Bad Boys

Nick Stephens 4/3/13 Albritton Sociology 3255 Bad Boys Ann Arnett Ferguson’s book “Bad Boys” discusses the way educators and other people in the school systems, and society as a whole view black youth in today’s world. There are many stereotypes that are discussed and stigmas that stick with black children through their entire lives in Ferguson’s book. In order to prevent further damage to this part of our society the reader should take a long hard look at the problems brought forth by “Bad Boys”.
One problem that Ferguson discusses in her book is adultification. According to her definition adultification is the idea that teachers and other adults see black children as willfully bad. Since they are seen in this light it creates an idea that black boys have adult motivations thus, making black boys seem like criminals instead of kids. Also, along the same lines, black girls are perceived as dangerously sexual. While this issue seems sort of ridiculous, these things actually happen in our public school system.
While white children are seen as naturally naughty, essentially authority figures adopt the “boys will be boys” mentality when white boys get in trouble or act out, instead of issuing punishment equally to white children who act out. Ferguson states, “One the one hand children are assumed to be dissembling, devious, because they are more egocentric. On the other hand, there is an attribution of innocence to their wrongdoing. In both cases, this is understood to be a temporary condition, a stage prior to maturity. ”(80)

Another problem that Ferguson observes in her book is the two controlling images of black males in schools. She says, “Two cultural images stigmatize black males in the United States today: one represents him as a criminal, and the other depicts him as an endangered species. I found that both of these images were commonly invoked at Rosa Parks School for identifying, classifying, and making punishment decisions by the adults responsible for disciplining the kids. ”(20) The way that black boys are seen creates a social hierarchy based solely on class.
Ferguson is able, through her first-hand experience, to record instances that show these problems in action and give the reader insight to the problems that are being addressed. The image of black children being criminals is inherent to their development. If they are treated from a young age as criminals, they will eventually come to accept that as part of their social identity, leading them to actually commit crimes in the future. If they were treated equally then black children, especially males, may not be on a definite path into the heart of the criminal justice system by the time they are adults.
Ferguson addresses another problem that has a severe effect on the psyche of young black boys in public schools. Teachers and administrators alike are guilty of assuming that these children are headed for a future of crime. They are labeled as unsalvageable and bound for jail. She uses the example, “There is a jail cell with your name on it” coming from the teacher to one of their students. This is damaging to the child’s development because it seemingly predetermines their fate. The punishing room that Ferguson discusses is primarily made up of black boys.
The punishing room makes these boys truly believe that they are bad, and that since even their teachers and other superiors cannot see through this it tends to give the children a sense of identity as someone who is bad, and does not really count. With the punishing room the idea is solidified in the minds of these children, which is a problem. Ideally these troubled children should be worked with individually in order to get to the root of the reason that they are acting out in school. Ferguson says about the punishing room, “The child who gets in trouble is the norm. Identities and reputations are made and remade here.
It is the space in the school in which everyone is like yourself-in trouble-and you are no longer different. ” This quote gives the reader a visible reference of why some of these children, deemed unsalvageable by their teachers, may get into trouble on purpose so they have to go to this place where at least they are not alone. This leads into the idea of the importance of group identity. Ferguson explains the importance of group identity in her book by basically saying that kids need to feel like they fit it, and they will use whatever tools necessary in order to do so.
This is all brought together by the idea of cultural capital. Ferguson explains that in the school system there is a hierarchy of the children, “The disciplinary techniques of the school actively produce social identities of “good”, “bad”, “gifted”, “having potential”, “troubled”, and “troublesome,” rather than ferret them out and reveal them as they naturally exist. The importance of group identity is essential in the development of all children. It helps them to develop a sense of self, who they are, and who they want to be.
The problem lies in the fact that children are becoming fine with the idea that they are “bad” and come to accept that as reality, which allows them to form that identity, in turn making them into bad kids, because the only way that they are able to fit in to the social atmosphere is by acting out and getting in trouble. The boys in Ferguson’s study use the importance of group identity, coping mechanisms in public, and classroom performance in tandem to secure their own personal identities. Most of the kids are not really that “bad” they often have extenuating circumstances outside of school that make school not seem important to them.
They often feel secluded, which draws from the problem with adultification by their teachers and other superiors. So by acting out in the classroom they get attention, even though it is negative attention, it is still attention. Through the eyes of the teachers it seems like they are just putting forth a poor classroom performance. They do not see the struggles that the children go through outside of school, which tends to directly have an impact on the way the handle themselves in social situations, craving the need to belong to some sort of group. So they turn to what is presented to them, being bad.
In conclusion, there are many flaws with the education system in the United States. The processes in which black children are dealt with need to be reformed. The idea of adultification as defined by Ferguson is a serious issue that plagues schools, where even teachers who are conscious of this fall into the category of looking at black children as small adults, holding them to different standards than their white counterparts. They are still subject to the controlling images of black males as being criminals, and assuming that they are on the path to prison anyway, so what is the use. This is unacceptable.
Different strategies in dealing with this problem should be implemented than the ones that the public school system has to offer at the present time. Through Ferguson’s first-hand accounts of what she observed during her time in Rosa Parks School the reader is painted a picture of the very real problems at hand. Most people outside of these schools do not even realize what is going on and that is a problem as well. By studying Ferguson’s work one can hope that in the near future there will be some sort of reconstruction of the schools in order to help prevent further damage and stigmatization to black children.

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