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April 18, 2005

Civil Rights Lefties Left Behind

Brent Staples fires a warning shot across the bow of the 'Civil Rights Establishment', insisting that they are not entirely logical in their sideline position. He gets no argument from me, especially since I've been advocating for more black engagement with the GOP. But in the following three, he nails something that I alluded to when speaking about Kilson's demography:

The most complex and deep-seated objections to No Child Left Behind
are clearly emanating from teachers and school administrators, who
have come under increasing pressure to improve student performance.
They have always wielded an outsized influence in the black community,
especially in the days of segregation, when they made up that
community's largest, most visible and most respected professional
group. Members of the teacher corps have historically played powerful
roles in civic organizations, including churches, while forming the
backbone of civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P.

Thanks in part to the civil rights movement, which expanded job
opportunities, the teacher corps in the black community is not what it
used to be. Many black children now attend school in educational dead
zones, where teachers are two or three times more likely to be
uncredentialed or unqualified than in the suburbs. It should come as
no surprise that minority children lag behind.

The educational dead zones have become part of a vicious cycle. As
experienced teachers retire, they are replaced by people who were
themselves educated in dismal public schools and sent on to teachers'
colleges that are often little more than diploma mills. The federal
government tried to fix this problem in the late 1990's when it
encouraged teachers' colleges to beef up curriculum and student
performance in exchange for the federal dollars they get in subsidies
and student loans. This effort failed, but it spawned No Child Left
Behind, which requires the states to place highly qualified teachers
in every classroom.

It has long been my position that the ghetto needs to be bombed and that some hard slogging towards residential integration of the suburbs get under way. In cruising through New Orleans, and given my knowledge of the (rusting) industrial Northeast, that's a lot harder to do than say, and probably unlikely to happen. And yet as David Brooks astutely observed in 'Patio Man', this is why people are moving to South by Southwest. It happens quite a bit out here on the West Coast. In fact, California's Inland Empire is probably the best place to be in the nation for families on the rise towards a relatively affordable suburbia. It's certainly growing.

But what Staples says here is very interesting because it underscores the changing profile of the 'Talented Tenth'. Know that I'm with the engineers and scientists and a cadre of professionals which are the largest in the history of African America. We are new to the ranks of the leadership of black Americans. That's one of the things that puts me on the progressive edge of the Old School rather than the traditional edge.

So when it comes to matters like public education policy one needs to seriously ask whether change is more likely to come from successful political agitation from just one party or engagement with both. I tend to be cynical about a Democratic solution and dubious about a bipartisan one. So foot dragging on whatever educational reform is offered at the Federal level has very little support from me. What works - even at the simplistic black-white level of analysis is to get black kids into white schools. The politics paving that road is already done. So it boils down to a matter of money and mobility. I wonder if we are at a point of equilibrium - if all those stuck in the ghetto and the projects are permanently stuck. If so, NCLB is probably going to be the only widely supported initiative with any juice in the nation that trickles down to institutions accessible to those classes of African Americans. To the extent that education is the only way out of the ghetto and the projects, everybody better jump on board, even if it means ignoring those traditional civil rights folks from the old middle class.

I'm going to move quickly beyond the politics of this because I just read Kilson's second article on Black Elites and I want to move quickly in that direction. Still I will mention briefly that he confirms much of what I've been saying about black mobility, and in fact uses that very term.

Posted by mbowen at April 18, 2005 01:36 PM

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The most complex and deep-seated objections to No Child Left Behind are clearly emanating from teachers and school administrators, who have come under increasing pressure to improve student performance.

OK, that's a false premise only because those on the right who would normally object to federal intervention in local schools, indeed the need for federal interjection in local schools, aren't saying a thing. They aren't praising NCLB and they aren't condemning NCLB. That is damning in and of itself. Isn't it strange that Rush Limbaugh hasn't said much about it? Or, at least, I haven't heard him say much AFTER his complaints that it was enacted with the help of Teddy Kennedy.

Know that I'm with the engineers and scientists and a cadre of professionals which are the largest in the history of African America. We are new to the ranks of the leadership of black Americans.

For those who don't know, so am I.

What works - even at the simplistic black-white level of analysis is to get black kids into white schools.

OK, that just totally discounts the Catholic and other religious schools in urban areas that are mostly Black and are doing a good job in educating Black and minority kids.

Thanks for that one.

Posted by: EBrown at April 18, 2005 05:33 PM

As a parent who has put one child through white suburban schools and who is struggling to get a second one through, I have to disagree with you. What works is what Du Bois said many years ago -- sympathetic touch between teacher and student. In modern jargon, that means culturally responsive teaching -- teaching that is based on an understanding of the multiple cultural contexts and learning styles at work in a particular classroom. Here is a good background link on CRT:http://www.intime.uni.edu/multiculture/curriculum/culture/Teaching.htm and here are links to a the work of a teacher-educator/entrepreneur who has been working with school districts across the country to implement and assess CRT programs: http://www.southwestern.edu/~neall and http://ptl-online.com.

Too often, difference is interpreted as a deficit, and that leads to self-fulfilling prophecies in the classroom. Too many schools and teachers lack the flexibility to teach students with the range of experiences and learning styles that today's students bring to the contemporary public school classroom -- even in the burbs. They end up teaching to the bureaucracy's mind-numbing standardized tests, instead of being able to focus on the needs of their children.

I have had to be as much of an advocate for my children as my parents had to be for me and my brother in Philly back in the day. One of the things that was helpful in a school district that I used to live in was that we had an African American parents support group. I no longer have access to that resource where I live now and I miss it tremendously. (Yes, I am working on developing those resources.) But I digress.

My point, quite simply, is that the problems in our schools go beyond the assumptions in your post. The achievement gap exists in suburban schools too, and charter schools and many private schools are failing our kids as well. I left industry to pursue a career in academe because I thought that my business experience would afford me a useful vantage point from which to address some of the problems in my own field in particular. While that experience has been of value, I have learned that the problems are more complex. Of the proposed solutions that I have encountered and experimented with, I find that CRT holds the greatest promise for achieving real progress.

Posted by: Kim Pearson at April 20, 2005 04:40 AM

It's ironic that Ed mentions Catholic school because I too attended parochial school, and there is nothing further from CRT than Catholic school. Nothing about anybody's ethnic background is given any sensitivity or respect. The only way you can get any respect is through obedience and by learning the material placed in front of you. In those days, it was certainly permissible for school teachers to issue corporal punishment, and in two years at Holy Name of Jesus School I got something like 70 swats.

It didn't beat the independence or spirit out of me, it made me stronger. It helped me to understand that every freedom has a cost. But it didn't help me learn anything academic whatsoever.

I have been a longtime supporter of Paolo Friere's concepts of education, but I don't think much of what he says applies to children. I think too many primary school teachers are vibing off kids and more of them need to focus on the material to be taught. There are a lot of good reasons for this, and I'll bring them to the top in a discussion about what I believe is an appropriate pedagogy for American kids. But that's not what this particular post was about, rather the extent to which those claiming responsibility for education of the emergent ethnicities and classes are using their influence to be intransigent based on the faulty assumptions that our kids are little versions of us when it comes to what we think about culture and race.

Posted by: Cobb at April 20, 2005 08:49 AM

My daughter went to a Catholic school for pre-k thru 8th grade. She had a white nun tell her and her friends that some white people are going to look at their behavior, when it's bad, and slap the "They all act like that" label on them, even if white kids are acting the same way. She had a Black nun take that point and really go to the next level.

I. Was. Floored.

But to bring it back to Cobb's last sentence in his comment, it's not about assuming that kids are like their parents, it's the "wisdom" of their parents and doing what they believe is right to protect their children.

Or so I like to think.

Wisdom comes when you are old enough to have made quite a few mistakes and have learned from those mistakes so that you don't make them again. You know that if you see situation A, last time you reacted by doing B, but you learned that C was better. So next time, situation A comes along and you go for C, instead of B.

Given that the youth aren't joining the NAACP, and the membership is getting older, they are reacting from what they recalled and making the appropriate choices based on that.

Or so I like to think.

OH, I feel a post coming on.

Posted by: DarkStar at April 20, 2005 03:38 PM