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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Excerpt from The Intelligent Brotha' ; Transcending Race & Adversity

From a chapter entitled "Troubledale"

The first thing I noticed about Cassidy Elementary was that the students all but ran the school.  Of course, there were some teachers who didn’t play that, but for the most part there was a pervading sense of fear.  So many low income children packed in over-crowded classrooms only served to worsen the chances of a child getting a quality education in an already underresourced  public school system.  I went from seeing what was in my previous school relatively well-behaved children, who tended to be generally orderly in the hallways and all the more quiet and attentive during class in their neat blue and white uniforms, loafers and shoes  to…baggy jeans and play clothes worn during school hours, loud lunch rooms and hallways and generally disruptive classrooms.  Subjects like sex, and the personal opinions of students and faculty which would be spoken of discretely in my former school was commonly heard aloud during class and luch time in public schools.  Incidents of fighting and violence and student insubordination was much more rampant. The girls were ‘faster’.  I was flooded with every counter-productive element imaginable.  I learned later that my mother actually wanted me to continue attending parochial school in Philly, but my father decided against it.  I immediately noticed the lower academic  and behavioral standards and expectations for the students.  I remember thinking, “I learned all of this last year.”   Tests were easier because the instruction was less rigorous. More students per teacher meant less time a teacher could spend actually teaching.   Grading was usually on a curve, so the apparent indicators of academic achievements were inherently skewed.   Amidst the students, a greater concern was ploaced on outward appearance.  Status was based on clothes, machismo, promiscuity and a high level of academic performance was placed on the lowest scale of peer values.  It wasn’t cool to be smart, and it wasn’t until it was time for report cards to go home that a majority of the students showed any degree of genuine appreciation for the importance of education.  Then, the next week it was back to business as usual.  For the teachers, their report cards were the results of statewide testing.  During the days approaching the exam week, teachers, and faculty would promote one means or another for students to have some ‘extra’ time to review subjects expected to be in the state assessments, but once the results came back poor, insufficient resources and the students' behavioral problems and the like were held up as the reasons for the disparity in academic achievements in wealthy and generally White districts as compared to those largely inhabited by African Americans.  This cycle of underperformance reinforces itself until as a whole, people begin to simply expect less.  For  a majority of students in public schools, its survival of the fittest, the rat race.  Students don’t fall behind in middle and highschool.  Initially children fall behind as a prority at home.  The less time a parent spends going over homework with children at an early age, and not just giving them lipservice on how important an education is, the more disillusioned they become.  If poor academic performance in school is dismissed as a phase at an early age then the likelihood of that child growing increasingly estranged in the school setting as that child continues to fall behind.  Rewarding underachievement with the newest sneakers, or a video-game is not a detterent to underperformance.  But, parents do it all the time.  If instead of material items, parents set aside time to sit with the teachers and administrators and open dialogue about the child’s needs etc.  there wouldn’t be a such thing as a 50% dropout rate and an equally high incarceration and divorce rate.  Furthermore, school administrations become so preoccupied with behavior agendas that academic needs become less of a priority.  Nutrition and health concerns even more so become a passing issue, as ‘down-towns’ directives for diplomas become further tied to state exams, teachers and administrators fall all over themselves to teach to the test rather than teach to the curriculum.  It’s about pass or fail downtown when it should be about educating and insuring comprehension.  Years later I came to see the cycle from a full circle perspective as a guest teacher listeneing to a majority of instructors clamour on adnauseum in the teachers lounge and dining area about how problematic this or that child was or wasn’t.  I don’t recall one incident where a teacher wasn’t bemoaning his or her stressful classroom and didn’t meet with a chorus of vehement acceptance and agreement.  Not once did I hear constructive criticism of the teacher that suggested maybe she fine tuner her approach or spend a little more one on one time with the student.  For the most part the system’s shortfalls are passed back to the student, leaving the children to bear the brunt and burdens of a system supposedly designed for their benefit.

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