Saving Our Sons In School

An Ultimate Guide To Understanding And Educating Young Black Males

By Richard Clay

A Future Publication

Given all that Black boys are subjected to in and out of school, it is understandable that many of them are turned-off and therefore misbehave at times in school.  Many are in great need of therapeutic counseling to help them overcome various social-psychological issues.  What Black boys absolutely do not need is the more harmful than helpful response that they have been getting for decades from the psychiatric profession.

On the whole, the psychiatric profession intervenes very early into the lives of our sons in order to diagnose them, label them, medicate them, and prepare the masses of them for placement into special education programs and prison.  While the profession’s practices towards all children of color are in dire need of review and revision, presently, psychiatry is playing the central roll of the bridge between school and prison for Black boys.

As Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu sited, the process usually starts around the fourth grade, although it can begin earlier.  This is when teachers generally switch the model of education from more movement and social interaction based activities to the lecture model of sit-down, shut-up, listen, copy, and learn.  Culturally socialized around movement and animation more so than any of their student peer groups, Black boys resist the hardest against the new sit down and learn model.  The harder their mostly female teachers press them to sit down, be quiet, and do their work, the harder they resist.

As they grow older, their resistance grows more adamant.  Thus begins the endless cycle of teachers from all ethnic backgrounds frequently kicking them out of class, suspending them or sending them to in-school suspension, and referring them to the school social worker/psychologist.

Before long, the boys who are the most bored with sitting or the furthest behind in reading are being tested for and labeled with an improper psychological condition or disability that lands them in special education classes.  A proper diagnosis would not vanquish the masses of them into special education because the issues that impede their learning and shape their classroom behavior have little to do with either academic capability or psychological disability.  In actuality, the correct and most popular psychological diagnosis that should be made of our young sons who constantly get into trouble in elementary school should be somewhere along the following lines:

High level of unutilized physical energy;

Low self-esteem;

Ingrained self-hatred;

Resistance to pervasive female authority;

Vehement cultural resistance to the “boring,” all-day sit-down and be still learning environments of most schools; and,

Bitter resistance to racist and irrelevant school curriculum.

This diagnosis accurately pinpoints the primary psycho-social conditions and motivations that cause our sons to hold such disdain for the entire American educational process.  Yet psychiatric professionals in or outside of school hardly ever make such diagnoses of our sons, or consider these factors when labeling and diagnosing them.  Why not?  Because doing so would highlight the system’s role in creating their psychological conditions, put greater pressure on government and school officials to implement affective, revolutionary school reforms, and all but bankrupt the psychiatric profession’s global pharmaceutical companies whose powerful drugs are absolutely powerless in treating our sons’ real disorders.

Take a moment to think about it.  No matter how potent or expensive it is, there exists no drug in the psychiatric arsenal that can:

Make a person love and respect his self anymore than he already does;

Put more Black male teachers into the classroom;

Remove racism or funding inequities from the core of the American educational system;

Make archaic, Euro centric school curriculum more relevant to Black boys; or,

Provide Black boys with additional tutoring in reading.

Additionally, no drug can erase the bleak picture of a hopeless personal future that often forms in the minds of young children that are raised and educated amidst abject poverty.

So psychiatric professionals in general continue to blame the victims and profoundly misdiagnose and over-medicate Black boys.  The frequent psychological misdiagnosis of Black boys is proliferated by each of the following:

The poor training that is received and the resulting lack of understanding that most psychiatric professionals possess regarding Black youth culture;

The lack of sufficient advocacy from organized Black psychiatric professionals;

The pervasiveness throughout the profession of racist and classist views towards Black boys;

The tremendous amounts of money that misdiagnosing them generates; and,

The profession’s failure to provide them with affective therapeutic counseling that can over a reasonable period of time relieve the symptoms of the proper diagnosis that was noted above.

No matter how wrong or misguided they are, the psychological labels that are given by in school and outside of school psychiatric professionals are likely to stay in our boys’ personal records forever.  Mentally retarded, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) are the most common labels of misdiagnosis that contribute to the building of inaccurate psychological profiles against Black boys.

The most disruptive boys get the most dangerous label.  Currently, that is anti-personal social disorder (APSD).  This label will be referred to and used against them by school and legal authorities anytime that they get into future trouble.

Most disturbingly, in urban school districts, this type of inaccurate psychological profiling is often conducted by Black teachers and psychiatric professionals who also have been inadequately trained.  They thus share with many of their non-Black peers racist and classis stereotypes of Black boys.

To deal with the psychological disorders of and behavioral challenges presented by Black boys, psychiatrists prescribe a variety of powerful mind and mood altering drugs.  Ritalin, Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac are the most common.  Enticed by government SSI checks that average around $650.00 a month, just $7,800.00 a year; many Black parents wittingly comply with the misdiagnosis and doping-up of their children.  Meanwhile, the global pharmaceutical corporations that produce, market, and sell these drugs to psychiatrists and primary care doctors walk away with billions of dollars in profits each year gained from the over medication of our sons.

These colossal pharmaceutical companies target urban school district administrators, family doctors, and psychiatric professionals throughout America with trips to elaborate conferences.  at them, they swamp attendees with glossy brochures that tout their latest medications that will best treat the behavior problems of hyper, disruptive, and defiant boys.  The companies even mail out free samples of these drugs, and send trained sales representatives out to promote them.  They encourage psychiatrists and family care physicians throughout the field to test the drugs on their youth patients.

Unwilling to engage in the type of radical school reform that is necessary in order to change the ways in which our sons learn, behave, and are treated in school, school administrators, psychiatric professionals, and medical doctors blindly except the claims of the pharmaceutical companies.  They cowardly leap at another fake opportunity to quick-fix their “Black boy” problems.  The results are devastating for the effected boys.  Hooked on powerful pharmaceutical drugs and still struggling academically in school, many of our sons’ suspension and incident report write-ups continue to pile sky-high.

Many parents are not initially informed that virtually all of these drugs are extremely addictive to children.  most teachers can verify that when the boys for whatever reasons fail to take their medications or try to wean themselves off of them, withdrawal symptoms prompt them to act even worse in class than they did before, causing greater disruptions.  Hence the popular teacher remark “he must didn’t take his medicine today.”

All of those negative records, labels, and prescribed psychotropic drugs combine to create psychological case histories or profiles that often come back to haunt our sons later on in school, in court, and in the job market.  Boys classified as ASPD are statistically the most likely to eventually wind-up in prison or hospital psych wards, and on even more powerful psychotropic drugs to suppress feelings of anxiety and anger.

The must read book “The War Against Children of Color: Psychiatry Targets Inner City Youth” by Peter Breggin and Ginger Breggin documents the history of psychiatry as another American institution that is permeated by racism and a prejudice perspective towards Black boys.  It quotes prominent psychiatrists, psychologists, and sociologists throughout the field who have repeatedly made racist public statements and written books demeaning Black people in general, Black boys in particular.

In the book, they clearly illustrate how and why the American government, motivated by racist beliefs and stereotypes, has sanctioned the profession’s rampant misdiagnosis and over medication of Black boys.  They document several cases in which the government has in fact commissioned doctors at major universities to perform some of the most horrifying and immoral psychological experiments on Black boys without full disclosure to their parents including lobotomies (the surgical removal of portions of one’s brain tissue), unneeded experimental psycho surgery, and experimental medication.

We greatly need progressive and qualified psychiatric professionals from all backgrounds to work with us towards making psychiatry a powerful tool in our efforts to save and heal our sons in school.  In support of this cause, some psychiatric professionals are no longer going strictly by the book.  They are already actively making major contributions on our sons’ behalf.

However, the true scope of the psychiatric profession’s war against Black boys and all of its vicious forms is a little known fact that we must continue to: investigate, expose, challenge, and ultimately defeat.  As a part of their training, all psychiatric professionals should read the published works of the giants in the field who have tried to inform us of this continuing war, and given us some invaluable insights on what we must do to stop or win it.  Such giants include: Dr. Naim Akbar, Dr. Francis Kress Welsing, Dr. Julius Wilson, Waid Nobles, Dr. Eugene Perkins, Dr. Malife Asante, Janis Hale, Dr. Amos Wilson, and Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu.

We must all consider the impact that low self-esteem, traumatization, and other psycho-social issues discussed in this guide are having on young Black males in school.  We must provide them with better access to corrective therapeutic counseling in order to help them heal.  It is very important for schools to have active and accessible in-house social workers and psychologists to help treat and correct our sons’ many real social and psychological problems that distract them from learning.

In order to achieve the best results, those entrusted with counseling our sons should possess a thorough understanding of Black male adolescent culture and language, as well as Black history from a psychological perspective.  When young Black males determine at any point that their therapist doesn’t “know nothing about what’s going on in the hood,” they are much more likely to: lie, exaggerate, mislead, attempt to trick or con, tune-out, shut-down completely, or discontinue the counseling sessions altogether.

School psychologists and social workers must begin to employ the best and most up-to-date therapeutic counseling and treatment practices in urban schools I.E. Moral Recognition Therapy (MRT), as opposed to simply acting as sounding boards for their student patients.  Too many troubled students have told me personally that they view school therapists as ineffective, and that they usually stop going to them after a couple of visits feeling that counseling is not helping them to change or feel better about their situations.  Many students already have at least one teacher or coach that they can openly talk to.  Therefore, they need real corrective, transformative therapy from their school therapists.

As we work to provide young Black males with better access to greatly needed counseling resources, let us all be conscious of and actively working against Psychiatry’s ongoing war against children of color.  Understanding the strong links between the psychiatric profession’s behavioral labels, special education placements, and criminal convictions for Black males in America’s so-called justice system, we must all resist our own trained behavior to rush to tag young Black males with negative psychological labels.

Parents should never lightly accept any psychiatric professional labeling their child without adequate proof and documentation, or for strictly financial or social convenience reasons.  Teachers, school staff members, and therapists alike must stop psychologically profiling Black boys and building psychological cases against them unnecessarily.  You should instead use psychiatric counseling strictly as the powerful tool for correcting attitudes and behavior that it can be for many troubled youth.

As Janis Hale pointed out in both of her books “Learning While Black: Creating Educational Excellence for African-American Children,” and “Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles,” training teachers to design activities that allow children to learn as they move, and to be patient with the normal rambunctious and outgoing nature of Black males will correct the common tendencies of educators and therapists to misdiagnose their behavior.  Therapists need to be trained as to the cultural behavior norms and learning styles of our sons just as do teachers.

Along the same lines, judges, lawyers, and all legal professionals need to be made aware of the ramifications of the psychological tactics that are being used against our sons.  Some of them must be convinced to resist and lobby against the use of such tactics in the courtroom.

Just as prosecutors go to court and use professionals to site the negative aspects of our sons’ legal and psychological histories in all-out attempts to convict them, our sons lawyers should start hiring mitigating specialists and sentencing advocates who are licensed and trained to use their clients’ troubled backgrounds and provable positive characteristics in order to help win them reduced and creatively modified court sentences.

Guardians, if your son’s life rests in the hands of a court judge or jury, do not hesitate to strongly recommend this better team strategy to your child’s lawyer who might initially be opposed to sharing his/her legal fees with someone else.  We need progressive community organizations, children’s advocacy groups, and mental health professionals all to work in partnership with us to better influence the courts on the behalf of our sons.

In this war, we must fight harder to preserve our sons’ mental welfare and dignity.  The blanket labeling and over medication of young Black males to deal with behavioral issues is morally wrong, and gravely threatens their overall quality of life.  Additionally, doping mass numbers of them up on Ritalin and related drugs has not proven to be an affective long-term educational solution.  The documented side effects that are experienced by many students render this process morally and medically unacceptable.

There are indeed other more natural and less harmful ways to get legitimately hyperactive students to calm down and behave better for extended periods of time both in school and at home.  You can learn more about these methods through basic library or internet research.  You do not have to reduce them to a zombie-like state.  Alternative methods include:

Reducing daily sugar and caffeine intake;

Reducing daily access to TV and video games;

Improving general discipline at home and in school;

Increasing or decreasing nightly sleep time and daily naptime as necessary;

Increasing their amount of daily exercise and indoor or outdoor physical activity, thus allowing them to naturally burn-off more physical energy;

Enrolling them into more extra-curricular activities; and,

Adding appropriate vitamin and herbal supplements to their daily diets as recommended by a health specialist.

In their article “Are Schools Failing Black Boys,” Fremon & Hamilton discuss alternatives to Ritalin when they state that, “Community groups and after-school programs that offer boys social, physical, and emotional outlets for their energy-track clubs, martial arts, music programs, leadership training, and the like-can ultimately help children come to school better prepared to learn.”

We are going to continue to have big problems with convincing our children to say no to street drugs as long as we keep condemning them to long-term sentences on powerful psychotropic drugs that can be just as harmful, and even more addictive to them.  This trend is especially disturbing and unnecessary considering the fact that safer alternatives are available.

Even more troubling, a 2003 study published in Great Britain and supported by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Commission On Drugs for the American Pediatrics Association (APA) warned doctors against prescribing powerful antidepressant drugs (which Ritalin is not) to children.  The study showed that Zoloft and Paxil often cause great feelings of agitation and increased thoughts of suicide amongst children.

The study concluded that of these types of drugs, only Prozac should be prescribed to treat children for depression.  It warned however that even Prozac only helps 10% of those children, which means that it won’t help 90% of them that it is given to at all.  And since we all know from the mainstream media some of the various harmful and deadly side effects that Prozac has on adults, the studies warning that Prozac also has very harmful side effects on children should have been a given to everybody.

Psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Glen Mullen, author of the book “Prozac Backlash,” supports the findings of the British study by stating that antidepressants caused the experience of suicidal feelings to increase three times amongst patients during equivalent trials conducted in America by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Despite the FDA’s trials and countless other warning signs throughout the profession, Dr. Mullen states that 11 million children in America were placed on antidepressants in 2003.  According to Dr. Mullen, 70% of all prescriptions for antidepressants are currently being written by primary care physicians who know nothing about these medicines or depression itself.  They only know what they learn from the claims of the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market the drugs.

Why hasn’t the general public been appropriately warned and educated about the results of these trial studies, or these known, extremely dangerous side effects of antidepressant medications on children?  Dr. Mullen answers in his book that data from original studies sometimes gets conveniently reclassified when the FDA investigates it.  He says that this was the case with Paxil which somehow went from showing a reported nine times increase originally in 1989, to showing absolutely no increase in feelings of suicide amongst patients during FDA sponsored trials in 1991.

Furthermore, Dr. Mullen spoke on National Public Radio’s (NPR) Talk of the Nation show in 2005 about an ongoing national scam in which the large pharmaceutical companies have been spending tremendous amounts of money over the past two decades towards lobbying the FDA not to thoroughly investigate, ban, or even issue a stern warning against the known side effects of antidepressant drugs.

On that show, Dr. Mullen sited a tragic example of how vital information about these drugs is hidden from us.  The case came to light in August of 2004.  That was when directly confronted with a lawsuit filed by New York’s Attorney General, Glasgow-Smith-Cline, the manufacturers of Paxil, agreed to pay a relatively small fine of 2.5 million dollars, and publicly apologized for intentionally hiding hard evidence from prior clinical trials from the government.  The hidden evidence documented that Paxil causes significant increases in harmful side effects including feelings of suicide among children.

Slowly but surely however, the deadly truth about antidepressant drugs that the pharmaceutical giants have fought so hard to hide from all Americans is coming out.  In response to the British study, the FDA held a series of public hearings in Washington D.C. in early February of 2004 to address growing concerns about antidepressants.  Hundreds of parents, doctors, and lawyers testified there on behalf of people whom they knew or represented that committed suicide while taking prescribed antidepressants.

Doctors at the hearing told the FDA that 90% of the prescriptions of antidepressants for children were not written to treat the conditions that the medications are specifically FDA approved to treat; depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  Those children’s prescriptions were written instead for conditions like ADHD and manic depression, which antidepressants are absolutely not approved to treat.

As a result of the hearings held just a month earlier, on March 22nd, the FDA issued an urgent public advisory warning all Americans to be aware of the fact that antidepressants such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac can cause a two times increase in one’s desire to commit suicide.  The warning stated that people who often experience side effects to the medications such as feelings of anxiety are the most at risk for increased suicidal feelings, and should thus be closely monitored by their parents, doctors, loved ones, and teachers.  The FDA went further and required the makers of these drugs to slightly enlarge the size of the warnings on the medications, and to place bold print warning sheets into the boxes of antidepressant medications.

Those who had fought for years to force the FDA to take more stringent measures to protect the unwitting public against these dangerous drugs applauded the nationwide warnings and bolded warning insert requirements as a positive start in the right direction.  They are still however quick to point out three issues of major concern.  The warnings on the medicine boxes are still much too small to get most people’s attention.  Very few people actually read those inserts once a doctor has prescribed the medication for them.  And finally, the inserts serve as greater protection for the pharmaceutical companies against lawsuits because consumers will legally have been pre-warned about any possible tragic consequences before they occur.

The pharmaceutical companies are of course complaining that the current changes are going to cost them too much money.  In July of 2005, the FDA officially announced that it was finally going to study any links that might exist between prescription antidepressant drugs and increased feelings of suicide amongst adults.  Yet more pressure still needs to be applied on the FDA and Congress to force them to make even more sweeping changes to protect young Black males, Black people, and the entire American public from quick-fix antidepressant drugs that sometimes lead to a quicker death.

Dr. Mullen and other psychiatrists who have remained vigilant in regard to this issue are forcefully recommending that at the least, large, black, bold-print warning labels should be put on related medicine boxes, and all possible side effects should be visibly printed on related medicine bottles to alert consumers.  This method is called the “black box warning,” and it works more affectively to get the public’s attention about potentially harmful side effects.  Dr. Mullen stresses that even though only one percent of all patients on these drugs may experience increased feelings of suicide, that number represents 110,000 American children.

Therefore, this guide supports his recommendations that doctors stop prescribing antidepressants to children altogether, and that the FDA temporarily bans or restricts the sale of all antidepressant medications in the U.S.  These actions should be taken at least until further testing determines conclusively exactly how many, and more specifically, which children and adults are at greater risk to commit suicide due to their usage of prescribed antidepressant medications.  If further testing finds no real links, the medications could quickly be returned to the market.  This is the most humane solution to this particular problem.

Overall, we need all concerned parties to stop recklessly labeling and medicating young Black males, and begin a renewed campaigned to see to it that those in need get quality therapeutic counseling.