For minority students, the punishments they receive from their teachers are consistently more severe than those used against their white peers. Astonishingly, African-American students are three times as likely to be suspended from school as their white peers for minor infractions including tardiness and talking. The result of this discipline gap is that black and Latino boys spend more time out of school through multiple suspensions, something that is also known as the “school pushout.” Since school suspension is closely linked to dropout rates, it is no surprise that only 52 percent of black teenage boys and 58 percent of Latinos graduate from high school, compared to 78 percent of their white peers. These boys desperately need a Malala-style advocate of their own. And if they get one, it’s not only these boys who will benefit, but everyone else too.
Additionally, low-income communities stand to make substantial social gains: Higher education levels are associated with lower incidences of preventable, chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart issues. And since the educational attainment of parents impacts the achievement of their children, the benefits continue from generation to generation, breaking the cycle of poverty.
Which brings me back to Malala. Statistics do not drive change, especially when they reveal something which runs counter to cultural expectations. To U.S. citizens, Malala is not arguing for anything radical. The proposition that girls should attend school and contribute to the economy makes sense. However, in her native Pakistan, Malala’s demands are far more controversial. Although there is some support for girls' education, proponents like Malala must challenge entrenched cultural beliefs about the way girls do, can, and should spend their time.
Like Malala and her friends, minority boys in the United States have a lot to offer society, but the discipline gap suggests at least some parts of society are having a hard time seeing this. Just as girls in Pakistan deserve a fair chance to reach their potential, so do our minority boys. These young boys need and deserve an engaging, appealing advocate to act as an agent for change and to counteract the discipline gap and the “school pushout.”
The minority boys of our country need their own Malala.
Wenna Price is an independent education consultant with a background in teaching, teacher training, and curriculum design. Reach her via email or Twitter.