Black and Latino youth, America’s unopened gift

Thanks Ayodele Harrison, for this video. I think Mr. Whitlock has essentially captured the problem. And I understand that the venue perhaps tamed his comments somewhat. And so let me go there. For me (and I know you have heard this from me a thousand times), this is a lot like the exclusion of huge numbers of our population from: STEM, economics, the creative arts, etc. I even believe that we would be better at Homeland security if the FBI was a more diverse organization. America is not fielding its best athletes, not only in soccer, but in many other sports (i.e. Swimming, Gymnastics, Chess, Archery, Fencing, Baseball, Gulf, etc.) Further, there are “internal” obstacles; I and many others have found ourselves in deep trouble (with Black folks) for trying to push “non-stereotypical” athletic programs; or even trying to make those stereotypical sports programs follow a scholar-athletic model.

But just look what happens when a child of color, who by “chance”, or who is blessed with very aware and supportive parents gets through (Ibtihaj Muhammad, Simone Biles, or the Williams sisters)! This nation has made a Faustian bargain, to purposely suppress and destroy a large percentage of winning members of our national team, in every category of life. And say whatever you want about the: “Make America Great Again Folks”, or the liberal: “Keep America how it is folks”; they are willing to take any national hit necessary, in science innovation, sports or the creative arts; as they see the necessity of empowering and preparing the talents and gifts of their own children.

My life-long struggle has been to convince the disenfranchised and disregarded members of our society that nothing else really matters if your children (your future) are not engaged in the development of their inherent creativity and intelligence. And so to return to a sports analogy, our children lose early and often in the game of life, because they are missing adults who will champion their cause. My “take-away” from the Alexander Hamilton Broadway phenomena is this: How many “Alexander Hamilton” like plays are locked and hidden away in the hearts and minds of America’s children of color? How many Williams sisters are out there who will never pick up a tennis racket?

Part 2: Teen Summer Break: Turning a Vacation into an Advocation.

Part 2 On Summer Learning Loss: Teen Summer Break: Turning a Vacation into an Advocation.

Successful high school students all have something in common: They turn time into an ally. And the smartest of those successful students (and their parents), plan how to take advantage of the long summer break from school; they know that an end to school does not mean an end of learning. Several important goals should be accomplished in the summers of the high school experience:

1) Starting in your freshman year of high school you should be building a personal essay, biography, a resume and portfolio that will strengthen your profile, preparation and presentation for your post high school college, college scholarships, and/or career choice plans. Even if you are working, you must turn the summer into a learning experience. If you have a summer position funded by the government, try to get assigned to a meaningful and responsible position, where you can learn. Many young folks who work for Summer Youth type programs are content to clean up parks or sweep streets; now there is nothing wrong with that type of work; but you should try to get into a position that you can actually place on a resume i.e. an aide in a senior citizen center, parks department, summer feeding program, day camp, an office aide, etc. Next be a model employee, no matter what you’re assigned to do (you never know who is watching you); be professional and polite; offer to do extra, go above and beyond the job description; stand out from other folks, come to work on time and every day, dress appropriately, finish a task, take pride in your work; the impression you make could be critical. You will need letters of recommendation for future employment, and a good referral could turn your next summer job into a summer/after school “staff” position. But most important do something where you are being forced to learn a skill or practice a talent you possess. Having worked many years with summer youth students; it was clear to me that in many cases young folks were having their first ‘formal” work experience; it was also clear that some were “briefed” by some adult prior to arriving to the job site. A good manager recognizes those “stand-out” individuals right away! Ask yourself: “How can I stand out, how can I distinguish myself in a positive way?” Let people remember your name for the best of reasons!

2) Summer jobs are great but paid or unpaid internships are better. An internship is a statement about you, it says that some (very busy) organization or institution; thinks you have so much talent, ability and promise, that they are willing to invest the people they actually pay to do things other than internships, to mentor you. A STEM internship is very highly sought and respected, as many of the people and places where they exist; are extremely busy and not particularly focused on mentoring folks who are not well versed in the theory of the work; but many STEM internships are out there for the asking! To be successful at acquiring a STEM internship I would suggest juniors and rising seniors, those who are very strong and interested in the STEM subject-topic area. It is also important to have a serious attitude as safety is a critical factor.

3) Sign up (contact the admissions office) for a scheduled college tour. Try to at least visit one local college a week, the catalogue and other published information is very important. I have even known colleges to give individual tours to a high school student and parent who took the time to contact the admissions office.

4) Start the college going (paying for) process in the 9th grade. Develop your college scholarship resource electronic file a good place to start is: … Stay away from commercial scholarship finding sites (.com’s) a waste of money and time; you can do everything they can do for free by doing the search yourself. Stick to college based, private foundations and governmental scholarship sites. This may not sound important now to a teenager, but huge financial tuition debt can seriously harm and/or delay your future professional plans. If you are either working or have access to a place, that has a license to access the Foundation Center’s website: Use it to research foundation grants, scholarships, internships, and study in the US, and abroad programs.

5) Come up with a summer reading plan (so much time or pages a day); this plan should have many of the books you read for enjoyment; but this list should also include some personal development and study guides/practices titles, a few such books are:

• The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens: Sean Covey
• The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens: Sean Covey
• The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens Personal Workbook: Sean Covey
• How to solve math word problems on standardized test : David S. Wayne
• SAT and ACT Grammar Workbook : George Ehrenhaft
• Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison
• Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry : Mildred Taylor
• The Autobiography of Malcolm X : Malcolm X
• A Choice of Weapons : Gordon Parks
• The Bluest Eye :Toni Morrison
• Dark Child : Camara Laye
• Jesse : Gary Soto
• Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: Frederick Douglass

6) Start studying for the SAT/ACT early: Build and practice your vocabulary skills (mastering so many words a day); make and use index “flash” cards to master the most used (those that show up most frequently) on the ACT or SAT. Helpful source of words: Sesquipedalian SAT Edition: An Interactive Story to Learn Hundreds of SAT and ACT Vocabulary Words in Context: Joshua Gordon.

7) Strengthened your math skills: If you did not receive an A or 100 in your last math class use sites like Khan Academy ( to “restudy” those areas of weakness. Math concepts have a “nasty” way of reappearing (including showing up in other courses like physics or chemistry); also the concepts you don’t nail in a previous math class can come back to haunt you in a higher math class.

8) (I guess the statute of limitations have run out) But as a principal I have accommodated students who wanted to review the textbook for a class they were taking in the fall (they engaged in a sort of pro-active studying-tutoring!) I let them borrow the textbooks for the summer; you can also read text books at a local public library.

9) Come up with a cultural institution (I.e. museums, botanical gardens, etc.) visiting plan for your city. If a parent can go great, if not still go. Check to see if any free passes are being offered to visit cultural institutions in your area. Now many of these institutions will have a “suggested admission fee”; if you have it and want to give fine, if not, don’t worry about the possible side-eye look you will receive if you can’t pay, the fee is “suggested” or “recommended”, not required. Also many of these institutions that do charge, will have a “free day”; and most likely a lower student admission fee. Teenagers arriving alone could for some institutions be a cause for concern (except for the Public Library); fair or not, that is what it is. Always be respectful, don’t ‘horse play’, use low “inside voices”, don’t break any institution rules, have your student I.D., and only take one other teenager (who you know to have good sense) with you; and stay together at all times, including (if appropriate) the bathrooms! Don’t give an institution a reason to ask you to leave!

10) Try to develop at least one good hobby every summer; some will probably stick for a lifetime (for me it is stamp collecting). Find a way to explore and express a talent and creative desire you have (It was in my SYEP Pratt University experience where I developed a love for my photography hobby!)

11) If you are not working, or can afford not to work, or plan to work part-time; seek a volunteer position in a local government agency, hospital, lab, library, museum, art or cultural center, community based organization, an elected official (including working in the campaign of one running for office). If you can volunteer in an area of future career aspirations, all the better. Develop a 1 page letter expressing your desire to volunteer and learn this summer so as to enhance your college and scholarship applications profile (let someone review and edit the letter, like a teacher on vacation, sorry folks!:-) Don’t assume that “powerful” and “influential” people will automatically say no; in fact I know from working with many students on these letters; most people in positions of power admire this type of drive and attitude (if you don’t believe in you, then…), and even if they can’t specifically help you, they could make a referral, the worse that can happen is that they can say “no”…. And, young person, you will need to learn to deal with some “no’s” in your life.

12) Make this a safe, and not sorry summer! Anybody can follow the crowd; be and do something different each summer. Be a good different, and make a good difference (help a senior citizen in your neighborhood). Be and stay positive. Learn some new things. Learn somethings about yourself. But learn! Learn something that will make you a better person and a better student in the next school year. Go back to school better prepared and organized to do well. Use and control time, don’t let it use and control you. Create good and positive habits. Decide to return to school in the fall better organized, focused, disciplined and more determined. Steer clear of unsafe situations, and people who will bring trouble and problems into your life. True friends would never put you in a position to be mentally or physically harmed; or to distract you from your promised greatness. People who do that are not friends, they are obstacles and pitfalls (ACT/SAT words!) avoid them. You only have one life, and you are the #1 person responsible for how that life turns out. “Momma may have, Poppa may have”; but God bless the child that has the sense to live a life, in summer, and all seasons, that will allow them to fulfill their hopes, promise and dreams to the fullest.

Summertime and the student learning loss is easy… Part 1

Growing up in Brooklyn NY, I was always suspicious of a saying I often heard: “What you don’t know won’t hurt you!” (And who started that anyway?) I did not believe that saying because I spent too much time at the Brooklyn: Public Library, Museum, Botanical Gardens, Children’s Museum, Prospect park, Zoo; along with my gifted middle school program experience, that exposed us to so many of the cities rich cultural institutions; and not to mention our daily reading of the NY Times in social studies. I truly believed that not knowing was a self-caused fatal deficiency! “Knowing”, seemed to offer an advantage in life; “knowing” causes one to interact with a sense of confidence and power in the world, an attitude not enjoyed by the uninitiated “not knowing” citizenry. This concept of the: Power of Knowing and wanting to know, that I adopted as a young child; and how the knowing, information enriched folks exercised power; while the lacking in knowledge poor folks; those with less of, or not wanting to know attitudes; lived a life of powerlessness at the mercy of the powerful. This idea, has remained one of the cornerstones of my educational philosophy, to this day.

Well summer learning loss, is a situation where: What a parent does not know will definitely hurt their child! Another suspicion I have is how the “achievement gap” is framed and explained. The common working definition wrongly suggest a “running race” model, where there is some fair and equal academic achievement starting line for White affluent-entitled kids, and the Black, Latino and poor kids of any color; and then the “smarter” White affluent-entitled kids academically out-sprint everybody else.

The truth is that the race is rigged; the winners and losers are determined before the race begins; the starting points are not now, or have ever been equal. Meanwhile, during the course of this “academic achievement race”, hurdles are placed in the running lanes of the disenfranchised children. Imagine an Olympic or any sporting event where the outcome was determined before the start of the event? Where one team or athlete had an open unfair advantage. Would fans lose interest, I think so; after all a chief marketing theme of the NFL is: “On any given Sunday, any team can win!” But not in education, the game is fixed, so that on any given school day, only one team always wins!

What we don’t tell parents…

All professions have: hidden, obscure, secrets, rules, information-knowledge; and develops a confusing (to the lay person) vocabulary and language. One reason for these essential qualities is that they allow the professional to ask for compensation (money) for their services. But this idea can at times go terribly wrong; as it often does in the education profession where there are large numbers of parents who don’t know how the real rules of: “Parent Engagement” work. Now much of this not knowing is “professionally contrived and created”, on purpose, as parents are cynically mislead into thinking that “parent power” is doing things like serving on a school budget committee; or, serving on a school personnel committee, and “picking” a teacher or a principal. With all of these “parent involvement” activities, school systems nationally and rationally, have a built in “veto mechanism” that can nullify any parent “decision”! Now, the reason school districts do “parent involvement” in this way is because it makes parents feel good, and it keeps them quiet. Parent “quietness” is a highly sought after goal in public education!

The truth we don’t tell parents (well, some of us don’t tell); is that the most important objective of this entire K-12 exercise, is that your child emerges at the end of the process as an academically-socially-morally- emotionally-empowered, successful human being. And that the real and most effective Parent Engagement activities, those parental involvement activities that are essential to realizing student success; does not involve the parent serving on committees, selling cookies and candy, or “managing” the school; rather it is the parent effectively managing the out of school, and in school behaviors, habits, attitudes and practices toward learning, of their child!

Some parents in this nation have essentially raised this “awareness” to an art-science; and thus the tremendous academic success of their children. For 11 years as an urban high school principal, there were some parents who never ventured to tell me how to run the school. Their only question: “What do you need me to do to make my child successful?” And: “What do you need my child to do to be successful?” (“And I will make sure that they do it!”) All of those students “over-performed”. On the other hand I have had the parents of failing, underachieving, and terribly underperforming students; state nicely, and very often not so nicely, that I did not know what I was doing! Their children, often picking up their “cues” of disrespect from the parent, always under-performed. How many parent-teacher-principal meetings have I held where the parent can’t resist telling either the teacher or me; in front of the child, that we don’t know what we are doing. Why would the child listen to us after hearing that? The second most important parent involvement activity is for the parent to manage the informal educational program experience, such that it compliments and enriches the formal education program.

Divided yet codependent learning activities…

To break down the very complex “child learning” process, into two general categories. There is formal learning, which takes place at school; and then there is informal learning that includes places like public libraries, aquariums, museums, nature walks, stamp collecting, theater, scouting, dance, music, art lessons, STEM camps, creative writing, educational games & toys, chess playing, and reading for fun, etc. Now my Deweyian (John Dewey) instincts causes me to have a problem with the division between these two modes of learning; but that is a discussion for another day. It is enough to say that a child’s learning does not end when they exit the school building. It is also important to note that these two learning systems are inseparable; however they are only formally measured (tested) in the formal school system! In fact, the Pre-K or K-3 “gifted and talented” admissions exams/process, is almost always a test of the level of the parent’s level of education, and their informal education management skills. The AP, ACT & SAT are very much measurements of the culmination of informal education learning (including informal-formal test-taking skills training), plus the amount and quality of formal education learning. And those students who have “chosen” parents who understand these concepts, will most likely excel in the public education system. This is combined with doing other things like being able to effectively, and successfully advocate/navigate their child through the system by finding schools where high expectation and expertise are the organizational standards; and even negotiating the child’s admission to a particular teacher’s class inside of a school! (As a superintendent I have had parents show up at my office, to get their child’s class changed, if the principal did not comply with their wishes! After following up those meetings by first observing the class; and not being happy with what I saw; I often wondered: “Why the heck are the other class parents not staging a similar “sit-in” in my office?)

I never had a “free” summer…

As a young child I was on a summer “learning program” of so many hours of reading, academic workbooks my mother purchased, the YMCA’s culture-sports-arts day camp, my merit badge activities, the library, museums, my model train system in the basement, my stamp collection, my magazines: “Life & National Geographic”, my world war 2: model planes and ships, my science work: Ant farm, microscope/science kit during the day, and my telescope on the roof after dark, Police Athletic League, church activities and programs, summer academic enrichment program at P.S. 9, which included educational/cultural institutions trips and art activities, in middle school I had my summer saxophone lessons, a photography class, Overnight Boy Scout camping, trips to an upstate summer camp, a scholarship to a summer drama class, etc. In short I did not have a summer experience where I was just in the street playing, or in the house watching TV. At the same time, I don’t ever remember not enjoying my summer vacations.

Parents must organize their child’s summer learning experiences; and that includes pushing back against the protest of your child (they will thank you later!), and other adults, who neither understand anything about learning in general, nor about the power of informal education. Parents should also know that the effective “pushy parents”; may not feel obligated to share either the need for informal educational activities for your child, or where those activities exist. And so parents need to do their own local search for low cost or free summer learning experience activities. And even if they cost something, the investment is well worth it! I am amazed at the huge number of these programs for which many parents are unaware even exist. Every one with a phone has access to a search engine. Google or call your local-state government, universities, elected officials, cultural institutions, newspapers, school district, local library, private and community based organization for information on summer informal learning programs.

Your child’s school should provide a summer (informal education) resource learning guide for you, and/or a summer work/study packet for your child.
But if your child’s school does not distribute a summer study/learning package, contact the central district superintendent’s office, and request a grade appropriate packet from another school in the district that does provide these packets (This will also let you know what children in your child’s grade are learning at other schools!) Meanwhile a daily quiet reading for fun schedule, along with some time with the free mathematics learning tutorial programs ( or learning games online; can do a great deal to stop the summer loss syndrome. Over a K-8 time period the child can lose up to two years of cumulative learning; placing them at a terrible disadvantage when entering high school. I will from time to time post some resources for summer learning programs, but a good start is:

National Summer Learning Association…

In part 2 I want to specifically focus on high school students; and how they can use the summer, (due to their “independent” movement ability), as a period of promise for present and future empowerment.

Increasing the number of NYC Black and Latino students attending Specialized High schools: The new NYCDOE initiative* is a good step in the right direction, but we have a long, long way to go…

This is a good start in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. I say a good start in the right direction because this is the beginning of an acknowledgment that the solution (to the problem) is to at least make some changes in the child’s entire middle school experience. It has been misleading to tell parents and the public that professional educators can just wave a magic wand over the head of an 8th grader, and make them specialized (or any) high school test ready; this is a terribly dishonest claim.

To create real and permanent change; there must be equity in the quality of the K-8 formal and informal learning experiences of Black and Latino children. Sadly, there is no citywide plan to help the most capable (on and above grade level) Black and Latino students to be prepared to perform well at any high school. And if they move to a high school that mirrors their inadequate K-8 learning experience; their possibility to excel intellectually is further diminished.

The central problem is that the K-8 academic preparation is essentially unfair; thus the predictable “achievement gap” outcomes on the exam. Black and Latino high performers don’t have a fair chance to compete with their academic peers, who may have spent a great deal of time being exposed to a rigorous K-8 academic program. Further, many of the “entitled” students also enjoy the benefits of the parental resource, education and information gap; which is the driving force behind receiving a quality informal education experience (music-dance-art lessons, tutorials, cultural museum, library visits, etc.)

Also, attending “stable” schools, with productive and efficient learning environments; going from grade to grade, and being repeatedly exposed to certified, experienced, highly efficacious, and highly effective teachers, is of critical importance.

We don’t really know if the SHSAT is an “unfair” exam, if large numbers of students of color are unfairly eliminated early (before the 8th grade) from the competition. To make this present effort work, first (thinking about how much I spent as superintendent on a similar successful effort in CSD 29) much, much more money is needed. There is a need to expand the access to art, music, and dance and STEM activities in the child’s K-8 learning world (schools). Resources will be needed to hire additional middle school guidance counselors who can specifically focus on assisting students and their families in the best high school decision. These counselor could also help students and parents to access the rich informal educational resources of the city. More certified math and science teachers will be needed. Having students involved in activities like the Lego robotics program, chess and summer and after-school: STEM, Art, creative writing, etc. camps. More quality instructional time is needed, and a greater quality of instruction, mixed with high expectations, and highly thoughtful behaviors by principals and teachers are the keys to high student academic achievement.

I am not sure that a choice of attending a specialized high school is the best choice for every child; but better K-8 preparation will help every child who is exposed to it, no matter their high school choice. Further, schools will need to step-up, and close the parent resource-information gap. Don’t wait for the parent to provide that informal learning experience!

How to get away with freedom, just build an empire in your own neighborhood!

And so the school system, must build a powerful pipeline of well prepared for high school Black and Latino students. But that is a political problem that will require affirmative civil actions on the part of the parents and communities, whose primary responsibility is to protect those children. The level and quality of service a community receives for their tax dollars is based on their willingness to fight for that quality.


Finally, communities of color need to take their children’s educational futures into their own hands; nothing is stopping Blacks and Latinos from: Making their children study hard and read; from forming community based after-school-weekends academic prep schools; STEM, art, museum, learning centers, reading and computer clubs; making education and learning a priority, and not sneakers, clothes, the mathematically insane pro-sports “lottery”, and other silly distractions, the priorities in our children’s lives!

*New York City Announces New Initiatives to Increase Diversity at Specialized High Schools:

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC Teacher, Principal and Superintendent.


“One principal, two schools, and a high-stakes experiment gone awry”–Chalkbeat

Make no mistake about it; we can’t be careful and cautious with schools that have large numbers of “at risk” students. For these students, applying “tentative”, indecisive, or scared tactics insures their educational, psychological, and often their physical deaths. We fail students if we are not: “Stretching”, “bending” and “braking” the rules every day; because the rules favor the entitled few, and not the disenfranchised many. But let me first define “at risk” from a professional educators perspective; since over time, some well, and not so well-meaning actors, have come forward to provide parents and society with an incomplete definition.

I would define an “at risk” high school student as:

 Any child whose family is not able to finance after-school, weekend, holiday break and summer break informal educational experiences. (i.e. Museum trips/programs, theater, summer public library visits, summer reading-study plan, science-art-dance-music summer camp, parent organized “mentoring” experience, “educational” summer job–internship, fencing, writing, STEM enrichment classes, etc.)

 Any child who is on the wrong (down) side of the parent education, information and financial resources gap.

 Any child who has only engaged in unsupervised “play”, for their K-8 summer breaks; who now upon arriving to high school is missing up to a cumulative school year of learning.

 Any child who has spent the majority of their K-8 school experience in “test-prep-factory” schools (all test prep, all of the time!) They will be horribly underexposed to art, music, and dance, reading for fun, STEM; intellectual and creativity building educational experiences. (Activities that ironically raises test scores!)

 Any child who has been “retained” (held over) somewhere in the K-8 school experience; the risk of not being successful in high school increases with the number of “held over” years.

 Any child arriving from outside of the US with “missing” school years.

 Any child for whom English is their second language.

 Any child arriving to school from another English speaking nation’s school system; but who is also struggling with ESL issues.

 Any child below proficiency, and barely “over the edge” of proficiency on K-8 standardized reading and mathematics exams.

 Any child whose parents lack the sufficient and necessary information, and who does not have access to the “inner” (inside) special knowledge of the “workings” of the US educational system; and therefore can’t properly advocate for their child.

 Any child whose parents are not fully conversant in the English language; or whose knowledge of the American system of education is not sufficient to protect and advance their child’s interest in that system.

 Any child who is living in a group home, who is homeless, who is living in temporary housing; or living temporarily or long-term with a family member.

 Any child who is chronically hungry, lacks adequate resources for clothing (seasonally appropriate clothing), shoes, sneakers, money for hygiene products, clean clothes; and the ability to pay for educational supplies and school experiences.

 Any child suffering, permanently or temporarily from a seriously chronic (academic-attendance challenging) disability, physically debilitating condition or disease.

 Any child who is the “de facto” adult in their house, and/or in their lives; any child who must take on all, or a major part of the parenting duties for younger siblings.

 Any child who is forced to work full or part-time so that the family can survive.

 Any child whose parents are “not functioning” due to an addiction, dysfunction, mental illness, incarceration, or just abandonment.

 Any child whose parents have essentially taken an unfortunate “parental responsibility” step too far back, when their child reaches high school.

 Any child who has been specifically abandoned by their mother.

 Any child (boy or girl) who is a biological parent.

 Any child who lives in a house that is unnaturally stressful and not peaceful; and a place not conducive to study.

 Any child who has/is being subject to mental or physical abuse.

 Any child who has officially engaged (i.e. probation) the criminal justice system.

 Any child whose parents lack the most productive and most effective communicative skills when engaging school staff.

 Any child whose parents have not equipped them with the “rubrics”, rules, techniques and communicative skills to properly negotiate and communicate with authority figures; and in the way in which they are able to effectively advance their personal interest.

 Any child with a diagnose or undiagnosed learning disability.

 Any child who is seeking to establish an identity, meaning, or seeking incorrectly to “self-heal” through the act of verbal or physical bullying.

 Any child who is attempting to “self-medicate”, close and heal wounds by way of alcohol, drugs or sex.

 Any child or parent who is living in the US in an “undocumented” status.

 Any child who must translate for their parents.

 Any child who is the first in their family to go to college.

 Any child who has been “academically detained” (and STEM restrained) by not having taken the 8th grade “gate keeper-stopper”: algebra.

 Any child who has “aged out”, but not graduated from middle school.

 Any child who unfortunately lives in a: “their education does not matter” zip code.

 Any child who unfortunately lives in a community where the elected, civic and religious leaders, don’t believe, understand (or seriously advocate for) the role of education as the primary tool of individual and community empowerment, and generational improvement.

 Any child who is part of a: racial group, ethnicity, gender, cultural profile, religion (or no religion or religious beliefs), economic status, who presently or historically faces discrimination, biases treatment and is subject to lowered service and expectations.

 Any child that must pass through a “gauntlet” of dangerous and despairing environmental conditions when traveling to, and back home from school.

 Any child who is part of the academically “under-potential” performing “near-do wells” student group. (a common resting place for Black and Latino males)

 Any child of color who defines things like: academic achievement, reading, interest in STEM, speaking English in a particular way, as “acting or being” White.

 Any child who unfortunately lives in a school district where that district is the primary source available (the main, or near the top) of the only way to gain personal income for the citizens of that community.

 Any child who lives in a community where the parents and residents are not effectively organized politically to protect the interest of their children.

 Any child who arrives to your school and has been exposed to the following:

 Consecutive (back to back) or repeated instructional years exposed to: a “1st year teacher”; an “uncertified teacher”; “long term substitute teacher”; a Black or Brown teacher with low self-esteem; a “retired (but still) on the job teacher”; a poorly practicing teacher, a biased, racist or discriminatory teacher; a teacher who engages in disinterest, and in low expectations.

 A previous learning environment that was disorderly, unsafe, disorganized, chaotic, unfocused; and that wasted a great deal of quality instructional time.

 A K-8 experience where the principal was a “Place holder”; and had no sense of a strategic vision, pedagogical competency, ethical-moral standards, and lacked courage and bravery.

 Any child who can’t read a high school textbook, can’t write a 3rd grade response to a question (being kind here to some high schoolers, and possibly unkind to most 3rd graders); and therefore also can’t write a proper response to a question on a standardized exam because they are unable to effectively read the question.

 Any child who does not have access to proper basic medical care, access to allergy and environmental poisoning evaluation, ophthalmological (eyes-glasses), otolaryngological (hearing), psychological and dental health care.

 Any child whose is not “emotionally and/or physically aggressive” (as defined in a: “I win and you lose” cultural society); whose inclines toward non-violence, who is quiet, quietly thoughtful and reflective, introverted, and reserved.

 Any child who is “disconnected” from other students (friends); the staff and faculty, or the many events, activities, projects and programs taking place in the school.

 Any child of who arrives to high school, having not been adequately academically prepared to do high school work by virtue of their previous K-8 learning experience.

 Any student who practices a religion or family life style (i.e. vegetarianism) that is different from the majority practices of the school staff and strident body.

 Any student who is a racial, ethnic or national minority in your school. (And it is not uncommon for “majority-minority” (Black) schools to ignore their Latino, Asian, Indian, Pakistani and White students and parents.

 Any LGBT child: aware, not aware, struggling, confused or depressed fearing, or receiving parental, family or religious affiliation rejection.

 Any Black, Latino, or any child of color who has been adequately academically prepared; and are on, or above grade level, or a product of a previous (K-8) gifted and talented program. (at risk of: “unlearning”, “stagnated” and “degenerative” academic learning)

 Any Black or Latino student who either professes or demonstrates “smartness” (intellectual curiosity, love of reading and books, interested in a non-stereotypical future exciting career aspiration (i.e. archeologist, botanist, entrepreneur, astrophysicist, ballerina etc.); a student who pursues the highest career aspirations possible.

 Any Black or Latino student who either professes or demonstrates an interest or ability in a “non-stereotypical” activities for example: fencing, gulf, swimming, lacrosse, painting-sculpture, gymnastics, tennis, opera, etc.

 Any Black or Latino student who either professes or demonstrates an interest and ability in anything STEM.

 Any girl student who either professes or demonstrates an interest and ability in anything STEM.

 Any Black or Latino student who either professes or demonstrates an interest in any non-stereotypical hobby, music preferences, dressing style, participates in activities like Boy or Girl scouting, strong and serious religious practitioners; any student who does not “keep it (stereotypically) real” in how they live their lives; in short students who could be subjected to being teased for: “not acting Black”.

 Any student whose gifts and talents have not been discovered (uncovered), and nurtured, encouraged and developed prior to arriving to your school.

 Any Black and Latino male student, regardless of their level of K-8 academic proficiency, intellectual interest, level of skills, talents and gifts.

 Any Black and Latino male student who dares to act, or be smart; and who dares to get high grades.

To be honest, I have never reviewed the student rosters of either Boys and Girls or Medgar Evers High Schools. But I am convinced that like most of our urban high schools a large number of the students who attend those two schools would fit in one or more of the “at risk” categories I have presented.
The larger the number of “at risk” students; the larger amount of experimentation is needed. Now I am not talking about the use of a recklessness and a cavalier gambling approach to achieving student and school success; after all “at risk” students already face an inordinate amount of “bad odds” scenarios that stand between them and academic success; rather I do believe that “new”, “alternative” and creative methods must be employed, if these students are to succeed.

Let’s be clear “experimentation” does not mean politically convenient, or intellectually lazy and professionally crazy. Doing something like placing an urban high school principal (anyone and anywhere) as the school based leader in charge of two schools (particularly two that are geographically far from each other) is the height of irresponsibility and callous cynicism. Clearly the people who made that decision in the NYCDOE either never lead an urban high school; or have, but cared little about both the educational well-being of those two schools and the communities (Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights Brooklyn, NY) that house them. How they were able to convince Black civic and political leaders to sign onto such an obviously ridiculous plan is a topic for another post. Just imagine the public, press, political and parent outcry at the suggestion of allowing the principals of either Bronx Science or Stuyvesant high schools, being allowed to split their school leadership time with a struggling high school; yes, all we could do is imagine because it ain’t happening!

The public school system in its “natural state” and political-cultural structure is designed to “lose” (fail) specific groups of students (i.e. the students at: Boys & Girls and Medgar Evers.) And since a large percentage of these students are on the before-mentioned “at risk” list; the fundamental problem is that these students are placed in a position of risk by the very system that should protect and educate them. The “risk” then for these students is for the school to follow the standard plan-of-action. “Status qua”, “not rocking the boat”, failing to: “shake things up”, is an educational death sentence for the students of both schools. But a much-needed radical approach to schooling must also be well thought out.

I am not sure what exactly a “master principal” is; but what I do know from my 11 years’ experience as an urban high school principal, that leadership effort took the attention and application of all of my physical and emotional energy. I arrived to the school in the morning when it was dark; and left the school in the evening when it was dark. I worked many Saturdays, during holiday-semester breaks, during the summer when I was technically “off”; and spent the bulk of my school day moving around the school, in and out of classrooms talking-listening to school family members, observing students-teachers, constantly evaluating learning and instruction, monitoring and managing the school environment; on evenings and weekends I often made home visits (from Park Slope to the Pink Houses!), or attended an event where a student was being honored or making a presentation. The only thing I hated was having to attend a meeting during the day, and thus be out of the school building!
Perhaps, I am not “master principal enough”; but I could not see myself spreading my efforts between two schools; the “at risk” factor was so great that even on those mornings when I woke up sick at 3:30 in the morning, I pushed-crawled myself out of the house because all I could think about was: “If I stay in this sick bed today, some student will be lost.”

Stop Playing…

The principalship if done correctly, should not provide a lot of “free time”. For every problem you solve, or plan you put into action; ten more are awaiting your attention; there is always more that you can do in the march toward creating a successful school. I always felt that I had more ideas and challenges to work on then I had time; and there was definitely more work then there was me! And so let us not mislead parents and communities as to the awesome requirements and responsibilities of the job.
Let us also not play games with other people’s children. Both schools need and require a full-time principal; but they also need a full-time innovative, revolutionary and bold strategic plan of action. How about expanding MEHS into a new building; and making B&GHS so attractive (as it once was) such that the building could be fully utilized. And this will work not because of “gimmicks”; but because someone, somewhere thinks that the students of both schools are worthy of serious thought and attention; and then we could see the power of a thoughtful and caring plan of experimentation-action that sought to save, and not sink student’s hopes and dreams.

Michael A. Johnson is a former Teacher, Principal and Superintendent.

What I learned from the: “Gorilla lives matter movement”

“Just like them teachers do fore they realize Mama like a stone on that spot and ain’t backin up”
-Gorilla, My Love— Toni Cade Bambara

“I am really an optimist; I am just trying to scare people in order to wake them up!”
-Karen Hunter Show Sirius XM; 5/31/16

“Black children don’t matter”

This is an issue that has haunted me for many of my years in public education. It is a persistent idea that has been ever-present, just above, below and inside of every situation I faced. And although I must admit, that even as many of the educators I deeply admire like: Ron Edmonds, Asa Hilliard, Barbara Sizemore and Adelaide Sanford (combined with and my own personal experiences), have been expressing some form of this concern for many years; it was only after my last public education assignment, that I have finally come to fully accept its “truism”. Now, this sounds strange even to my ears; and so I know it must sound strange to many of my friends and collogues, with whom I have discussed this problem so often, for so many years, such that people both in and outside of education often see me as a soldier in the battle against this debilitating concept. But I am starting to appreciate the major difference between knowing, and even saying, to fully understanding and effectively responding to the assault on the personhoods of children of color in this nation.

I am also embarrassed by the inspiration of the Gorilla lives matter movement (GLMM) in helping me to finally accept the reality of the result of Africans being forcible removed from their land; and then being systematically transformed out of their humanity, and transferred into a state of inhumanity, “things”. Thinkers and writers like: Victor Frankel, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Michel Foucault and Primo Levi have all warned us that it is not normal to act normal, once one has been subjected to living in a prolonged and brutal dehumanizing state; it’s natural for even the most human of victims to begin to doubt their own humanity; and to doubt the humanity of those who look like them.

The public education system has been an efficient vehicle for that tragic transformation; being in fact the place and process, so eloquently stated (my summation) by Malcolm X: “Where we learned to love the people who hate us, and hate the people who love us!” I also feel ashamed of my late arrival to accepting the facts on the ground because as a first year principal in NYC, the supervising superintendent of high schools (approximately 500 high schools in the 1980’s-1990’s) stated once that I had the “best and fastest learning curve he had ever seen in a rookie principal!” Later a chancellor in the same school system, speaking to the press about my appointment to a very troubled school district stated that: “I was one of the gems of our school system!” And so why did that “learning curve gift and professional skill and knowledge” so fail me? Why could I not turn the corner and accept even the most painful and obvious truth?

And although all of the places I have worked have confirmed this terrible idea; and despite all of the written warnings of people like Paulo Freire, Albert Memmi, Frantz Fanon and Carter G. Woodson. And after sitting in a CCNY classroom under the tutelage of John Henrik Clarke (history); and Kenneth Clark (social psychology); I would need to credit the GLMM with the culminating, bringing it home lesson. And that lesson is: That in both in and outside of public education, ultimately, in this nation, Black children don’t matter!

And just to be clear about this “not mattering” thing, it is not limited to a particular race; part of the painful side of my learning process, and perhaps the source of my resisting its horrible conclusion; is that do to the very psychological damage inflicted by public education; Black people are taught that effective efficacious education itself is the enemy. Smartness is whiteness, STEM is our mortal enemy, academic achievement is an act of race betrayal, and that books are laced with poison; and finally: “we don’t really deserve wonderful educational things!” When the people you choose to serve are their own chief societal haters; then naturally they will hate you, and seek to destroy anything you try to create of value for them; because in the final analysis, they don’t truly believe that they deserve anything that is good and valuable.

How did we get here, well that is an entire course titled: “The theory, process and practices of human dehumanization” (Since they are so excited about making slave films, how about making that one!). The syllabus of that course must have a central learning objective that says: “You must not fight for the education of your children”; this objective insures generational destruction and degradation; or the feeding of children to the ever hungry prison and social “fixing” industry; and as summed up by the poet Langston Hughes; to produce a generation of dreamers whose dreams are deferred, year after year, after year, after….

The GLMM nailed it for me. And even after having lived through the pre-civil rights era; I had to admit that I was shocked at the low intellectual quality of the conversation around this incident. As I followed this story in the news and on social media, I kept asking myself: “What am I missing here?” Why is the outpouring of sorrow for the dead gorilla bigger than all of the daily senseless killings of the young disenfranchised Black people in our nation? Where is the concern for the many forms of a living deaths that they face: Poor and inadequate education that removes them from any chance of being a meaningful citizen-participant in a future America. The children whose brains and bodies are cynically poisoned by the water they drink, poison in and around the walls where they live, in the neighborhood streets where they play. Young people who are permanently damaged by an official national policy of not more, but “less”: joblessness, opportunity-less, homelessness and hopelessness.

I once wrote, with an angry tongue lodged firmly in clinched cheek. That Black young folks needed to be placed on the US Endangered Species List. Mabey then they could have a chance at surviving and thriving. And who knows, perhaps stimulate a national policy and movement that affirmed that their lives mattered to the well-being of our nation and species.

But what if we don’t wait to be loved. To have someone love your children more then you love them. Or, maybe we could just fall in love with ourselves, with our own humanity, our own potential, and take our educational destinies into our own hands.