Tulsa Education: September 2013 Archives

Deborah Brown Community School, a elementary school in downtown Tulsa chartered under the aegis of Langston University (a historically black state university), has come under attack as a result of a misleading Fox 23 report about a parent's decision to remove his daughter from the school because the school prohibited his daughter's preferred hairstyle.

The Fox 23 story and descriptions linking the story on their Facebook page state that the girl was sent home because of hairstyle and that the girl was told directly by school officials that her hairstyle was unacceptable. The Fox 23 story had the girl on camera, sobbing, "They don't like my dreads." Facebook commenters reacted with outrage: How dare they make a little girl cry! How dare these racist school officials ban a natural, culturally significant hairstyle!

What actually happened is that the school reminded the girl's parent that the hairstyle was expressly against the school rules, and the parent chose to move the girl to a different school. This is according to a statement from the school sent in response to a question from the Huffington Post.

So the school did NOT kick the student out, did NOT send the student home, did NOT confront the little girl about her hair.

The point of a school uniform and dress code is that an elementary school is not a place to make a fashion statement or express your personal style. Elementary school is a place to be taught the basics -- reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history (names and dates) -- the grammar of learning, the foundation for further education in every subject. The overarching theme of the school's policy on hair is that hairstyles should be plain and simple.

Here is the Deborah Brown Community School parent/student handbook. And here is the entire section on the dress code:

Our philosophy and program aspires to raise the level of academic excellence through respect for learning. The students, therefore, dress in a uniform to encourage respect and seriousness of school. Students attending DBCS are required to wear black or brown shoes and the appropriate uniform as designated by the Executive Director. BLACK OR BROWN TENNIS SHOES ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE. It is suggested that each child have a minimum of four complete sets of uniforms. Any student not wearing the proper uniform Monday through Friday will be sent home for non-compliance to the school dress code. Hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable. For safety reasons, girls weaved hair should be no longer than shoulder length. Boy's hair is to be short and neatly trimmed. Boys are not allowed to wear earrings.

If it is necessary to wear non-uniform clothing not only for emergency reasons, but Free Dress Day, students will not be allowed to wear letters, numbers or pictures on their garments. This rule applies to all students. Student dress should be conservative and modest. Free Dress Day will always be announced in writing.

Some online commenters declared that the school must be racist, because they are discriminating against "natural" ethnic hairstyles like dreadlocks and afros. When I pointed out to someone on Twitter that the founder/director of the school, the entire board and administration, and most of the faculty are African-American, the response was, "Phyllis Schlafly is female. Self-loathing is a terrible thing. Worse when it's projected onto members of one's own demographic."

Anyone who knows Phyllis Schlafly knows that there isn't an ounce of self-loathing in her.
She disagrees with leftists about what policies are in the best interests of American women, and she believes that women (and men) are best served by traditional family structures and values. It's a typical and ridiculous leftist tactic to strip an opponent of her worth and humanity and to discount her views by labeling her as self-loathing.

By the way, there's nothing natural about dreadlocks, afros, or mohawks for any hair type or ethnicity. Dreadlocks -- consisting of deliberately matted hair -- require a great deal of work to create and maintain, as do bushy afros and mohawks. Dreadlocks have cultural meaning to Rastafarians, who reject cutting and combing hair, but not to those of African descent generally. I was amused to find this September 1970 Los Angeles Times wire service story about fashionable Tanzanian women adopting the Afro fad in imitation of Americans, to the dismay of local nationalist leaders who considered it an example of Western cultural imperialism.

So here we have a group of African-Americans, led by a woman, who had a vision of doing a better job than the public schools at educating African-American children. A part of that vision is structure and discipline, an emphasis reflected in the school's dress code.


By all accounts, the Deborah Brown Community School is succeeding: DBCS received a "B" grade for 2011-2012. Of the Tulsa Public School district's 53 elementary schools, only 8 did as well or better.

The point of a charter school is to encourage innovation in education and to provide parents with tuition-free options so they can find the best educational approach for their children.

From a Tulsa World story on the Deborah Brown Community School and its plans to expand to include middle school grades:

The Deborah Brown school is sponsored by Langston University. About 250 students are enrolled, and 110 are on a waiting list.

By virtue of its location, 95 percent of its students are black, Mikel said. ...

The Deborah Brown school has high academic and behavioral expectations for its students.

As students walk down the hallways to wash their hands before lunch, they are quiet and well-mannered. Teachers place graded papers along the hallway for all to see. Most received A's.

The school uses an instructional method developed by its founder and namesake, and the curriculum is focused on reading, writing and math.

It also has a mandatory uniform policy and strict discipline policy and requires a strong commitment from parents to help their children reach their potential.

Mikel said that when he first came to the school, he heard children reciting something but wasn't sure what it was. It turns out, students were reciting the chemical elements from memory.

"I thought they were speaking a foreign language," he said with a laugh.

Shame on Fox 23 for damaging the reputation of a successful school serving African-American children by presenting this story in such a slanted and emotionally manipulative fashion.

MORE: Here's a more specific reference to the Tanzanian writer who dissed the American-style afro, from the February 1973 issue of Ebony, in an article entitled, "Is the Afro on Its Way Out?"

Surprisingly, one of the most vitriolic denouncements has come from an East African writer, Kadji Konde, who sees little resemblance between the big bush and the short styles worn by many African women. Rejecting it as a symbol of imperialist American decadence as purveyed by Westernized blacks, Konde wrote in a Tanzanian newspaper: "How natural these nests are is a mystery to me. In the United States, where this hairdo comes from, it is called an Afro style. This implies a link with Africa, although I fail to see how this keeping of wild oiled bush on the skull has anything to do with dear mother Africa." The attack as published was accompanied by a picture of Angela Davis.

Other common complaints are limitations on the types of hairstyles one might attempt with a 'fro, the difficulty of wearing a hat over a very large one in winter which means a whole recombing process each time the hat is removed and the gripes of both 'fro and non-'fro wearers who have found themselves seated in theaters or concert halls behind those whose towering bushes obscured any view of the stage.

And a story in the October 25, 1971, edition of Time, began:

From the time that it first appeared on the scene five years ago, the "natural" or Afro hair style closely paralleled the growth of black pride. Becoming a political statement and a symbol of racial identity as much as a popular hair style, it gradually billowed from close-cropped cuts into dramatic, spherical clouds that framed the heads of both women and men. Now that blacks feel more secure about their identity and are achieving some of their political goals, the popularity of the Afro has begun to wane.

If you're asking if a recently popular hairstyle is "on its way out" -- that's pretty much the definition of "faddish," isn't it?


Here is a playlist of videos about DBCS: A promotional video aimed at potential donors, a couple of news stories, and a couple of home videos. I don't get the impression that these students are being steeped in self-loathing.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Education category from September 2013.

Tulsa Education: June 2013 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Education: January 2014 is the next archive.

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