Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why are our School Systems Failing African American Children?

The answer to this question is complex but let me share  insight gained from living long. 

The failure of African American children comes from multiple directions. I will speak to a few of them.

A traditional public school system is complex with funding sources that reward schools failing to educate with equity.  What would it be like if those who make up the public school systems were passionate and intentional about educating African American children?  What if we had a society that really believed that diversity was key to our longevity as a leader nation?  I saw recent footage of an interview with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when asked about the elements that drove his movement for nonviolence he said that it took passion and intentionality. Intentionality means to be informed by intention and to act on it toward a specific end. When teaching parent classes I use the example of bonsai to bring this point home. Most get it. 

I live an intentional life committed to an excellent education for children our public schools policies cheat and have been cheating for decades.  What we offer our children does not have to be filled with gimmicks or even fancy.  It just needs to be an education offering that allows a child to know the joy of reading, writing and problem solving.  

We look but can not find the level of intention and passion modeled by Dr. King, in the reversing the wrong of a failed system we know as public education. No creative thought, no responsibility for multiple generations of failure, that have locked whole families into sustained poverty.  Chattel Slavery was a system that lasted for 400 years. Can America sustain as a world leader without freeing children and their teacher to learn what is easily teachable. Reading, writing, mathematics and problem solving? Of course we can and we should not need a civil war and emancipation proclamation to do this. 

Though complex, the public school system is one that parents must learn. Even bad systems will work for those who become familiar with the "work arounds."  This ability to work around what is not working in a system is the reason why the same system failing a child at Van Asselt is educating children at View Ridge. First of all, the populations of white and privileged parents dictate what goes into the system, they are the primary users. Parents, teachers and principals of brown, black and poor children have to learn and understand a system for which they are at best tertiary users.  Intentionality will create the work arounds. Unfortunately as soon as the system is learned, it is again changed and again fixes and new systems are not put in place to favor those who need most a system of education geared toward equity and excellence for all children. 

it is a learnable system and little expectation should be placed upon teachers to anything other than teach. They are not hired to apply skills learned or to practice for proficiency. They are not a constant relationship for children parents and families are and families are the greatest determinant of whether a child will grow to be a successful contributing adult in society.  That is not a race based assertion it is true for all children in all parts of the world. 

Children learn from other children and model up only a few years. So the children your children play with make a difference. I knew that the children in our neighborhood who could walk to the store alone and cross Rainier without an adult before they were two digits, were on a slippery slope toward mediocrity other indicators were sure indicators of total failure and yes in two instances early death. Then there was the one child in a terribly functioning family who has done well among the many.  When asking this now 30 year old man why? He tells me, she was not my real mother, and that he knew his father who did not raise him but talked with him about things the other children did not hear from their mother or father.  I found that quite interesting and I observe him to be a devoted father. So all not visibly present to others can be very present to a child. 

Back to education of African American children and even others who are cheated of what it takes to function well in society, any society.  Time on task is missing in too many homes. We have all witnessed the baby who is said to be turned around, they are awake all night and sleep all day. This is how so many parents are. They seem to be turned around doing things backwards with their children, even though doing things more to the norm would be easier.  A child who reads is much easier to manage than one who does not read or one who watches television of hours without interruption.  Reading calms and television agitates. A child who understands numbers, learns to see the complex as less complex because they learn the art of problem solving.  

Okay, I make it sound as if it is easy, it is. And as my friend Josie always says "Dawn, you surely are not a social worker." Meaning, I can not hear the excuses, though I am empathetic and a good support system for many. Why help a person be less than God intended. In a nation where it is said the average person is using only 10% of their brain's ability, why help a person use 5%. How harmful could a push to 15% be?

I write a blog now because I used to share these ideas with a broad spectrum of people. I was surprised by those who found it bothersome and almost an insult to receive these "long messages."  Long? I thought they were short given I used to write snail mail letters that were multiple pages and receive the same from people. I am old enough to hold on to communicating in full words and sentences. By the time the world is speaking only in abbreviated phrases I will be blind, old and babbling and maybe not. One of the great possessions I preserve from my time as a Legislator is a letter from constituent, Iola Davis, in the letter she wrote and mailed she told me she is 92 years old, and proud of to see one of us doing so well." It was a two page letter I guess it should be in a museum.  She lived to be 101 and I attended her 100 birthday party.  

So within families and communities comes the push for excellence. In an Essence interview with President Barack Obama when asked about education and poor families, after saying his daughters do not watch television on school nights, he responded "A poor parent can turn off a television."  

Here is an article written by a parent in 1984 it continues to guide me in my work helping parents learn new skills. Just like with anything it takes many times doing something to change a habit or pattern of behavior. 

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