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Education for the Liberation of Black and Brown Girls

by Monique W. Morris

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-62097-399-8
Publisher: The New Press

A field manual that shows how to keep black girls in school and out of prison.

Morris (Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, 2016, etc.) begins with a promising idea: that blues songs are a musical underground railroad or conduit to freedom. The author, the co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, suggests that artists like Billie Holiday—whose work expresses both pain and power—can “help educators, parents, students, and community members reimagine schools as places that counter the criminalization of Black and Brown girls” or interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that sets up those girls for lives stunted by incarceration. After her introduction, however, Morris uses the blues mainly as a clothesline on which she hangs an assortment of school-based strategies that foster “educational justice.” Building on the ideas in Pushout, she argues that black female students are disproportionately harmed by exclusionary discipline measures like suspension and expulsion and need “safe learning spaces.” In her most provocative chapter, she recommends removing police from schools and praises a San Diego school that instead uses older women (fondly called “the grandmothers”) as proctors or hall monitors. Morris also favors restorative justice programs, transformative mentoring initiatives, and in-school suspensions in soothing rooms with “a Maker’s Corner” that lets girls calm down with tactile activities. Useful as such tactics might be in some schools, the author can be a harsh judge of teachers whose methods she faults. The text is heavy on left-leaning educational jargon about such things as the “patriarchal, heteronormative, Eurocentric nature of most pedagogical approaches and academic content,” which schools might buffer by offering weekly discussion groups “that engage girls in Black feminist theory.” Morris is certainly right that teachers should examine their biases, but the presentation of her material may limit the audience to readers who work in education.

A forward-thinking vision likely to appeal most to school decision-makers with progressive views.