Skip to comments.A cry in the black education wilderness
Posted on 04/28/2003 1:32:16 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
The great disappointment of my ongoing crusade to foment a revolution in black education has been the lack of a response, and even hostility, from black leaders in this community. Naturally, I expected everyone to drop what they were doing and hop onto my education movement bandwagon.
To be sure, black readers in general have responded positively and in droves to the call for a black education movement along the lines of our historic civil rights movement. They have said they agree that this movement must demand rigorous academic standards and a high level of parental responsibility and community involvement to ensure black children's success.
In a comment typical of many I've received, a reader wrote, "We as black people must begin to create a culture of valuing education ... if we are to ever pull our children out of the river of underachievement in which they find themselves. I believe that this can be done, but it will require a new and different determination on the part of the black community, and every black parent in particular, before it will be achieved."
Another reader wrote, "I am just frustrated at our community's complacency towards education and the willingness of so many parents to allow their children to waste their young years on activities that do not help them become competitive in academia. ... I'm making the effort to convert as many [people] as I can. I think I successfully turned my husband around. He was wiling to buy his children-to-be their first car but would not fund their college education. Now THAT had to change."
But I've heard little from Houston's black leadership.
Of course, many people are doing interesting and important work to promote high standards in black education.
Helen M. Berger runs Houston Preparatory Academy's U-Prep model in which academically promising students from poor northeast neighborhoods are provided four weeks of intensive instruction in reading, writing and math. Afterward, a select few students who meet the high admission and academic standards of some of Houston's best private schools enter those schools with scholarships and the social and academic support of U-Prep to ensure their success.
Sylvia Brooks, president & CEO of the Houston Area Urban League, after reading my columns calling for new black leadership to head a black education movement, called to point out all the work the local Urban League is doing in that field. In fact, the promotion of equal access to education is one of the main goals of the Urban League's advocacy mission, and I applaud that.
Kevin Hoffman, the president of the Houston school board, posed a couple of questions when I complained to him about black leadership on education. "Do you go off and have a public tantrum, or do you work inside the system in which you were elected?," he asked. "Do you want to represent as an insider getting things done or as an outsider making a fuss on the front page?"
Without patting himself on the back too hard, Hoffman noted the significant number of new schools that will be built in black neighborhoods and of old ones that will be renovated under the district's new bond issue. Point well-taken.
My thinking has been that a natural place for the new black education movement to grow could be black churches. I have imagined church leaders organizing tutoring sessions for young members, recognizing and rewarding good grades and bringing in experts to teach test-taking skills and to help parents support their children's educational endeavors.
So, not long ago, I spoke with Rev. Michael Williams, pastor of Joy Tabernacle church. In writing a column afterward, I focused on those issues which he and I held in common, such as parents' major role in early education.
Williams chastised me later for not playing up his other points, such as that "serious and significant inequities" in funding and facilities exist in white and black communities, and that "American institutional life is designed to support white supremacy and public education is no different."
I had chosen to ignore some of his more outrageous statements, such as that "college is overrated for black people" and that many good jobs exist for people without college degrees.
Even if that were true, why would Williams, who also happens to be a trustee of the Houston Community College board, preach that to young people?
People who believe, as Williams apparently does, that black people are powerless to achieve excellence in their lives because they are oppressed victims ought to take a note from all the people who are out there working hard to show black children how bright the future can be. That's real leadership.
Georgsson, an editorial writer, is a member of the Chronicle Editorial Board email@example.com
On my tiny Texas campus of fewer than 1,000 students, only fools refused to read and study diligently. Only fools destroyed their brains with drugs. Only fools physically hurt their brethren. In fact, "being smart" was in. We called it being "heavy." We even expected jocks to be heavy. All musicians, especially the jazz types, were heavy.
Black power meant just that: being black and powerful, being armed with education and the drive to improve our lot in a hostile environment where the very concept of racial egalitarianism was still alien to most white Americans. Black power meant sharing the good and eliminating the bad.
In time, the concept of black power changed. Instead of being a sentiment that united us, it became a source of deep division. Those who followed Martin Luther King and his nonviolent movement, for example, were not as black as those who followed, say, Malcolm X's philosophy or that of the fearless Black Panthers.
No longer bringing us together, black power had become a negative litmus test for one's degree of "blackness." We had entered the "Blacker than Thou" era. On campuses nationwide, black students separated themselves into enclaves.***
Liberal black leaders need new targets for their outrage*** The incident occurred at 10:30 on a Sunday night, meaning that, if effective parenting were going on at all, the 10-, 11-, 13- and 14-year-olds would have and should have been in their homes, preparing for school Monday. But you can't say that in America these days. That's "blaming the victim." Or, using Belafonte's bizarre analogy, it's blaming the field slaves still suffering oppression on the plantation. It's much easier to criticize movie producers, directors, writers and actors. It's much better, psychologically speaking, to bash Bush and Powell. It's just no fun suggesting that the black parents of those hoodlums act like parents. Residents of that Milwaukee neighborhood spoke out in several news stories. One man said the same gang of thugs attacked him and some white friends two years ago. Another said the parents of those boys let them run in the streets at all hours of the night.
It might occur to astute observers that Powell is not the daddy of any of those boys in that Milwaukee mob. Nor is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, or any other black conservative who arouses the dudgeon of Afro-America's depressingly liberal leadership. If every black conservative in America disappeared tomorrow, absolutely nothing would change for the better in communities like that one in Milwaukee. That's why blacks on the liberal/left side of the political spectrum need to find new targets for their ire. They can start by unzipping their lips and going to Milwaukee to confront the parents of the accused, to ask them just what kind of parents they are and to demand where they were the night of Sept. 29. Then they can head here to Baltimore, hit those drug corners and finish the job Angela and Carnell Dawson so courageously started.***
We have no leaders to save our black men*** "I was astonished recently when I read a study about a city's school system where out of nearly 6,000 African-American males in its high school, only 135 earned a B average or higher. Yet, we black people seem paralyzed to act, to mobilize -- to be outraged! We have failed miserably in addressing, for lack of a better description, "self-destruction of the black man.' Today . . . women head 70 percent of black households! Now you tell me, how are young black boys going to learn how to be men? Folks, what we have . . . is a national crisis -- demanding the highest attention of civic, business and government leaders. I am proposing that communities across the country initiate and start a "Save the Black Man Project.'***
White teachers flee black schools *** Critics see the exodus as a new form of segregation, encouraged by court rulings that no longer enforce racial diversity. But teachers say that cultural and economic barriers, not racial ones, are fueling the trend in a region where more than 40 percent of the public school population is black. At the very least, the growing shortage of white educators is creating a dilemma for black schools from Picayune County, Miss., to Decatur, Ga. Right now, there aren't enough black teachers to go around, either. "All the stars are aligned for white teachers to leave," says Gary Orfield, an education professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "It's a combination of poverty and racial segregation, added to cultural differences, that all makes it tough for suburban teachers to figure out the black and Latino cultures."***
Speaking Truth With Power ~ John Fund*** Black leaders who focus on racial divisions are too often showered with media attention and, what is worse, given a free pass on demagoguery. Presidential candidate Al Sharpton, handled with kid gloves by other White House contenders, comes to mind. At the same time, leaders such as Clarence Thomas, J.C. Watts, civil-rights leader Roy Innis and even Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are often called "sellouts," or worse, for not viewing every issue through a racial prism.
Nonetheless, a growing number of black officials are breaking ranks by calling for a more honest approach to race relations. The latest is David Clarke, the elected sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis., who accused other black elected officials of practicing a "cult of victimology" instead of making "real efforts to better the lives of black people." His critics claim that the 46-year-old Democrat is pandering to whites, but his message has struck a chord among voters of all races and could catapult him into higher office.
.. Sheriff Clarke will have none of that. "We're not targeting a population. We're targeting neighborhoods," he told the Journal-Sentinel. "The majority of people arrested for violent crimes, they're black males. Why should we kid ourselves . . . they're ravaging the lives of other black individuals." "I'm result-oriented, and our neighborhoods will never prosper if we don't keep criminals from victimizing families," Sheriff Clarke told me. He is heartened by the reaction he is getting from ordinary black citizens. "They agree that our community will only be strong if we reject low expectations and failure on everyone's part. A new generation of leaders think it's time for a fresh message and more honesty."
A 24-year veteran of the Milwaukee police force, Sheriff Clarke was appointed county sheriff last year by a Republican governor. He promptly disappointed the GOP by winning a full four-year term as a Democrat, albeit one who openly admires Clarence Thomas and Colin Powell. He says his blue-collar parents taught him "not to use race as an excuse," and he mourns that today "playing the race card is done as if it were some kind of sport." He has called for crackdowns on truant students after a mob of boys as young as 10 bludgeoned a man to death.***
Poverty in the nation*** Is poverty pre-ordained? I think not. A married couple, both working full time at a minimum-wage job that pays $5.15 per hour, would earn an annual income of $20,600. Keep in mind that few adults earn wages as low as the minimum wage and those who do earn a higher wage after a few months on the job. If a married couple both working at the minimum wage had no children, they would not be poor; if they had two children, they wouldn't be living in the lap of luxury, but neither would they be below the poverty threshold.
Let's look at poverty in female-headed households. Divorce and death of the father might explain a small part of why there are so many female-headed households. But the bulk of it is explained by people having children and not getting married in the first place.
Having children is not an act of God. It's not like you're walking down the street and pregnancy strikes you; children are a result of a conscious decision. For the most part, female-headed households are the result of shortsighted, self-destructive behavior of one or two people. They might have bought into the nonsense of "experts" like John Hopkins University sociologist Professor Andrew Cherlin, who said, "It has yet to be shown that the absence of a father was directly responsible for any of the supposed deficiencies of broken homes." The real issue, according to Mr. Cherlin, "is not the lack of male presence but the lack of male income." That's a call for fathers to be replaced by a government welfare check.
According to a NPR/Kaiser/Kennedy School Poll, the leading cause of poverty identified by both the poor (75 percent) and non-poor (65 percent) was drug abuse. Again, it's not like you're walking down the street and you're struck with drug addiction; to use drugs is a conscious decision. Drug-users tend not to be very productive. They drop out of school, abandon their families, have scrapes with the law and don't hold down jobs. Would anybody be surprised that poverty is one result of drug usage?
Most middle-class Americans, including black Americans, are no more than one, two or three generations out of poverty. How did they manage this feat; what's the secret for avoiding poverty?
I think it's a no-brainer. Finish high school and take a job, any kind of a job. Today, but not when I graduated in 1954, if a person graduates from high school, with even a C average, there is a college or some kind of skills training program somewhere for him, and often financial assistance to boot. So if a person doesn't take advantage of today's available opportunities, particularly those during the boom of the 1990s, and engages in self-destructive behavior, whose fault is it?***
Educator says blacks underachieve - "Do you think so low of yourself .?" *** ''I don't like you segregating us like this,'' one student told White during a question-and-answer session. ''You know what I mean, calling us bad or whatever. I think you should have something like this after school.''
White was unswayed: ''You're in school. I run this school, and I meet with you when I want to.'' Parents in the back clapped and nodded. ''That's right!'' said a few, calling out as if they were in church. White said he knew that some students in the crowd were making straight A's, but he wanted them to help boost the performance of the others.
One student asked the superintendent if any other Indiana school districts were hosting similar convocations. White is one of only three black superintendents in Indiana's 293 school districts. White superintendents tell him they would be accused of prejudice or profiling if they targeted black boys to improve their academic performance. ''To me, it's the truth,'' White said. ''The truth will set you free.''***
Our kids are failing; where's the shame? *** I've tried to be impervious to "group think." But I've recalibrated my thinking regarding collective guilt and shame. Why? Because I'm ashamed of the low achievement today of most black kids in school systems nationwide. Black people collectively should join me in my shame. The point being not to wallow in it, but move to do something about it.
.. What happened? The Edwardses, and other black Cy-Fair parents, asked the district to challenge their children, to raise, not lower, the bar. Most importantly, they took responsibility for preparing their kids to compete. They partnered with area churches to enlist parents in their effort. They disseminated information about tutoring, enrichment opportunities, how to get into college and shared common stories and strategies. They also give large credit to Superintendent Rick Berry, who then was new to the district, for accepting the challenge. Now, the district has "recognized" status due largely to black students now passing the TAAS test in the 90 percentile.
Progress was not easy. District officials were initially skeptical and parents were disinterested and "lazy," DeBra Edwards said. "I can't blame this (failure) on the white folks any more because it's really not their fault," she said. "It's our fault. In so many cases our parents don't want this responsibility. It is easier for them to allow their children to become a part of the sports programs." And that is shameful.***
Two of the Texans, Wallace Jefferson and Dale Wainwright, were elected to the state Supreme Court, which has nine justices. The third is Michael Williams, 49, who in 1998 became the state's first African-American to hold a statewide executive position when he was appointed by Governor George W. Bush to complete the term of a departed member of the Texas Railroad Commission. He was elected to the commission in 2000 and reelected last year.
The commission has precious little to do with railroads. It regulates the state's oil and gas industries. Which is to say, it matters. Being born in Midland, Texas, was a shrewd career move by Williams, who returned there after attending the University of Southern California and staying there for law school. In 1978, at age 25, he ran for county attorney in Midland, and was, he cheerfully says, ''slaughtered.'' Part of the problem may have been his campaign manager, a callow whippersnapper named George W. Bush.
In 1990 the first President Bush appointed Williams as assistant secretary of education for civil rights and he soon riled the civil rights lobby by ruling that college scholarships exclusively for minorities are illegal. Today his head is full of thoughts about how Republicans can make inroads with African-American voters. This, he says, is how: slowly, state by state, with statewide candidates. Ken Blackwell agrees.
Blackwell is Ohio's secretary of state and the nation's senior African-American holder of a statewide office. A conservative who supported Steve Forbes for the 2000 presidential nomination, Blackwell notes that if Al Gore had received the votes Ohioans gave Ralph Nader, Bush would have carried the state by just 1 percentage point instead of 4. So it might be momentous if in 2004 Bush increases his share of Ohio's African-American vote from 9 percent to, say, 15 percent.
Winning reelection last year, Blackwell won 50 percent of the African-American vote, but does not think this helped the gubernatorial candidate, Bob Taft, who won without significant African-American support. However, Blackwell believes that his own success made it easier for Taft to select an African-American, Jennette Bradley, as his running mate for lieutenant governor.
The second African-American elected lieutenant governor last year is Michael Steele and the first ever elected statewide in Maryland. Robert Ehrlich, who selected Steele and is now governor, may have received as much as 14 percent of the African-American vote, while his opponent, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, did not get the turnout she needed.
Before the 2000 election, the most prominent African-American in public life was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is prominent because of a Republican, the first President Bush. Never have African-Americans been as prominent in a presidential administration as they are in the current one, given the war against terrorism and the prominence of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in the waging of it. Before the war eclipsed domestic policy, the president was particularly interested in education policy, which is the purview of Secretary of Education Rod Paige, an African-American.
Britain's Conservative Party gave the country a Jewish prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, and a woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. The second African-American elected governor of an American state since Reconstruction -- Douglas Wilder was elected Virginia's governor in 1989 -- may come from America's conservative party, the ranks of whose elected and appointed officials are decreasingly monochrome. And the successes of African-American Republicans in statewide elections will begin to produce modest -- and tremendously consequential -- Republican gains among African-Americans in presidential elections. [End]
George F. Will is a syndicated columnist. This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 4/28/2003. © Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
What Rod Paige Really Said - The trigger-happy media target the secretary of education By Kenneth L. Woodward 04/28/2003, Weekly Standard Volume 008, Issue 32 [Full Text] EDUCATION SECRETARY Roderick R. Paige, it appears, is the latest victim of gotcha journalism. In his private life, Paige is a deacon at Houston Baptist Church. Last week the Baptist Press, a denominational news service, asked him in an interview, "Given the choice between private and Christian, uh, or private and public universities, who do you think has the best deal?"
To which Paige replied: "That's a judgment, too, that would vary because each of them have real strong points and some of them have vulnerabilities, but you know, all things being equal, I'd prefer to have a child in a school where there's a strong appreciation for values, the kind of values that I think are associated with Christian communities." As a transcript later released by Paige's office showed, this was amended by the Baptist Press reporter, fired for changing Paige's words, to read: "All things being equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith."
Gotcha! Once the interview made its way into the Washington Post and other secular publications, Paige became the target of liberal assault. Civil rights groups, educational organizations and, of course, Democrats in Congress expressed their ire. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York circulated a letter among party colleagues demanding an apology "to the many American families whose faiths and educational choices your remarks have denigrated. If you are unprepared to make clear that this sort of religious bigotry has no place in the Department of Education, then we would urge you to resign."
At a press conference, Paige said he saw no reason to do either, adding that he had intended to convey only his personal preference to have a child in a college that emphasizes strong Christian values. But the liberal media saw a chance to play Toto, ripping away the curtain of educational impartiality to expose the Bush administration's hoaxing Wizard of Oz. A Washington Post editorial claimed the secretary's remarks revealed that the administration's support of school choice "is a cover for Christian school advocates who have given up on public education." Gotcha! A New York Times editorial the next day mongered the same fear. Paige's statements, said the Times, "reinforce suspicions that the administration is in sympathy with the religious right's drive to undermine the public school system in favor of a voucher-financed nationwide network of religious schools." Gotcha Deacon Paige!
Do Paige's critics really believe a pious Southern Baptist--or devout Muslim or observant Jew--cannot, should not, run the federal educational establishment if, as a parent, he would prefer to see his own kids in a religiously run school? The Post editorial at least acknowledged Paige's extraordinary achievements as superintendent of Houston's public schools. But neither the Times nor the Post seems to realize that thousands of public school teachers, principals, and superintendents send their own children to private and parochial schools for much the same reason--values--that Paige cites. So, one has to believe, do some of those who write editorials for our elite newspapers--at least those editorialists who are old enough to have school-age children.
The difference between religious and public schools lies less in values than in ethos: Elements of the ethos that makes Catholic schools work so well--things like discipline, esteem for students, personal attention, and equal academic demands on all students, not to mention on-site educational direction--can and should be duplicated in public schools. But there are other elements that only a religious education can provide. Study of the faith is one of them, but more important is the ethos of the school community and the explicitly religious formation it provides. A difficult virtue like forgiveness of enemies, for example, is more likely to impress students when it is presented as necessary to the formation of a Christ-like character, just as the compassion of the Buddha or the justice demanded by the Torah is best taught in a Buddhist or a Jewish school setting. This kind of formation cannot--should not--be part of the public school experience.
But the heavy-handed reaction to Secretary Paige is more than just the public education lobby acting on alert status. There is vincible ignorance at play here, as well as ideological bias. One has to ask where the editors of the Times get their information on parochial schools. No reporter at the Times, or at New York's tabs for that matter, is assigned to cover non-public schools. In Chicago or Cleveland or Dallas or Houston, the media recognize that Catholic, Lutheran, and other parochial school systems serve the public and are therefore news. But readers of the Times and those in Congress who echo its editorial views know more about the Muslim madrassas in Pakistan than they do the religious schools in New York or Washington. For more than 30 years I have been reading the Times's annual Education supplement, and only once have I seen a story on what is one of the largest Catholic school systems in the country.
Running throughout the ongoing debates in American education is the assumption that public schools are, by their very public-ness, more diverse than religious schools. Many of them are. But check out almost any inner-city Catholic school and you will find that black Baptists, Hispanic Pentecostals, and even Muslims may constitute the majority of the students. When last I visited the Catholic grammar school that my relatives attended in Detroit, I found in the classroom a statue of the Madonna in one corner and an open Bible, an icon for the school's many black Baptist students, in another. A few years ago, the winner of the annual award for the best religion essay at Rice High School, a private Catholic school near Harlem, was a Muslim. But that story never made the New York Times.
Diversity, it appears, is in the eye of the beholder. In my own public school district, one of those Westchester County upper-income enclaves that promise "private school education at public school expense," students are far more uniform--in terms of family income, parental background, and cultural capital--than those I studied with in a Midwestern Jesuit high school half a century ago. My own experience has since been reinforced by a study of Catholic education published a decade ago by two scholars from Harvard University. They found that in terms of real diversity--namely socioeconomic background, including ethnic mix--and in terms of providing all students with a demanding curriculum, the Catholic rather than the public schools are the true heirs of the American "common school," as envisioned by public education's founding fathers. The irony, of course, is that the common school those fathers fashioned, with its mandatory reading of the King James Bible, was designed to make good Protestants out of everyone, especially immigrant Catholic children. Indeed, as late as the 1930s, when my mother-in-law got out of normal school, a Catholic like her could not get a job teaching in a public school in rural Iowa because of her religion. A further irony is that until the 1960s, when the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools, there were few if any evangelical grade or high schools, and leaders of Paige's own Southern Baptist denomination routinely criticized Catholic schools for being divisive and un-American.
That kind of prejudice is long gone. But equally virulent forms of ignorance and bias still pollute our public discourse about how to educate our youth. As the overreaction to Secretary Paige indicates, any public official who expresses a personal preference for religious schools is still suspect in so-called liberal circles. Those who champion a state monopoly on education, it turns out, are the real enemies of diversity.
Kenneth L. Woodward is a contributing editor at Newsweek.
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The entire public school set-up is rotten. The kids aren't learning and the teachers, for the most part, are not up to par and use too much class time pushing the pc/LIBERAL line. The money is enough but it's being sucked off by unnecessary layers of free loaders or tossed off to contractors that shouldn't be allowed a building permit. Teachers' unions are little more than a campaign money conduit to the Democratic Party.
The thing that strikes me the most though, is the willingness of black leaders and teachers to let black children lose out because they had more hate than good sense, that they keep feeding that hate in place of doing the hard work of getting behind people, like those mentioned in the articles above.
Snakes come in all stripes and colors but to sell out your own to gain power, is about as low as low can go. Some pigs seem themselves more equal than others and color isn't the reason.
What does that have to do with education? Why, silly, our job as teachers is to enlighten the next generation and radicalize them, even as we fight all policies that support a meritocracy, like grades and tests. Just asking kids to take a standardized test is racist, see, cause standardized tests judge you purely on your merits, and that reinforces the capitalist system, which is inherently racist because... uhm... because we say it is, that's why.
And so do a lot of teachers and politicans who scream whenever the subject of educational choice is brought up.
And Americans will get change when they demand it. Unfortunately, too many believe those propaganda bumper stickers schools send home mean their children have knowledge - that their school is good and their child is advancing. Grades do not reflect it, that's why the need for all this testing.
Time to drive those Marxists out and bring education back. Tenure is something that needs a sharp ax.
I'm doing a career change to teach special education. I have to take a 6 week orientation class..... My goal is to keep from calling it "indocrination" in front of them.
You got that right. Afro moms ought to insist on voting for the GOP candidate.
(Gen. George S. Patton. - "Success is how high we bounce when we hit bottom.")
I think we're close to bottom.
Here's a story about a school that teaches kids to "care." It's so like a Clinton "feel-your-pain" moment, it makes me cringe.
Upscale school revives a satire about race*** But for cast members, "Day of Absence" was the most real drama they'd ever done. For two months, tense moments in rehearsals precipitated regular breaks to sit on the floor in a circle with Freeman and discuss matters of race. Even with those talks, though, none of the students wanted to play the one black role, for fear of appearing to mock African-Americans. So Freeman played that role herself.
When it was all over, the students said they'd learned not only about race, but also about the challenges of conveying a message. "The moral is [whites] need the black community, and without them, the white community will collapse," said seventh-grader Caitlin Cassidy. "We are kind of preaching to them," eighth-grader Katharine Sargeant added. "But I think it's done in a more creative way so they won't really feel it's that message."***
And like the collapse of the twin towers, more effective than they ever imagined.
But most of all, stable families are needed -- black, white and brown. Families with moms and dads who devote themselves to the care and well-being of their children; parents who see to their children's needs and who encourage them to excel in school. Unfortunately, life is messy and complicated. People change. Families split apart for various reasons -- some truly serious, some incredibly shallow and silly. One wonders, "Why did they get married in the first place?"
On a personal level for millions of children, it is a terrible, hurtful situation not of their making. On the whole, it is a national tragedy of untold consequences. With increasing numbers of out-of-wedlock births, how long can the nation last? ***
I will bet a month's salary that if we let blacks have neighborhood schools as part of their choice plan, parents will become true stakeholders and will participate in their children's lives at school. Everyone, black and white, will benefit.
When race is at issue, we fear the inevitable. And we fear the truth: Left to our own devices, we will segregate ourselves along racial and ethnic lines. Whites will associate with whites. Blacks will associate with blacks. After 2007, voluntary integration will teach us this harsh lesson.***
But no matter how many chances are given to pass, a single test should not determine a student's future, said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida NAACP. "There is more to education than writing an answer," she said. "You have students that can do so many other things, and all should be used to determine if they should be promoted."***
The problem is that he carries a secret that, if exposed, will subject him to almost-certain ridicule: He loves and reads the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, he writes excellent verse and he wants to study English and become a poet of the non-hip-hop kind. I was told of his plight because mine was similar when I was his age, which I had shared with his mother and her classmates. Like I was at 17, this young man is a victim of one of black culture's self-imposed stereotypes: dark-skinned black males are dumb.***
Distressed that their teen-aged children's grades were lagging behind those of their white counterparts, despite having similar socioeconomic advantages in the racially mixed school district, the black parents organized their own investigation. They invited anthropology Prof. John U. Ogbu, a well-known figure in the field of student achievement for the past 30 years, all the way from the University of California at Berkeley to examine the district's 5,000 students and figure out why the black-white performance gap persists.
Six years later, Ogbu has published his findings in a book, Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates publishers). Not all of the parents are pleased with his conclusions. That's because he found part of the problem to be the parents. ***
The fact is that African-American children like mine who are from stable family backgrounds and attend competitive schools are doing well. Any legislative attempt to address the problem of offering African-American students more opportunity must also take into account equipping them to take advantage of those opportunities. We need to move past the political rhetoric and address the real needs of these students.
I am tired of the liberal assumption that the only way to help African-American students is to lower the bar. I am equally weary of my black colleagues who cry "racism" every time the bar is not lowered for them. Ultimately, with our state placing 50th in SAT scores for the nation, we need better SAT preparation for all college-bound students. This doesn't mean only special test-taking courses, but rigorous programs that will teach the vocabulary and math skills that the SAT assesses. Instea
That's part of the prescription for ending educational mediocrity discussed in Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom's new book, "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning" (Simon & Schuster, 2003).
It's no secret that, as the Thernstroms point out, the education achieved by white students is nothing to write home about. In civics, math, reading, writing and geography, nearly a quarter of all students leave high school with academic skills that are "Below Basic." In science, 47 percent leave high school with skills Below Basic, and in American history it's 57 percent. Below Basic is the category the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) uses for students unable to display even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level.
As dismal as these figures are, for black students it is magnitudes worse. According to NAEP findings, only in writing are less than 40 percent of black high school students Below Basic. In math, it's 70 percent, and science 75 percent. Blacks completing high school perform a little worse than white eighth-graders in both reading and U.S. history, and a lot worse in math and geography.
The Thernstroms report, "In math and geography, indeed, they know no more than whites in the seventh grade." From these facts, the Thernstroms conclude, "The employer hiring the typical black high school graduate (or the college that admits the average black student) is, in effect choosing a youngster who has made it only through the eighth grade."***
The Loaded Weapon sneaker is among the latest shoes to hit the Converse conveyor belt. And the new game Ghettopoly, a take on the classic board game Monopoly, features "playas" who vie for stolen property and crack.
All three speak to a growing fascination with hip-hop and its portrayal of urban black America. The products have also ignited protests and boycotts nationwide, highlighting a division in the African-American community over what's an appropriate representation of the black experience.
It is part of a larger cultural war among blacks, fought largely along class and generational lines.
"The traditional civil rights model included a kind of politics of respectability, putting the best face of the African-American community forward," says Imani Perry, a law professor at Rutgers University. "There is an absolute refusal in the hip-hop community to adhere to those ideals of respectability, in terms of what the public face of black people should be."
That tension may only heighten as hip-hop goes global and the appetite for edgy products grows. Nelly announced the release of Pimp Juice, named after his hit single, at the MTV music video awards late this summer. Days later, the Rev. Paul Scott, founder of the Messianic Afrikan Nation, launched a local campaign to keep it off shelves in Durham, N.C. He calls the word "pimp" derogatory and demeaning.
"We don't want our young people walking around with Pimp Juice in their lunchboxes, thinking that it's cool," says Mr. Scott, who has joined forces with black leaders nationwide to petition for Nelly to change the name. "Four hundred years ago, black women were being sold into slavery ... and now someone wants to come out with a drink selling women." ***
Shirley and other Harlemites are right to encourage their children to love learning for its own sake. This new generation will reject the self-destructive mantra that being smart is acting white.
For good reason, Asian children have been labeled the "model minority." If this label is a stereotype, Shirley says she wishes it on all black children. For black children to become another model minority, black parents must change their views on learning and formal education.
"You can't be selfish," Shirley said. "Blacks have got to start sacrificing for the children. I'm not a saint or anything, but I put my babies first. I don't make much money. Their dad helps out some, about $150 a month. I spend every penny I can on the boys' classes. I don't even think about it."
While in Shirley's two-bedroom apartment on St. Nicholas Avenue, I noticed the boys' many awards for excellence in math, writing and science. Books are everywhere. The boys share a tiny bedroom, and each has a laptop that Shirley bought through a discount program her church sponsored.
"A lot of people, even some of our kinfolks, told me I was pushing my kids too hard," she said. "I told them to get lost. When people don't understand what you're doing, you have to shut them out and do what you know is right. My kids don't complain. They love making good grades. They really want to study hard." ***
THE FRUIT OF FAILURE
I am of a generation that has largely failed that role, that turned ''judgment'' into a four-letter word. The fruit of that failure lies before us: an era of a historical young people who traffic in stereotypes that would not be out of place in a Ku Klux Klan meeting.
And I'm supposed to be angry at David Chang? I'm not. He's just a good capitalist, just regurgitating what he has been taught in hopes of turning a buck. My anger is not for the student, but for his teachers. And not just my anger, but my sorrow, too.
I'm not losing sleep worrying about what David Chang thinks of black people. I'm more concerned with what black people think of themselves.***
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