Some of this is spurred by the call of political correctness over Brave New World (over at the Stranger Slog several people referred to whiny victimhood). I'm also reading a good book my son recommended to me that he read in his high school social studies class called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in which a gorilla attempts to teach a young man how to view the world. It's very well done and very thought provoking.
I don't pretend to know all the answers nor can I say I understand the complexities of every group. I don't believe for a minute that we all live in equality and/or equity in this country. I do believe this country does represent the best chance that most people could ever have of reaching that goal. But somewhere along the line the idea that the opportunity of working hard and giving your children a better life evolved to expectation that it should come easily. And maybe without working so hard or by believing for a minute that you could buy a house with $1,000 down and no consequences or that living on credit cards will work.
The worst one? Believing that all you have to do to help your child academically is to send him/her to school and just remind them to do their homework (rather than making sure it gets done). And believing that if your child fails, then it's the teacher's fault or the school's. If a child is failing in school, there is NO one culprit.
So what did I read? I read Tom Friedman's column "Teaching for America" where he goes over the depressing stats about American students. He points out that students who perform the best come from Singapore, South Korea and Finland. (Let's put aside their small size and homogeneous nature even though it does play a part.)
Three countries that outperform us — Singapore, South Korea, Finland — don’t let anyone teach who doesn’t come from the top third of their graduating class. And in South Korea, they refer to their teachers as ‘nation builders.’ ”
Duncan’s view is that challenging teachers to rise to new levels — by using student achievement data in calculating salaries, by increasing competition through innovation and charters — is not anti-teacher. It’s taking the profession much more seriously and elevating it to where it should be. There are 3.2 million active teachers in America today. In the next decade, half (the baby boomers) will retire. How we recruit, train, support, evaluate and compensate their successors “is going to shape public education for the next 30 years,” said Duncan. We have to get this right.BUT he ends saying we also need...better parents. Turn off the tv, restrict the video and the phone and most important "elevate learning as the most important life skill." It's funny because some people might say teaching children empathy or kindness or honesty is more important but really those all relate to learning.
The more we demand from teachers the more we have to demand from students and parents.
The second article was in the NY Times and is entitled, "Proficiency of Black Students is Found to be Far Lower Than Expected". I was talking about this with a friend (who in turn had been talking about it with some Rainier Beach parents she met at Betty Patu's community meeting yesterday). We both agreed we got tears in our eyes as we read it.
Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.
Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.
How can this be? How can middle class African-American boys do more poorly than poor white boys?
This came from the NAEP results from 2009. A report on this issue, "A Call for Change" was released on Tuesday by the Council of Great City Schools. (I have not yet read the report as it is 120 pages.)
“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”
"The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging Congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of black mentors.
What it does not discuss are policy responses identified with a robust school reform movement that emphasizes closing failing schools, offering charter schools as alternatives and raising the quality of teachers.
The report did not go down this road because “there’s not a lot of research to indicate that many of those strategies produce better results,” Mr. Casserly said."
What is interesting is that the article then went on to say some disagree with the above. It stated that in Baltimore their drop-out rate had decline by half from 4 years ago and their graduation rates were up 6 percent in 3 years. They did this by a combination of the ed reform of closing failing schools (but it doesn't note what happened to the schools) BUT, like Everett School District, having one-on-one intervention (knocking on doors and alerting teachers and principals when a student missed several days of school). Meaning, parents would have a hard time missing that their student was in academic trouble.
So this brings me to the last column by the great Bob Herbert in the NY Times entitled, "This Raging Fire". Mr. Herbert is an African-American who frequently writes about that community. He points out the painful truths for the African-America child; a very high rate of single-parent households, high drop-out rate and incarceration rate and being twice as likely to live in a home where a parent doesn't have full-time employment. From his column:
It is inconceivable in this atmosphere that blacks themselves will not mobilize in a major way to save these young people. I see no other alternative.
The first and most important step would be a major effort to begin knitting the black family back together. There is no way to overstate the myriad risks faced by children whose parents have effectively abandoned them. It’s the family that protects the child against ignorance and physical harm, that offers emotional security and the foundation for a strong sense of self, that enables a child to believe — truly — that wonderful things are possible.
I wouldn’t for a moment discount the terrible toll that racial and economic injustice have taken, decade after decade, on the lives of millions of black Americans. But that is no reason to abandon one’s children or give in to the continued onslaught of those who would do you ill. One has to fight on all fronts, as my Uncle Robert said.
He ends this way:
This is not a fight only for blacks. All allies are welcome. But the cultural imperative lies overwhelmingly with the black community itself.
My friend who attended Betty Patu's meeting and was handed this article by a Rainier Beach parent said the parent told her that their community knows this. They don't need blame, they need support. To pull everyone up is going to take effort, not finger pointing.
What has to happen is no more excuses. I do not mean that anyone should forget what has gone before or believe that there is not still discrimination based on skin color, culture or sexual orientation in this country. But treading water and still sinking has got to stop.
I think the parents at Rainier Beach are reaching their frustration point and may be in the best place possible to mobilize for change. We need to support that.