When Shall We Overcome Our Fear of Educating Black and Latino Students?

The “Marching Orders” of this generation was to integrate and institutionalize educational excellence and opportunity. The emphasis (in the 1960’s)was on physical school Integration; which is actually rapidly deteriorating; or quietly morphing into segregated (superior/inferior) educational experiences inside of school buildings. Unfortunately , and I suspect not by accident, there has not been a “movement” for  the integration of a high quality, rigorous, high expectations educational experience for children of color, post 60’s. When the term “school-improvement” comes up; some people are “blocked” at the failing schools doors. Real educational reformers like: Edmonds, Escalante, Harris, Hilliard, Mickens, Monroe , Sanford, Sizemore and Steele*; are missing perhaps because of their clear understanding of the role of building on, and with the cultural strengths of the student; but also because  of their view of education; as a “called” commitment to fighting for the disenfranchised and disinherited children of our nation.  Alas, Black and Latino student “failure” and “underachievement”, has become a financially lucrative and long-term growth industry. Back (to the future?) in the 60’s, the children who were bused to integrate a schools (like me) were not sent by their parents to serve as foot soldiers on a civil rights theater of battle. The truth (always both complex and fundamental), was that the primary concern of these parents was to get their children into a learning environment that was committed to effectively educating children; or as my mother (who was frightened at having a high school bound Black male; above grade level, and, “in love with books and reading”) later said: “I thought that when they taught the other kids in the class, they would also have to teach you; all you had to do was pay attention and study”. I have, overtime come to have a great deal of respect for the parents of my Black and Latino high school  integration classmates; as these folks were very clear as to the who, and what were the objectives of the enemy: He was a “separate and inferior” educational system. And they wisely had a plan, appropriate for their time to defeat it. They placed their children into schools and classrooms where the teaching of children actually mattered; and (they thought),at the very least their child would have a fighting  chance at achieving academic success. Central to the storyline of that era was: “just get into the “position”, to have a fighting chance to succeed”. And my non-college trained mother was right, it was impossible (and in fairness to my high school teachers, there was no attempt that I perceived) to offer a separate and unequal lesson in a single classroom. And although this year’s march on Washington seem to be very nice; it also seem to be missing the sense of purpose and focus of the original 1963 march. The original march was driven by a sense of urgency, and was calibrated to achieve specific goals,  as opposed to merely being celebratory.   My fear is that the clear villains of the 1960’s (who ignorantly and evilly cooperated for the national and international media), are missing. The level of brutality, the extent of denial, and the open opposition to the most basic of human rights drew very clear, and distinct battle lines.  We (who sat where we wanted on NYC public buses, and who always went to school with White kids) watched, as did the entire world on TV, the horrible behavior of people in places like Florida, Mississippi and Alabama and wondered: “Is this part of  America”? This year’s march passes under the shadow of a more insidious and hard to detect enemy. The non-violent “acts” of denial are as seriously deadly as they are subtle (who could imagine that the philosophical descendants of the resistors of civil rights, would assume non-violent tactics, like adopting restrictive voting rights laws). The modern day dream  crushing cycle of poor education, black male unemployment , Black on Black crime, Incarceration, and then those young men parenting the next cohort of poorly educated young  Black and Brown men, is every-much a form of a lynch mob moving nationally, effectively, and deceivingly in a consistent, yet undetected motion. The push back against educational high standards and high expectations for students of color has been adopted by the old educational ‘deformers’ as well as the new educational ‘reformers’. Poor students have been reduced to instruments of testing removed from a real learning experience. (isn’t  it interesting where many of these “testing advocate’s“ send their children, or where they themselves attended school?) These “poor” schools  have also become “play-pens” for vacationing “drive-by” college graduates looking to wait out a bad economy, exercising their inner liberal, and creating a resume place holder. But all of this is taking place in cooperation with Black complacency. We are still in a battle for our civil and human lives; but the battle field has become obscured by the presence of people of color wielding the power of the attack dogs and water hoses of educational neglect and denial. Black people are now very often cast as: The Spook Who Sat By The (school-house)  Door, of opportunity; and they are more than happy to keep Black and Brown children out. Too many majority Black School boards, are vision-less, and clue-less as to how to even obtain a vision. They misbehave, act-out, perform, and engage in their own versions of a “friends and family” enrichment plan; they focus on everything except student academic achievement. We have seen outstanding Black high schools in many urban communities in this nation, purposely destroyed, deteriorated and downgraded into mediocrity (a form of generational “back-peddling”).  A bad and ineffective policy of  “all-test prep all of the time”, has left many of our majority Black and Latino schools, without the full and necessary rainbow of enriching educational experiences; that would include the graphic and performing arts; dynamic Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related programs; Literature, creative  explorative,  and experimental activities; the  ‘extracurricular” and ‘informal  learning’ activities that inspire, excite, challenge and stretch  the minds of young people, are absent. And  here we find another example; for as some districts are preparing their students to be culturally illiterate (Ex.: A 2- year world language requirement for high school graduation). Others are preparing their students for world communication, global opportunities, international entrepreneurship and  leadership. Fairfax school board member seeks to ‘internationalize’ curriculum…… http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/fairfax-school-board-member-seeks-to-internationalize-curriculum/2013/08/31/d693033e-10d7-11e3-b4cb-fd7ce041d814_story.html

 

*Ronald Edmonds; Jaime Escalante; J. Jerome Harris; Asa G. Hilliard; Frank Mickens; Lorraine Monroe; Adelaide Sanford; Barbara Sizemore; Claude Steele. They should be on  every serious educators study guide to effective practice. Two other important authors are often quoted but are never really taken seriously(or to heart) for their analysis of the damage done ; by ignoring and dismissing the culture of the learner; and the role of  cultural aggression in causing learners to defensively disconnect from the learning experience: Lisa Delpit and Paulo Freire.

Annual Senseless and Preventable High School Deaths

 

“Staten Island teen was forced to practice until he died, family claims…” http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/staten_island/take_me_out_coach_7eswEjJi5CXPxtCIYh29bJ

 

      This is just one (albeit, the most tragic) of the many problems in high school varsity sports. And sadly, this takes place multiple times every year, in different parts of the nation(this includes a huge number of non-press reported hospitalizations that don’t lead to death). In almost every case the young people expressed some form of “distress”, and are then told  some form of : “Man-UP”!  Parents are often afraid to voice their well-founded concerns out of fear of their child’s playing time being restricted or reduced; or in fear of  having their child face group humiliation (a coach once said in a speech in the locker room: “some parents are complaining to the Principal about study time, this is making you guys “soft”, as he glanced at the student (child) of the parent; the team got it.) And yet these tragic deaths are very much  preventable. Principals must “Man” and/or “Woman” up; they must take control of their athletic departments and properly supervise their Athletic Directors (AD) and  their coaches. The AD and coaches may “back-door” you, and rally  the parents, school board members, community leaders, politically driven (frightened) central district administrators; and maybe even well-meaning but, terribly misguided student team members. But the Principal must be strong and resolute. My annual speech as a principal was simple: “Wining games is nice, but that is not the focus here; we are in the business of creating winning human beings; under no condition will you do any harm to a child”. The principal must then physically show up at practices unannounced at different times and monitor if her “safety-first” directive is being followed, to the letter. The role of varsity sports is to teach the values of sportsmanship, health-fitness, good behavior, goal setting, team work and encouraging the pursuit of academic excellence. It is not to feed the sometimes obsessive appetites of adults (including parents); many of whom are full of a false sense of “machismo;” and are often pathologically playing out their own failed teenage-sports experience through the children. And under no circumstance is a child’s health and safety to be compromised to win even a single game! This is the worst nightmare moment for an educator, when you are forced to tell a parent that their child is dead; and it is horrifically painful when that situation was preventable.