Leave Him Alone: Microaggressions in Pre-K and Elementary School

Photo: Me! All rights reserved.

Our school district has recently started a new task force looking at minority achievement. In such a resource rich district, but also with many social inequalities, its unsurprising but still really angering that we have disparities in the rate of college readiness, standardized test scores, and simply personal experiences. The number of times I’ve heard truly devastating stories of how kids are treated based on their racial, ethnic, or linguistic background is simply appalling in a school district that touts how progressive it is.

The creation of the task force got me thinking (as always) about my family’s experiences here. My children are in the second and third grades (and another a few years behind them), and we’ve been dealing with little things — microaggressions — since we started here four years ago. Microaggressions, a term coined by Dr. Chester M. Pierce, a professor of education and psychiatry at Harvard University, in the 1970s, refers to  “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.” I believe that my children’s teachers believed they were helping my kids — and my husband and I as parents. But their words and actions did a lot more harm than they realized.

Here’s a sampling of our experiences, from my point of view when they occurred:

  • My four-year-old boy is clumsy, so that he needs occupational therapy because otherwise he won’t be able to compete in sports when he gets older. (Who said he wanted to compete in sports? And can I mention that now, at nine, he’s great at basketball, flag football, bike-riding and rip-sticking?)
  • My five-year-old boy is not putting enough effort into kindergarten because he doesn’t use more than three colors in his drawing. (I didn’t even know what to say to this. Is using more than two colors a skill kindergartners need to know?)
  • My six-year-old is checked out in class, so he’s sent outside to sit, by himself, in order to recenter. (This one made me mad. Best believe the teacher, the principal, and I had a heated discussion about this one. Turns out — wait for it — he was bored. Reading on 3rd grade level in first grade and his math skills where above everyone else’s.)
  • My seven-year-old needs a student-study-team (precursor to special education) because he verbally snapped at a kid who was bothering him and keeping him from doing his work. (She almost got cussed out. Jesus took hold of my tongue that day.)
  • My eight-year-old needs articulation therapy because he failed the 3rd grade articulation screening. (What? Now he can’t even be an articulate black boy??) But the teacher said she didn’t notice it in class. (So why does he, the child who scores gifted on his verbal IQ, need articulation?)
  • My six-year-old girl gets a report card with nothing but negative comments (She doesn’t take criticism well, she’s stubborn, she’s sometimes verbally aggressive with her classmates). Many of the other kids got no comments on their report card, but my child’s was riddled with only negatives? (Again, she, the principal and I had a long talk about this one.)

And my kids’ experiences aren’t all that bad. Another friend’s sixth grader got pulled out of class by a truant officer (who he thought was a police man) for bullying a kid that said he couldn’t go to school because of my friend’s child. But the boy always missed school — that’s why he had a truant officer assigned to him — and only him. It was another excuse not to go to school. Another friend was told by a teacher that her child couldn’t be gifted because she didn’t act up in class. Other friends have been told — in elementary school — that their kid was never going to be an engineer (because they weren’t “good” at math) or aren’t even college material.

Sometimes our kids, especially the young ones, are oblivious to these slights. We try to protect them, to shield them. But we, as parents, don’t have a shield. The best we can do is to ignore it, but that is obviously not the answer. I’ve cried an ocean of tears over how my children are treated, and then even more because I don’t know if anywhere else is going to be better. I stay with the evil I know in order to avoid the evil I don’t know.

But I’m hopeful that the task force is going to get to the bottom of some of these issues. I have a number of friends on the committee, people I know who care sincerely about equity. A good friend even won a school board spot, so the tide may be turning our way. But we can’t be sure, because, honestly, there are a lot more people who want to say, “But how do you know it was about race?” than “I’m so sorry that happened to you — what can we do to make it better?” Our new superintendent is trying to make headway, but the forces that be around here are powerful — and highly resourced.

All I want is for my children to go to school, learn and be safe. Teach them, and then leave them alone.

7 thoughts on “Leave Him Alone: Microaggressions in Pre-K and Elementary School

  1. Our school district has a similar task force, but that doesn’t make dealing with these incidents on a regular basis any less frustrating. My eldest is in high school, so education based microagressions are something we’re quite familiar with. I think one of the most offensive was being asked by my then first grader’s teacher if she had books to read at home. The most harmful ones have come at the hands of fairly new educators who mistake the regular play and behavior of young children for ADHD. We even homeschooled for a year partially due to what I felt was lack of response by teachers and staff to our family’s concerns. I used to keep a log of all such events but it eventually became too depressing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      My big concern is that they never stop coming — no matter how much I complain, no matter how much I suggest anti-bias training, no matter how much I show that I’m not going to stand for this mess — it never ends. I also (briefly) considered home schooling, but I have neither the resources or the patience to do so. So kudos to you!

      Keeping a log is a great idea. I’ll be sure to start doing it. At the very least, it will show that I’m not crazy.


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