17 July 2009

Obama - we need more than education to help minorities

The President spoke at the NAACP and again harped on the need to push for education to help African Americans advance and strive. He actually said a lot of areas that are needing improvement to help minorities survive and do well, but as a teacher, I tend to think about education.

Education is a big part of the "race" problem, but there is more.

When kids can't focus in school because they have to worry about what is going on at home,or are up late due to a second or third job they have to work to raise money for the family, or they are taking care of small siblings instead of doing their homework, there is no way for them to succeed in school. The system is not designed to help these people. There are some areas that have assistance for students like these, but in my state (MO) the governor has said that he will not fund education in areas that did not vote for him (St.L and KC to be specific). These are the areas with large black populations. These are areas where parents need more than just to try on their own to help their children.

These are the areas where there are less wealthy kids who have nothing to worry about but what new items they will buy and what new drugs they will try as they sit at home and do their homework while watching "The Hills" and "NYC Prep".

Even the educators cause problems. Many of them are not really looking out for the minority students. Many of them punish unnecessarily the brown kids. (You should look at the disproportionate number of referals for brown kids -- and many of the write ups are for little issues that a good teacher should be able to address in the class.) If you go into any in-school-suspension room in this area, no matter what the racial distribution is of the school (it could be 95% white) there are more brown faces sitting in there. These kids are the ones who miss class, who miss assignments because the teachers are tired of sending work to ISS to help these kids succeed while they are out of the classroom.

So then you have to wonder about some of the administrators. Why are they allowing this type of discrepancy in suspensions (in and out of school) to occur? Why are they not teaching teachers how to deal with classroom management? Why are they not making sure that teachers send work to the kids who are in ISS? And when some do send work, why are they not making sure that the work is meaningful and relevant to what the students in the class are working on so that the student is not falling behind the material?

There are a few more liberal teachers in the profession who care about kids and push them to do better. But I am starting to wonder, for what?

These teachers want the students to go through a system in a way that they themselves did not, and in a way that they themselves would never want their children to go through. These kids often have so many struggles out side of school that the teachers cannot help with.

We need to get the community, and the government, and the people who create minimum wage laws, and the landlords who charge way more in rent than is necessary in the area, and landlords who kick people out of their homes in order to build fancier, more expensive condos, and the repo people involved in caring about these people's lives. We need to get police officers who are not going to harass and arrest young people hanging out in the Loop having a good time just because their are more than 5 brown young men together. We need more organizations like College Summit (which my brother works for) who will help young people get into college. We need to get people who will help these students once they get into college, who will hire brown people once they finish college. (Why do I know so many brown lawyers, and other professions who have the highest degrees possible, but cannot get hired full time in their field? Brown people who have given up on trying to "get a job" and instead are trying to start businesses with little start up money since they do not fit the diversity model of the companies they are "overqualified" to work for?) We need to create a community of brown people who are willing to work together to help each other in their times of need. People who will share their resources (not just money, here) to help others.

Until all of these (and more) people work together, there is really not that much more that I, and my fellow good educators, can do to ensure these students better lives in school, or success out of school.


  1. Oh man this is just what I'm talking about. I just made a post about his speech and I left out education. I'm about to link this to my blog.

  2. Lots of good points made as usual. College Summit is in STL public. I have a friend teaching several sections at Gateway HS and very, very low enrollment in the courses. And, even lower brown enrollment. Why? I'll leave that for you to write about. As for class mgmt -- I agree but with one exception. I don't think PD will easily change racial biases that exist in the classroom. I bet most white teachers that routinely write up brown kids, when asked, would have some (in their mind) rationale reason that didn't include the words "because I'm a racist." I also agree with you about ISS assignments. However, and you should know this first hand -- in my school -- your old school -- the brown ISS teacher does not require that brown students (or any ISS student for that matter) complete the work that's been assigned. Not that this represents schools all over the US but what message does that send to my kids about the importance and transformational power of education? It doesn't erase the other socio-economic challenges but it does diminish the power of the one that that I can directly impact in their lives - their education.

  3. @ RiPPa -- Thanks

    @ Christine -- I forgot to talk about that aspect of ISS. In many schools the people in charge of it are brown, non-education people. They are mainly there to make it so that the kids are enjoying their time in the pokie. These people, perhaps since they are not educators, perhaps since they feel the need to make their fellow brown people feel good about themselves, don't always work to push the kids to do better/more. You talk about messages... what message are these schools sending if they put people in charge of the ISS/GED programs who are not really caring about the students' education? Who are not really working to make the students understand why they got to ISS or why they need to work to not get back there?
    And PD will definitely not change people's perceptions. The vast majority of the teachers I know who need some sort of PD on race relations and white privilege do not feel they need it. They teach all kids, they have black friends, some of their favorite students are black/Latino/a.

    It all really makes me mad. Sometimes I wonder if I should stay in education since I am not sure my little self can make a difference even in the worlds of the students I teach with all the other challenges they face and I face.

  4. I agree with the overall theme of your statement, Ibe. I do think this is an area Obama has placed particular attention on, however.

    Aside from education, the President has made multiple statements regarding the need for improved parental interaction among minorities.

    This, of course, would allow these kids to not have to work to support their families in high school, as you mentioned.

    The only other qualm I have was the mention of the wealthy kids who "have nothing to worry about but what new items they will buy and what new drugs they try as they sit at home and do their homework while watching "The Hills" and "NYC Prep."

    This is effectively unfairly profiling a particular group of kids based on their parents' earnings. It is not their fault that they have had opportunities offered to them that many others have not. There are certainly examples of rich kids as you described. But there are a host of others who simply act as they should. While you may not have meant for your words to be taken that way, it is the way they appear to some.
    Taking advantage of the opportunities offered to you does not make one a bad person.

    But overall, a strong piece, and very accurate about the white/black discrepancy in number of kids in ISS.

  5. Ada,

    Hope it's just the frustration talking, but please don't ever allow yourself to be pushed out of education because you feel you cannot make a difference. We can't let systemic issues like these beat us into conformity - which is IMO what giving up would ultimately be: conforming to the idea that there's no problem (or, in your case, no fixable problem). We - those of us who perceive these problems everyday - have to keep being the voice for the students we work with and have faith that some of what we're doing is making a difference.

    I agree with you that it takes a lot more than education reform, more than piecemeal fixes like a PD or ISS reform, and we may never see the wholesale cultural changes that are needed in our lifetimes - but it's something worth fighting for.

    Please keep fighting the good fight, and know that you're not fighting alone.


  6. @ Anonymous -- Thanks for the comments. Definitely not blaming the kids for their financial stability, or saying that they are bad kids.

    My point is just that these kids don't have to worry as much about extra stuff that goes on in their lives that may prevent other students from focusing as much as they should on their education.

    @ Ravi -- It is just some momentary frustration at the system and at the conditions these people live in and at the fact that many of these types of students parents don't see the value in education. It is hard to instill that value in the kids when they get opposing messages from home and their surroundings that may outweigh what their caring teachers tell them.

    I will definitely keep fighting the good fight. It is nice to know that I am not alone. I think that programs like what you do with the debates are ways to help young people see that there is more available to them.

  7. I enjoyed reading your blog very much! Wonderful blog! I know of a great website which promotes classroom management. This site provides guaranteed techniques that have been proven to give teachers control over any disruptive behaviour and motivate any pupil to produce their best work!


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