Skip to main content

We Are The Achievement Gap

I recently read in my local newspaper that a group of African American parents was forming what they called a “parallel school board” to monitor efforts to decrease the achievement gap of African American children in one of the local public schools. Although I applaud their efforts, I think they’re misguided.

I’m about to say something that I think will be highly unpopular in the African American community, but it needs to be said.

We are the achievement gap, not the schools. We don’t value education enough to inculcate educational achievement throughout a child’s home life. Before you can dress down the government for the achievement gap, we have to address what is happening in children’s homes such that they are not achieving.

There. I said it. And here’s why I said it: The government doesn’t have an obligation to educate our children; the government only has an obligation to provide the means by which children can achieve an education. Whether or not a child is achieving and gets a good education is the sole responsibility of parents because only parents have a true interest in the outcome.

The education of our children is far too important to leave to the government, because the government doesn’t have an interest in the education of our children. Sure, there are dedicated teachers and administrators and some well meaning policy wonks in local, state and federal government, but, overall, the government doesn’t have an interest in the outcomes of our kids. And trying to make the government more accountable to our children while they continue to languish is a waste of time and energy that we don’t have as our children fall further behind.

I challenge you to find an underachieving child of any race in a two-parent family where the parents read to the children, supplement their education with books, music lessons, tutoring if necessary, and language lessons, engage them in critical thinking over dinner, expect – not just hope – they will attend college (and not on an athletic scholarship – don’t get me started!), and expose them to cultural activities such as dance, travel, and museums.

You see, education starts in the home. And it isn’t just reading, writing and math. It’s anything that enhances critical thinking skills and cultural exposure, whether it’s playing board games instead of video games, learning to read music instead of just listening to music, and discussing history and politics during dinner. And, no, education is not just job training writ large; it is preparation to survive in a constantly changing world by understanding how it works.

So before we go hanging responsibility for the achievement gap on the government, especially since the government will do nothing more but placate us anyway, we need to ask – what are we doing in our homes to educate our children? Because education is more than simply sending your child off to school with a bag lunch and an admonishment to learn. I think parents have to educate themselves enough to know what their children should be learning and when, and then they must make sure that, even if the schools fail to teach their children, that they themselves step in and fill the gap, whether it’s through tutoring or teaching their children themselves. That requires that parents know what their kids need to learn to achieve, which means parents have to educated enough in order to know how their children should be educated. Education can’t be a “do as I say, not as I do,” kind of thing. If it’s that important, parents need to first educate themselves, not only to be stewards of their children’s education, but to demonstrate to their children that education is that important that it is worth reaching for no matter one’s age or stage in life.

So, I would urge the “Parallel School Board” to ask the following questions of interested parents:

1. Do you know what reading and math skills your child should master this year? Do you have those skills? If not, are you prepared to get them so that you can help your child get them,too?

2. Do both parents communicate the importance of education to the children?

3. Is your child’s home life stable? If not, what are you doing to provide a stable home life?

4. Do you have at least a high school diploma and, if not, do you plan to get one?

5. Does your child have too many responsibilities at home that take away from learning?

6. Does your child have a quiet place to study? Access to a computer?

7. Do you take the time to find out what children in high achieving schools at the same grade level as your child are studying and make sure that your child is studying the same thing, even if it means learning those things outside of the assigned curriculum at your child's school?

8. Do you require your child to read books beyond those assigned in school?

9. Do you know what courses your child will have to take to be prepared for college – and no, a high school diploma is NOT preparation for college – and have you made sure they are prepared to take those courses?

10. Do you limit television viewing, internet use, and video game playing by your children in your home?

11. Do you discuss world events with your child?

12. Do you supplement what they study in history and social science with culturally and historically accurate readings?

13. Do you read the newspaper and do you make your child read the newspaper?

14. Do you make your child write beyond what is assigned in school?

15. Do you provide music lessons for your child?

16. Do you ask your school for summer reading lists for your child? Do you make your child do summer reading?

17. Do you encourage your child to get involved in educational extracurricular activities such as chess club, debate team, ACT-SO, marching band, Spanish club, etc.?

18. Do you take your child to the library? Does he or she have a library card?

19. Do you read the books your child is assigned to read for English and discuss the books with them?

20. Do you play board games with your child?

21. Do you expose your child to cultural activities, e.g., Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the ballet, repertory theater, museums?

22. Do you make sure that your child learns at least one other language other than English? Do you learn the language with your child so he or she can have someone to practice with at home?

These are tough questions. And not all of these actions require money, but they do require time, and a library card at the least. We can talk later about supporting parents in their efforts to be stewards of their children's education by including family members, neighbors, mentors, etc., but first, parents have to accept that they are indeed the stewards of their children's education, not the schools. To ask a school board to be accountable for the achievement gap without examining what parents themselves are doing seems incongruous to me, especially since uneducated and underachieving children don’t end up living in the basement at the school board office as adults.

I have a dream. I dream that African American parents will start an educational movement that won’t be dependent on public schools but instead dependent on African American parents and communities creating a free and publicly available curriculum such that African American children can be educated better than their counterparts. A movement that will not only eliminate the achievement gap, but create one in which African American children are the overachievers, putting a gap between themselves and others. But it all starts at home. Most revolutions do.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Retired Man Walking: Too Young to Retire, Too Old to Take Shit

A while back I ran into a friend and fellow professional employed by the State of California, and he offered me his perspective on State employment as a tail-end Baby Boomer like myself -- someone who can't retire because he lacks the requisite age or years of service, but, unlike myself, is tired of taking shit from superiors who don't know what to do with you.

Although my friend gave his permission for me to use his name in this blog entry, I decline to do so because what he does is so specialized that it would not be hard for anyone to identify him as one of the few African American men, if not the only African-American man, in California state civil service who does what he does. For purposes of this blog entry, I will refer to him as he now refers to himself:  Retired Man Walking.

Retired Man Walking, or RMW, has an interesting philosophy he applies to working for the State as a professional who isn't old enough to retire but has been around long enough to know the s…

My Prayer and Mantra for 2017 -- Do Not Waste Time on People and Things That Don't Matter

In this era of fake news, fake political candidates, and fake people all around, my prayer and mantra for 2017 is simple:  Do not waste time on people and things that don't matter.

In 2016, I spent too much time and money on things and people who didn't matter.  I allowed myself to become distracted by stuff that, for me and Black Man Not Blogging, didn't really matter for our happiness.  These distractions not only didn't improve the quality of our life together; they decreased it with additional and unnecessary stress.

The good news is that, for the most part, we're okay.  Yeah, Trump and his ilk really suck, but instead of a lot of hand wringing and commiserating, I'm going to do the one thing my late mother She Who  Is Exalted (SWIE) did better than anyone I know:  Play the hand you've been dealt.  My mother was a black female without a college education and with six kids, so playing the hand she was dealt was her survival skill.  Now it will be mine.

S…

Hillary Clinton Can Stop Trump -- If She Releases Her Electors

Hillary Clinton isn't going to be President of the United States.  At least not yet.  And not in 2017.

But she can possibly stop Donald Trump from being President by releasing her pledged electors  in the Electoral College to vote for a compromise Republican candidate.

This is part of the strategy of the Hamilton Electors, members of the Electoral College who see that Donald Trump is not qualified to be President.  They argue that the Electoral College's role is not to rubber-stamp the popular vote -- which, in this case, would belong to Clinton -- but to serve as a check on the popular vote to make sure that no one who is unfit assumes the office of President.

According to the Hamilton Electors, named for Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (Yes, he of the very popular musical for which I can't get tickets) Hamilton stated that the Electoral College's test for fitness to be the President was as follows (and I'm quoting):

Election of a Qualified Person: As Hamilton s…