Left to right: Karen Webber, Taylor Branch, Edward Fergus and Marc Steiner.
Karen E. Webber, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Education and Youth Development program was a featured presenter at the Alliance for Community Teachers and Schools (ACTS) event, “Racial Justice in Urban Education: Celebrating 5 Years of Transformational Practice in Urban Schools.”
Webber was joined by Pulitzer Prize winning author and OSI board member Taylor Branch and Edward Fergus, PhD, associate professor at NYU School of Education. Webber opened her comments by making a plea to “bring humanity back into schools” – a sentiment that was echoed by her co-panelists. Creating positive school climates with progressive discipline practices and a restorative approach to student behavior have numerous positive effects, like strengthening relationships between students and adults and creating a sense of community in the school. Overly harsh discipline practices that emphasize suspensions, combined with an implicit bias toward poor and African American children, create toxic school environments that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline.
Dr. Fergus talked about educators engaging in efforts to “punish the poverty out of children,” by castigating them for displaying behaviors, dress styles, and/or attitudes that were viewed as products of impoverishment. Webber concurred by stating, “We’ve all been taught that Black students are threatening which leads to the use of overly punitive discipline practices in schools where Black children are in the majority. When I learned how to employ practices that restored rather than punished student behavior – I opened the door to those children receiving a true education.”
Taylor Branch offered profound historical context for today’s continuing struggle to provide African American students with equitable and appropriate educational opportunities. Branch contradicted the oft held belief that poor black families and children were not interested in obtaining an education and provided historical insight into the African American community’s thirst for education – even at the risk of extreme loss – that dates back to slavery. Judge Andre Davis, also an OSI board member, closed the discussion by stating that education in America had yet to be deemed a fundamental right under law and encouraged the audience to ensure that it becomes one.
Listen to audio of the discussion here.