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Rich Milner Delivers Brown Lecture Centered on Disrupting Punitive Practices and Policies

AACTE member H. Richard (Rich) Milner, IV, a leading scholar of urban education and teacher education, recently delivered the 15th Annual Brown Lecture in Education Research sponsored by the American Educational Research Association. The Annual Brown Lecture in Education Research is designed to feature the important role of research in advancing understanding of equality and equity in education. Each year, a distinguished scholar notable for producing significant research related to equality in education is invited to give a public lecture in Washington, D.C.

Milner is currently the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair of Education and professor of education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University. His lecture, “Disrupting Punitive Practices and Policies: Rac(e)ing Back to Teaching, Teacher Preparation, and Brown,” focused on research on the practices and policies that implicitly or overtly punish rather than support the development of students of color.

In his talk, Milner addressed three primary themes:

  1. Conflated discipline and punishment practices – Stressing that discipline and punishment are not synonymous, Milner called for a shift in the language used to discuss exclusionary practices. “The punishment practices I describe in this talk are reflective of broader policies and politics advancing a ‘law and order’ orientation to human behavior and experience,” he said. "Educators try to control the bodies and minds of students and they are too often treated more like criminals than developing human beings.”

    Milner referred to research by Russell Skiba. “[He] found that office referrals tend to originate in the classroom and that children of color are punished for subjective infractions while white children are referred for objective ones,” Milner explained. “These punishment practices manifest and contribute to a school to prison pipeline that should cause any of us to be morally and ethically energized to do something.”

  2. Brown [vs. the Board of Education decision] was about the curriculum because it was about who gets to teach whom – During his address, Milner asked the audience, “Have you ever been in a classroom where you felt disconnected from what is being taught? Or have you ever wondered why aspects of history, indigenous and diasporic knowledge, as educational researcher Cynthia Dillard describes, were glanced over or completely absent from a curriculum?”

    He pointed out that historical and current racial situations can be can be linked to the curriculum and used to help students build a desire to address racial injustice. “It is our responsibility to address the social, emotional, and psychological health of our students,” said Milner. “When students are struggling with their social and psychological health, it will be difficult for them to succeed academically.” 

  3. Sample Results of the national Teachers Race Talk survey – In 2016, Milner and his colleagues completed an exploratory national survey about race, the curriculum, and racial violence. He shared the statistics of the 386 teacher-respondents in these areas: 
    • 86% reported race talk with students is important
    • 55% reported they felt prepared for race talks with students
    • 33% reported that teachers should discuss police violence on Black bodies with students

“Research has shown that White teachers can be, and they are, successful teachers of Black students when they develop the knowledge, attitudes, mindsets, dispositions, and consequently practices to do so,” said Milner. He called for educators to create systems and structures that ensure all children “have a fighting chance to maximize their capacity and their humanity.”

View Milner’s full lecture.

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Katrina Norfleet

Content Strategist, AACTE