Mr. Large was writing about a PBS special on Tuesday called "Too Important to Fail" with broadcaster Tavis Smiley. It was about the issue of black students and education. From the column:
The problem is bad, but it is not hopeless, it can be fixed, and we already know a lot about how to do that.
One of the educators Smiley interviewed laid out some of the statistics: a high-school dropout rate above 50 percent, and 85 percent don't read or do math at grade level in fourth-grade. He said that if white children faced those numbers, all hell would break loose.
Those two paragraphs confuse me because if we know how to solve the problem - to any degree - why are the stats so bad?
He then goes on to ask a series of questions that lead me to more confusion:
The question of whether this was something black people could do on our own came up. It always does. The answer is no. Can we afford to abandon public schools? No. But can we afford to watch the same behaviors lead to the same results while we wait for the institution to evolve? Definitely not.
Black involvement and leadership alone are not enough, but that involvement is critical as we address issues that carry over from home to the schoolhouse.
So I have a series of questions:
- is he saying that the expectation is that black people should be able to solve the problems they see within their community? Because if that were true, then it would seem that the problem comes from their community and we all know the problems are larger than any one community. I'm confused here.
- He makes this statement: What teachers bring to the classroom matters, too. Students learn best when teachers understand each student's background and are prepared and willing to deal with the baggage they bring to class. I have no problem with the first statement. It's the second one that I have difficulty deciding if I think that is possible. Maybe in elementary school, a teacher might be able to know each student's background. It's not like parents/guardians fill out an information sheet for each child for each teacher "things you should know about my child."
Teachers, you tell me - do you ask your students a lot of personal questions if you feel something is impeding their learning? Go to a Family Support Worker?
I'm also just not getting how this would happen for middle and high school? With multiple teachers? Is knowing a child's background the same as cultural competency?
Also, what does "deal with the baggage they bring to class." Does that mean accepting behavior you wouldn't accept from another child who has a more stable life? Does that mean trying to give them more support? I don't know what he means for teachers to do.
The column goes on to say:
Early in the Tavis Smiley program, one educator said 83 percent of the country's teachers are white women. About 1 percent are black men.
If a teacher has to be black to educate black boys, we are lost.
Fortunately, cultural competency can be taught. Of course not all teachers are willing to put in the effort to examine themselves and learn how to be more effective. Schools need the flexibility to assign teachers with the tools and willingness to engage black boys to schools where those skills are most needed.
Has anyone asked why more black adults don't become teachers?
Also, how does a district know, for sure, which teachers have "the tools" and the willingness "to engage black boys"? Is that based on a principal assessment? I honestly don't know.
When teachers' approach to black and Latino boys is based on punishment (suspensions, detention) failure is almost a given.
He's right here as study after study shows (as well as that Latino and African-American boys are disproportionately disciplined).
But then he says this:
Schools adapted to work well for black boys would work better for Latino boys, too, and indeed for all boys. Boys in general are slower than girls to gain the reading skills that are critical to education — and to get into trouble when they don't thrive in school.
Is he advocating for schools just for boys? Schools just for minority boys?
I feel his helplessness and "something has got to change" but what? He doesn't really say.
Mr. Large raises too many questions with answers that aren't clear or understandable in their execution.
This is part of an even larger picture for all of our society:
- do we value education in this country? In the higher achieving countries like Finland and South Korea, education is at the top of values and teachers are revered. Can we say that here?
- education CANNOT solve all problems. Not by a long shot. A good school with caring teachers and staff can absolutely make a difference in the life of child. It may even save some children. But each and every day, students walk out of school and go home. They see billboards and watch tv and go on computers. They interact with family. There is nothing that a school can do about any of that and yet it impacts the learning that takes place at school.
- When we, as a society, have shows like Jackass and Teen Mom which promote stupid behavior, it doesn't help promote education. When we have a president who makes jokes about being a C student and still becoming president, it doesn't help. When nearly every profile of Bill Gates at some point uses the word, "geek", it doesn't help.
- When is being smart going to be valued? Everyone wants a great doctor, hopes that the bridge they are on was designed by fantastic engineers and hopes some scientist is creating the cure for cancer and yet who are the best paid people (and most popular)? Rap stars, movie stars, professional athletes. These are not bad people but why don't we give more focus to those who make a real difference in our country?
The goal should be good academic outcomes for all and not well, some kids are bright and others are great athletes and artists. If we take that stance, we give up on some kids and their learning. We can't afford to do that.
I just know two things. Education cannot solve all the problems in a child's life and our country, our society is going to have to take a good long look in the mirror and ask if maybe we are our own worst enemy when it comes to educating our children.