Homelessness and suspensions: It's the rare morning when you get to read a passage in the New York Times which is deeply humane.
This morning, we read such a passage in a news report by Elizabeth Harris. Harris described the emotional burdens of homeless public school students:
HARRIS (4/12/18): The upheaval of homelessness means those children are often anxious and traumatized, and that their parents are as well. Many of them travel long distances from where they sleep to school in the morning, leaving them exhausted before the day begins. Drained and frightened, they bring all of that with them to school.Good for Elizabeth Harris! Major newspapers rarely include such overtly humane writing. That said, Harris' report struck us as perhaps a bit puzzling on the whole.
Harris describes a new report concerning suspension rates of homeless students in New York City's schools. The study was published by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness.
Surprise! Homeless students get suspended from school more often than their more advantaged peers. Given what you read in the passage above—given what anyone would assume about the burdens of homelessness—we were surprised that the difference in suspension rates is so small:
HARRIS: During the 2015-6 school year, the citywide suspension rate for middle schools was 4 percent. For homeless middle school students citywide, it was 7 percent.In principle, it would be better if no one ever got in trouble or got suspended from school. That said, it hardly seems shocking to see a differential that small—and to see that 93 percent of those traumatized kids didn't get suspended that year.
Wouldn't a sensible person tend to assume that homeless kids would have a harder time in school due to their major challenges? Would anyone be surprised if their suspension rate was higher?
The answer may be yes! Given modern outrage culture, the people who published this new report seem to maybe perhaps be surprised—and they seem to be outraged:
HARRIS (continuing directly): “This report is another indicator of what’s happening with homeless children,” said Ralph da Costa Nunez, chief executive of the Institute for Children. “These kids are dropping out at much higher rates than regular students. They’re being suspended. They’re repeating grades. It’s almost becoming a death sentence for their future.”Outrage culture is powerful! But what is the actual problem here? Is it the fact some of these kids are getting suspended? Or is it the fact that, through no fault of their own, these traumatized children are homeless?
No one claims in this report that the different suspension rates mean that homeless kids are being met with some sort of bias. But given the low-IQ bull-roar which tends to suffuse our mountains of such reporting, will people read such an idea into this report?
(Assuming that anyone reads it.)
Needless to say, the New York Times introduced an element of journalistic puzzlement into this matter. Online, the headline on Harris' report says this:
Homeless Children Are 3 Times as Likely to Be Suspended at Some SchoolsIt's always dangerous to say that some claim doesn't appear in an article. But Harris' report isn't real long, and we can find nothing in it which explains that extremely typical New York Times accusatory thunderbomb headline.
Where in the world did that headline come from? Except for one wild speculation, we have no idea. Maybe you can figure it out!
Harris included a passage which was deeply humane. Surrounding that, the deluge!