Are there no prisons? The value of little black girls or A (modern) Christmas Carol

written by Love Isn’t Enough editor Tami Winfrey Harris; originally published at What Tami Said

Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?

– Ebeneezer Scrooge, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”


WISN-TV in Milwaukee reports:

A Milwaukee teacher is charged with disorderly conduct after punishing a first-grader by cutting her hair.

Lamya Cammon is angry, confused, and scared by the incident last week in which the apparently frustrated teacher cut one of her braids off after she wouldn’t stop playing with them in class. Cammon, 7, sports a few dozen braids, but one is conspicuously absent. “She told me to stop playing with it. Then cut it off and sent me back to my desk,” Cammon said. Cammon’s a first-grader at Congress Elementary and said her teacher used a pair of classroom scissors to cut off one of the braids after she absent-mindedly kept playing with them. Read more…

This report made my breath catch in my throat.

What would so enrage an adult who is sworn to assist in the growth and development of children to make her lure a sweet-faced little girl with the promise of candy then hack off a piece of the child’s hair with sharp scissors, sending her back to her desk with a smug, “Now, what are you going to go home and say to your mama?” The action is gratuitously mean and mentally abusive.

Parents send their little ones to school to be educated, to spark their intellect, to make them curious, useful, creative people and good citizens. Discipline has its place in the molding of young minds. But it is hard to see how the draconian punishment meted out by Layma Cammon’s teacher will contribute to making the child a stable and productive adult. The actions of the Milwaukee teacher, who has since been issued a meager fine, seem more suited to a Dickensian tale than a modern school system.

Speaking of Dickens, I took my nieces and nephew to see the play, “A Christmas Carol” on Sunday. There is scene when Ebeneezer Scrooge, accompanied by The Ghost of Christmas Past, watches himself as an innocent young boy being smacked with a ruler by a uncaring and mercenary headmaster for the sin of coughing. Fans of the classic holiday tale may remember that Scrooge’s mistreatment as a young, poor child, forged him into the hard man he eventually became.

The principal forces that shaped A Christmas Carol were the profoundly humiliating experiences of the author’s childhood, his sympathy during the decades of the 1830s and 1840s with the poor, especially children…

We don’t treat marginalized children this way anymore…Do we?


I know nothing of the financial status of Lamya Cammon’s family. I do not know if she is marginalized by her class. But I can see that she is a little black girl. And experience tells me how little society values black children, girls in particular. I know the sorry state of education in many black communities. I know how little attention is given when black girls and women go missing. I know what happens when a popular R&B artist is seen on videotape sexually abusing an underage black girl. And now I know what happens when a teacher calls a young, black girl to the front of a classroom and physically assaults her. The teacher is fined less than $200 and allowed to continue teaching other children. It is no wonder that in the classic novel, “The Bluest Eye,” Pecola Breedlove yearns to be a litte, white girl with blond curls and blue eyes–a girl that people find lovely and want to love and nurture and protect. We just don’t seem to cherish black girls in the way we do other girls. We don’t seem driven to protect them.

Note some of the reaction to the incident from commenters on the WISN-TV Web site:

Maybe if the kids actually paid attention and listened to their teacher none of this would have happened.

Wow, MPS is such a joke. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that a seven year old and her teacher can’t use proper English or the fact that the scummy teachers union blames the budget. Because I work for the city, I’m held hostage and will have to pay around 12,000 dollars a year to send my kids (when I have them) to private school to keep them away from MPS… What a joke.

Again, David I do agree with you! This is not an issue over RACE, and in NOWHERE of any of my comments, did I ever state such a rude justure, Mr. cryaway! I am not against any color, creed, race, or religion, I love people of all races, color, etc! The teacher was wrong to cut her hair, but she needs to be corrected and learn better stress management, and as far as the child goes, we really do not know what actually happened in class? Does the child get disciplined at home? That has a lot to do with it also, in behavior, or does she have some type of attention disorder, which would give a reason for the behavior? When we were in school, we had our fingers hit with a ruler, if we did not pay attention, and we learned and paid attention! Plus, the teachers then, were not charged with any type of crime, and the students were actually smarter than today! I feel sorry for the child and her parent, and yes, I would be upset if it were my daughter, but I would completely investitgate the dilemma first before jumping to concluetions.

The kid wasn’t listening to the teacher. The teacher was stressed, obviously for countless other reasons. The teacher did something very stupid. The kid lost a braid. To be honest, I think you all should re-read your comments and reflect on your own issues, because I think this story is not so complicated.

I am a bit awed by the responses I’m reading. While the behavior by the teacher was wrong, by all means it is NOT child abuse… how can you put this on the same level as a child being beaten? What we don’t know yet is what the exact behavior the child was exhibiting, and was it chronic behavior? Again, the cutting was not appropriate, but I am wondering what the roll of the child was in all of this?

Lamya should be happy that it was just a braid. It will grow back in time. The momentary humiliation could have been a lesson to serve her well in adulthood (a “teachable moment, as Mr. O. likes to say), except that her mother completely negated it with her tirade and taught her daughter the exact opposite. Now the girl will think you can get away with anything, as long as you bellyache and whine about it enough. Instead of punishing the teacher, she should be praised for trying to teach her young charges about citizenship and paying attention in class. I remember being humiliated when I was in grade school; the result is that I can now sit still and be attentive in a meeting or classroom situation. It’s annoying to have to share those spaces with adults in their 30s and 40s who still act like Lamya.

Now, I should mention that several commenters found the actions of Lamya Cammon’s teacher outrageous. But far too many sounded like the ones above: There must be something the public doesn’t know. The seven-year-old must have brought the punishment on herself by constant and flagrant hair playing…and by speaking poor English. Lamya must be guilty somehow. If she is not punished now, she may grow up to be a 40-year-old ne-er-do-well. After all, it’s annoying to have to share those spaces with adults in their 30s and 40s who still act like Lamya. You know which folks the commenter is talking about…don’t you?

Back to Dickens…reading the comments above made me think of Scrooge’s retort when asked to help the poor during the holiday season. He didn’t see the value. And some folks clearly don’t see the value in nurturing children like Lamya–of cherishing them, treating them like they matter, like they have a future. Some children we treat as innocent blessings. Others, like criminals.

What is the point of molding little black girls into curious, useful, creative people and good citizens?

Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?

[Read contributor Renee's post, "For blue eyes: Pecola Breedlove lives" on Love Isn't Enough.]

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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