In a recent article, the Hillsborough Public Schools has developed a plan to respond to several civil rights complaints. The complaints are from parents and civil rights activists who believe that the school district could better serve their children and youth. Public schools will need to better prepare in the area of school discipline processing to avoid the pitfalls associated with civil rights complaints. According to the article, the Hillsborough Public Schools has responded to civil rights complaints by developing a plan to reduce suspensions that appear to be racially motivated. Many of the civil rights complaints against the school district are filed by individual parents even though a complaint can be filed online by any concerned individual.

Many of the civil rights complaints against schools is centered on school discipline. In 2014, the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights received a record-high 9,989 complaints from people who felt they or others had been discriminated against by a public school or other organizations that receive funding from the education department.

This places schools in a different predicament because they will have to prepare to remain under the racism radar. One way for schools to better prepare for civil rights complaints is to train teachers on the verbal and nonverbal differences that can cause civil rights complaints.

What are the verbal communication differences that can lead to civil rights complaints?

Black verbal communication styles can influence teacher-student classroom relationships. White Americans’ unfamiliarity with the Black communication style results in a misunderstanding by the American mainstream. For example, Blacks not only debate the idea; they also debate the person while Whites debate the idea rather than the person debating the idea. Blacks will often probe beyond a statement to determine where a person is “coming from,” in order to clarify the meaning and value of a particular behavior or attitude. Black students contrast White middle-class communication when they speak over others’ voices and repeat the communication until they are responded to or until they have someone’s attention. In the Black community, spontaneity in conversation is an acceptable component of communication. Other races perceive interrupting another speaker in conversation as rude. In the Black community the speaker and audience are often interchangeable.

Black communities accept the approach that their children use by interrupting others or speaking out of turn, which is an unacceptable school practice, and teachers view this behavior as disruptive and inappropriate. Anglo Americans place a high value on allowing one person at a time to speak to indicate respect for an individual.

What are the nonverbal communication differences that can lead to civil rights complaints?

Nonverbal classroom communication is more important than verbal classroom behavior. Nonverbal communication contributes significantly to communicative interpersonal interactions when compared to verbal communication. Nonverbal communication has greater significance than verbal communication that results from nonverbal communication, having a greater impact in:

  • Determining interpersonal context meaning
  • When accurately determining feelings and emotions
  • When revealing meanings and intentions that are deception and distortion free
  • When attaining high-quality communications that represent a much more effective communication medium
  • Represent a more suitable means of communication when compared to verbal communication

One example of how nonverbal behavior impacts the relationships between a teacher and students that can lead to a civil rights complaints is standing distance. Colleges teach teachers to ensure there is a distance between themselves and the students so the teacher can maintain discipline in the classroom.

The problems surfaces as different standing distance requirement. For example, European Americans are more likely to have close social distance with Mexican Americans when compared to Blacks and prefer to keep their personal space at arm’s length. Hispanic Americans stand close to or side by side instead of face-to-face when talking to another person. Hispanic Americans stand 6 to 8 inches within an arm’s length when talking to another person. Latinos interact at a close distance and frequently touch one another. Latino Americans prefer closer standing distances when compared to North Americans. Blacks are more likely to touch each other in a conversation when compared to Whites. Individuals who perceive a proximity violator as someone who will provide them with negative rewards will react negatively when the proximity violator moves closer. Maintaining the appropriate or comfortable proximity is associated with a positive effect, friendship, and attraction which has a direct impact on schools discipline.

Even though the differences in verbal and nonverbal communication in the article are not exhaustive, schools can monitor teacher behavior to ensure that they remain under the racism radar by additional teachers training as described and by utilizing the Raccelerate Racism Formula.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.

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Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships and Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology

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