Educator’s Response: Teacher’s Smack-Down on Black Children

I’m gonna take a different approach on this one. Before that though, let me honor this man for handling these two children exactly as he should have. Two adolescent boys squaring each other up aren’t going to pay attention to “gentle verbal warnings” or even stern ones from a seated teacher. Beyond “showing them who’s boss” however (more on that in a second), the teacher did some very important things.

  • First, he persisted until the physical threat in the situation was done.
  • Second, not only did he ‘lay a verbal smackdown’ on them, he explained to them exactly why their actions needed correction.
  • Third, he turned it into a teachable moment for the entire class about how to handle disputes properly.

My concern, in this scenario, isn’t with the teacher or his handling of the situation at all. I don’t like how this short video itself plays into the popular “get tough” / “no nonsense” / “zero tolerance” trope that we reserve for people of color, and for people with the least economic means. We often advocate for and enact these policies because we pathologize behaviors by people of color and the impoverished as a part of our unfair, ineffective, and bigoted treatment of them. Watching a man “lay down the law” with these kids appeals to the anger and intellectual violence to which so many of us want to subject them. We are so frustrated with their behavior that we want to ‘smack them down’. Oftentimes we do, and their behavior becomes compliant; maybe even self-deprecating.

But is compliance really the same thing as uplift? Who are we satisfying? The needs of the people being ‘smacked’? Or our own desires to ‘smack’ them? And what are the short-term and long-term ramifications of using intellectual and/or physical violence to force people into compliance?

Though all of us may be stoked by the fire with which this man addresses his young charges, it behooves us to also consider what happens next. If he is as effective as he appears to be in this microscopic period of time, then I’ll bet that it ended something like this…

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