelled from pre-school at twice the rate of white children and 5 times the rate of Asian children. Clearly, if discipline issues show up in children as young as 3 or 4, the school is not entirely to blame.

Unfortunately, when those obsessed with political correctness are forced to confront the importance of the family and parenting, they brilliantly miss the forest for the trees. They overlook the obvious problems of out-of-wedlock births and fatherless homes in search of elusive “root causes.” Even Dr. Poussaint, despite his brilliance, actually blamed the practice of corporal punishment for the misbehavior of some black children in preschool. Black parents are more likely to spank their children than white parents. In addition, columnist Clarence Page responded with an article entitled “Sparing the Rod May Save Black Kids.” Like so many critics of corporal punishment, both men failed to distinguish between physical abuse and controlled physical chastisement.

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.