March 9, 2021

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

A book reflection and a love story

In my commitment to 12 books in 12 months for 2021, adding Pushout to the book list was a no-brainer for me.

As a restorative practitioner, much of the last half of my teaching career was dedicated to making restorative justice processes accessible to my students - the students who so often really wanted to do well, who really wanted to be at school, who really wanted to experience success and be seen for their worth and contributions, but were caught in a web of odds stacked against them. 

And I saw how time and time again, one foot in the suspension door often led to bodies in court schools and juvenile detention facilities. 

And I witnessed how much of the school and district efforts were put toward helping the boys - like special prevention and intervention programs - and I watched as our middle school girls were so often neglected, disregarded, and left to fend for themselves. Some were passionate and energetic while others were quiet and subdued, like they were trying to hide, but all of them were struggling with the pressures of survival, having to take care of themselves and their siblings, while also trying to navigate the complications and changes puberty brought on. 

Too many of my girls slept in the park or a friend’s closet. Too many of my girls were left alone to take care of their younger siblings, to figure out how to feed and care for them when there was no money for groceries or the gas/electric bills to cook the food if they had any. Too many of my girls boiled water and drank that for dinner. Too many of my girls were kicked out of their classrooms and their homes. Too many of my girls were hypersexualized by their peers, their families, their teachers and the adults in their lives. Too many of my girls were sexually abused, assaulted and raped. 

Too many of my girls were never given a chance. 

So yeah, reading Pushout was a no-brainer. And as Mankaprr Contech and Melisa Harris-Perry state in the foreword:

Pushout is not sentimental. It is necessary and inspiring, infuriating and redeeming. And it is a love story.

Filled with narratives and the stories captured in Monique Morris’s research, compiled from years of interviewing girls across the country, Pushout is most definitely a love story.

This book is rich and dense, thoroughly unpacking the messy complexities of race and gender and it’s harsh impact on Black girls that lead to and fortify strategic and structured pathways that both push and pull girls out of school.

For me, there were several themes throughout the book that really resonated, that explained a lot in very clear and evidence-backed ways, and that could be mirrored and reinforced by my own teaching experiences:

  • The capacity of educators to both harm and heal
  • The misplaced responsibility on girls to cover up rather than on boys to learn how to respectfully value girls as human beings
  • The real costs and internalized impacts of punitive discipline systems and approaches
  • How gender adds an added layer to racism that shapes our girls and their ability to access to success
  • How intersectionality - gender non-conforming, disabilities and special needs - increases invisibility and strengthens the pathways to confinement

All of these themes are intricately woven throughout the book, so thoroughly examined with years of research and evidenced with a national history, that I found myself constantly saying “yes”, “yup”, “that’s right”, and “holy shit” because it is all so prominently evident in our professional experiences as educators. And I had to admit to all the times I was a player in the game, too, validating systems of oppression through something as lame as a dress code.

Basically, Pushout is a must read for any educator or administrative leader, any youth influencer or youth supporter, parent or guardian. And not just if you teach or parent girls. This is a must read for anyone taking those roles for boys, too.

We get to seriously look at how we adultify and reinforce adultification bias in our daily lives, how we continue to just “let boys be boys” and place all the responsibility on girls to know how to behave appropriately, and how to take care of others first and not prioritize themselves and their own needs and dreams.  

Why you should read this book if you haven’t already:

  • To truly understand how something as simple as dress codes create pathways to confinement
  • To be able to hear these girls stories in their voices and from their perspectives, and to have those stories accompanied by an examination from the author
  • To have access to the insanely generous Appendices that include resources, considerations, and alternative approaches, and a brilliant Q&A for Black girls, community members, parents and educators.

When you’re done reading it or if you’ve read it already, then hit me up and share with me what your big takeaways are, how you see all these things playing out in your role as an educator and/or parent, and what shifts so you see possible for the girls you serve.

Tina Medina
Lead Visionary of VIBE Movement and mom to two amazing girls