A Black History Month reflection on discipline failures in child care

By Tiffany Ferrette

Here we are, another Black History Month. Given the events of 2020, it’s possible this month will cause many Black Americans to experience increased racial and systemic trauma after a year of facing several pandemics—a health crisis, an economic recession, and a racial justice reckoning from the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others. And the reality is that living in a state of pandemic is not new for the Black community. The latter pandemic—the racial justice reckoning—was laden in violence and disenfranchisement that began 402 years ago in this country.

Black History Month allows us to reflect on how the Indigenous land we live on has become a place where Black people are disproportionately punished due to systemic racism. This phenomenon pervades U.S. life, our institutions—including those providing care and education for children—and institutional policies and practices such as child discipline.

Unfortunately, Black children—as young as infants, toddlers, and preschoolers—bear the brunt of this systemic racism that shows up in disciplinary practices that harm them, their families, and our communities and broader society. These young children are too often penalized for behaviors that are within the range of what is developmentally appropriate by being excluded from group child care and early education settings. And this punishment is clearly discriminatory when considering that Black students comprise approximately 19 percent of the preschool population, yet they represent 47 percent of preschool suspensions.

This month, as we celebrate the countless ways in which Black people have contributed to our nation and made us stronger, it’s also important to reflect on the injustices we continue to face. And just like it’s best to get to the root of any problem you’re trying to solve, I believe we must address some of the earliest experiences of racism that children experience, which are too often in the earliest years. That’s why I’m passionate about the broader work I do in early childhood and specifically bringing attention to discipline practices and policies in the early years.

Over the coming months, I will explore the issue of discipline in early childhood settings. We’re kicking off the series with a new fact sheet published today. This resource traces the history of harsh discipline practices and systemic racism that dip into the earliest years of life and offers policy solutions for rooting out the problem and instituting positive change.

Read the fact sheet.