Archive for July 2010

Where would I be?   3 comments

As I read through emails, tweets, blogs, and Facebook statuses this morning, I came across one from @HalonaBlack that really made me stop and evaluate some things. Her post, which you better should read, discusses how some first-generation college students arrive on campus with the short-sighted goal of choosing a major that will help them earn money, in the shortest amount of time possible. Well, as soon as I retweeted it my college roommate posted the following comment on my page:

Roomie: “I can relate to this on so many levels. My Dad (even though he didn’t raise me he thought he had a voice in this) basically told me no “BS” majors (e.g. Communications,journalism, etc). I needed a “real” major so right off I felt limited in my choices. And even going to law school, it shocked me how prepared some of the well to do students were. They had outlines, knew the inside tricks, etc. Always vowed my kid would never start that far behind and would have the ability to pursue whatever she wanted.”

Whew! That hit so close to home it stopped me in my tracks. Now when I chose which college I would attend, no one in my family weighed in on majors, etc. Honestly, the only advice/words of wisdom I received came from my grandfather as he was driving me home from work one day (as we passed the University of Notre Dame): “Don’t you let anyone tell you or make you feel like you don’t belong there, because you do. You have as much right to be there as they do.” Anyone who knows anything about Notre Dame, or any predominantly White college/university, can guess to whom he referred; it’s not rocket science. But that was the way we were raised: We were never taught that we were inferior to anyone. We are all as comfortable, if not more so, in a room where we are the only minority versus being in a room where we are in the majority. (Oh lord I get so sidetracked!) BTW: That’s not me in the pic. It’s Katie Odette Washington, Notre Dame’s first Black Valedictorian.

So the conversation via Facebook continued:

Me: I just finished reading The PACT, about the 3 Black guys from Newark who all went on to college and became doctors. One of them said the exact same thing: The other students were well ahead of him when they started because their parents had professional careers too. I am grateful that I ‘made it’ so to speak because no one in my family had even attended college before me.

Roomie: Exactly, I’m grateful too. Had a single mom that got pregnant in high school. Part of the reason I don’t let “the less advantaged” get away with excuses. And on some level, we know that will be our challenge with Gemma – we want her the be on a level playing field, but we don’t want to make it too easy for her either. Both our families just marvel at the fact that she has a passport.

Me: We (including myself) have a lot of work to do. My oldest doesn’t understand why he has to still do work & read during the summer. I keep telling him that I know what I’m doing….Were it not for Charles Martin & Upward Bound I would likely still be stuck in South Bend, doing nothing. Knowing nothing.

My natural reaction was to actually try to imagine where I would be were it not for supportive people and the Upward Bound program. My mind can’t even go there because I prefer to believe that everything, both good and bad, happens for a reason. Even my decision to move to the South, when I was well aware of it’s history (not to say that the North did not have issues too). Despite the fact that some people obviously still believe that we must carry ourselves as inferior individuals, avoid asking ‘The Man’ questions, or demanding respect, I still believe that everything I have experienced and learned here was for a reason. When those voices begin to question decisions I’ve made, something or someone manages to reach me at the right time, encourages me to keep going, continue asking the questions that make people uncomfortable. I think my grandmother would probably say, ‘Keep raisin’ hell, baby. That’s the only way things will change.’

So, where would you be if no one pushed you to excel, dream big, and be your own person?

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How many reports does it take to close the opportunity gap?   12 comments

Depending on your age, you may or may not be familiar with the commercial from which I borrowed (paraphrased) the blog title. Remember the Tootsie Pop commercial with the boy and Mr. Owl? The boy always asked, “Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop?” Every time, Mr. Owl would take the boy’s Tootsie Pop and start licking; he eventually just bit into it. The boy could have saved himself the grief and just counted for himself, instead he continued to wait for someone to answer his question. What’s my point? Do we really need another report to tell us that the number of low-income school kids is steadily growing?  Didn’t we read a similar report from the Southern Education Foundation a few months ago? And yes, I weighed-in on that one too. I was surprised that Steve Suitts, the author of the January report and Vice President of the foundation, responded to my comments (and I asked how I could help). Here is an excerpt:

“The reality is that far too many students of color and low income students of all races and ethnicities aren’t getting the education they need. The students who need the most resources and support are now usually getting the least. For large numbers of these students to succeed, this pattern has to change. Our report is a call to arms in fighting for that change. Best wishes.”

So if the first report was a ‘call to arms in fighting’ for change, what does that make the second report? Better yet, what will that make the reports that we know will follow? By no means am I being cynical, but rather practical and realistic. Anyone who has spent time (as a teacher or volunteer) in an urban classroom knows the financial circumstances of the students. We know that the number of students now eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch has increased because the economy is in the crapper, and millions of people, with kids, are now unemployed. Did we really need another report to tell us that? How much money and human resources were spent on this study? Aren’t there better ways to use those resources? How about spending some time with lawmakers and educating them on the unseen effects of double-digit unemployment, e.g., families with fewer financial resources to pay for such novelties as food, school supplies, and after-school enrichment programs? Now I feel as though I sound like a broken record because I talk about the same issues, e.g., school reform, wasteful spending, etc., in almost every post. Stuitts has a valid point about the allocation of resources, but when will we see a detailed study on how these states (15 in the South), spend Title I and Special Education funds? Some districts spend more of those funds on administrative costs (unnecessary training, conferences, etc.) than instructional resources. And they get away with it because the federal government’s accountability system is weak. Unless and until stricter guidelines are developed, implemented, and monitored districts will continue to take advantage and waste free money our tax dollars.

Unfortunately, districts will continue to blame their AYP shortcomings on the fact that there are a large number of low-income students in their classrooms. And the madness will continue. So I am issuing a BOLO for the next study telling us that there are now more poor kids in America than ever before. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.