The Los Angeles Times recently printed an article about a lawsuit against the Compton Unified School District for failing to address the learning needs of students who experienced “complex trauma.” Although the Compton Unified School District might have some characteristics distinct from any school district in North Carolina, children who experience “complex trauma” more often represent a diverse ethnic group who receive free or reduced-price lunch or are English language learners.
Statewide scores on Common Core standards recently released by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction show the results for poor black and brown children were abysmal.
A number of poor black and brown children experience inequalities in our public schools systems that are confounded by disruptive neighborhoods and fragile family relationships. Collectively, these experiences can be traumatic and induce stressors that inhibit a child’s ability to focus, retain and process information, and remain in school. When poor black and brown children continue to encounter abuse, whether psychological or physical, it has tremendous effects on their ability to learn, interfering with the way they process information and accomplish tasks.
Requiring these children to remain seated and complete a test by filling in a bubble negates these experiences and continues to perpetuate a false narrative about the intellectual inferiority of poor black and brown children.
The lawsuit against the Compton Unified School District may be a wake-up call for many school districts across the United States and here in North Carolina. Will North Carolina and other states quietly watch on the sidelines the play-by-play of this lawsuit, anxiously anticipating the outcomes in order to act? Or will North Carolina begin to examine factors deeply leading to the longstanding history of academic failure among poor black and brown children?
We are at a critical stage in education. Our ability to understand how poverty and trauma affect the brain can potentially guide new developments in the way we design curriculum and schools. Our history demonstrates a continued fight to achieve equality and equity in our education system. We can no longer return to our “business as usual” model and continue to allow black and brown children to fail.
Dr. Dawn X. Henderson is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Winston-Salem State University.