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"A Nation of Cowards?" Toward an Honest Conversation About Race and the Achievement Gap

By Marty Nemko

Back in 1996, Bill Clinton urged us to have a national conversation about race. This year, President Obama renewed the call, "We cannot afford to not have a conversation about race." Attorney General Eric Holder added that we are "a nation of cowards about race" and encourages us to have a "frank" conversation.

To date, most of the conversation cannot be described as frank. The endlessly lofty political rhetoric--for example, "All students can learn to high standards"-- is not matched by the reality. Fact is, after more than a half century of unprecedentedly large funding for compensatory education, and "promising programs" from Early Head Start to job retraining, the racial achievement gap, sadly, remains about as wide as ever.

Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress

So when I received a teacher's remarkably frank, 5,000-word report from the trenches on his years of teaching in a largely African-American high school, even though it was disturbing, I was tempted to post it on my blog as a small counterweight to the aforementioned decades of lofty rhetoric, in hopes that the teacher's report would start one of those honest, full-dimensioned conversations about race that Obama, Holder, and Bill Clinton urged but which have too rarely taken place. Perhaps it would even elicit fresh ideas for closing the racial achievement gap.

But I paused. I had received the teacher's report via U.S. mail with no return address. While bylined and professionally published, it didn't indicate where it was published. Who sent it to me? Handwritten across the essay's front page was merely "From a KALW listener." (KALW is the NPR-San Francisco station where I host a show.) When I googled distinctive text from the report and the author's name, nothing came up. That lack of a source would have rendered the account unpublishable if I submitted it to U.S. News & World Report, where I am a Contributing Editor or at Kiplinger.com, where I am a columnist.

I also considered whether the teacher's report's content was fabricated. I concluded it wasn't because it contained so many richly detailed examples that would seem very difficult to make up. In addition, while that teacher's experience was more extreme than what I experienced when I taught in heavily African-American schools in New York City and Richmond, California, there was sufficient similarity to convince me it was an honest if possibly overdrawn account. I decided that was not a fatal flaw. After all, passionate if overdrawn male-bashing writings, not just academic tomes, were key to energizing the much-needed feminist movement. And articles, even in our major national magazines, often prioritize examples that support the author's perspective. As it turned out, when I posted the essay on my blog, many of the commenters reported experiences similar to those reported by the teacher.

I decided, marginally, to post the teacher's account because I assessed the potential benefits of starting an honest conversation about race to exceed the liabilities. Also weighing in my decision, I'd be posting it not in a national magazine but on a personal blog, a medium that encourages anonymity in hopes of increasing candor. Besides, I was quite curious to see the comments and recommendations the teacher's report would elicit.

To reduce the liability of readers using the teacher's account to promulgate racial hatred, I wrote an introduction to the report explaining that I was posting it as "a step toward identifying more promising approaches (to closing the racial achievement gap) and not to justify racist behavior toward African-Americans. That is the last thing I want."

Did I ever get comments. My average post elicits only a handful of comments but this one has, to date, received 447, mainly from the U.S. but some from across the globe: for example, South Africa, Scotland, and India. And many of the comments are as stunning as the teacher's report.

Here, I provide what I believe are the most interesting quotes from those comments, across the ideological spectrum. (The complete set of comments are here, appended to the teacher's report.) A number of the comments make me squirm, from those citing racial differences in average brain size and convolutions to those calling America a profoundly racist society. But perhaps those comments are, as the ACLU urges, the ones most needing protection from censorship. Otherwise, the honest exploration of race that our leaders urge is, by definition, impossible. I do believe that ultimately, the greatest good comes from the free and open marketplace of ideas.

After reading the teacher's report and all the comments, I updated my knowledge of what's most likely to help reduce the achievement gap and then developed what I believe is a bolder, yet practical plan for reducing it. I present that in this article, after the collection of quotes.

Here are the quotes from the comments. As is typical in the blogosphere, most of the comments were anonymous, but where not, I include the writer's blogosphere name. To avoid order bias, I list them in the order in which they were received, except for the first one, which offers a useful preamble to the rest.

* * * * *

We live in scary times indeed, when the act of simply stating an informed opinion on a subject --but an opinion that is not popular among the elites--gets one accused of thought crimes. Then we wonder why white people are so terrified of having an open and honest discussion about race. We are labeled "cowards" by our own government (Attorney General Eric Holder) for not discussing the subject of race but then demonized as hatemongers when a few of us do stand up and speak our minds. It's a Catch-22.

It's glaringly obvious this "racist" (the essay's author) was no racist when he started. He tried everything he could and still failed in the face of the thug-life culture gripping the Black community.

Teachers' hands are tied when it comes to enforcing rules or punishing a student. Why? Because the student will claim "racism"...which could destroy the teacher's career. The school district is so worried about avoiding lawsuits and keeping a PC reputation that they rarely side with the teachers when the race card is played. Parents have complained en masse, to no avail.

The more people rely on welfare, the more drained they seem. There is no drive to succeed. It seems to me to be the worst form of slavery.

To all the ignorant people blathering on about how Black kids can't learn, take a look at the American Indian Charter School in Oakland and tell me again that minority kids can't excel when properly motivated. That school is number 5 in California as far as test scores go. The only difference is that the school doesn't put up with any of the behavioral nonsense.

In Prince George County Maryland, the average income is one of the highest in the entire country. It is mostly Black and many of them work in government jobs. The classrooms are no better (than reported in the essay,) as described in a front-page article in the Washington Post.

(Beth) When the Black community no longer has a 70% out of wedlock birth rate, when strong families are the norm, when achievement is valued, when being on welfare is considered shameful, when working hard in school isn't considered to be "white" (and yes a friend's daughter was systematically harassed at her school for just that reason), when wussy public school educators DEMAND that students behave themselves properly, then the problem will be solved. It isn't rocket science for crying out loud.

I have many friends who have been teachers here in New Orleans. Those who taught kindergarten in the public schools told me that most of the problems Christopher Jackson listed in his essay "What is it Like to Teach Black Students?" were already entrenched problems when children entered kindergarten. Young boys would climb on top of their desks, take off their belts, grab hold of the leather end, and swing the buckle around like a weapon. Students were unruly and unapproachable, parents often antagonistic.

Blacks do sincerely hate whites but not because whites abuse them. Whites endure shocking levels of Black-on-white violence while at the same time spending billions trying to lift Blacks up our own level. This is NOT how racists behave. Blacks hate whites because they feel inferior, because they are dependent on us.

A recent analysis of SAT scores based on income and race (finds that), on average, Black children who come from $100k+ incomes score LOWER than white children from $20k incomes.

Students do not learn more because they have a carpet on the floor or better projectors. They learn when they come to school willing to make the effort and are guided by responsible teachers.

I am a white male who teaches in a majority Black school...Most Black students are being raised by their grandmother after their birth mother has fobbed them off so they can continue their irresponsible lifestyle.

Blacks cannot take responsibility for their own failures--everything that happens to them is because of white people and racism. I kid you not! That is what they believe! If you want to talk about racism, hatred, bigotry, and intolerance, whites can't hold a candle to Blacks!

Black men are only about 6% of the US population but commit 52% of all murders, 32% of all rapes, 56% of all robberies, and 34% of all aggravated assaults in the USA. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/race.htm, http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/data/table_43.html. When viewing the stats linked above, be aware that the FBI and USDOJ count Latinos as being WHITE, which unfairly raises the reported "white" crime rate much higher than it actually is.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090605/sc_livescience/boyswithwarriorgenemorelikelytojoingangs. "Boys who have a so-called 'warrior gene' are more likely to join gangs and also more likely to be among the most violent members and to use weapons, a new study finds. While gangs typically have been regarded as a sociological phenomenon, our investigation shows that variants of a specific MAOA gene, known as a 'low-activity 3-repeat allele,' play a significant role," said biosocial criminologist Kevin M. Beaver of Florida State University. In 2006, the controversial warrior gene was implicated in the violence of the indigenous Maori people in New Zealand, a claim that Maori leaders dismissed. But it's no surprise that genes would be involved in aggression. Aggression is a primal emotion like many others, experts say, and like cooperation, it is part of human nature, something that's passed down genetically...A separate study at Brown University from earlier this year found that individuals with the warrior gene display higher levels of aggression in response to provocation."

My local school runs sports sessions early in the mornings to physically prepare the students.

Reading (the report), I couldn't stop but remember all the beatings I had to endure. I really really hated being called "White Boy" even by those people whom I had known since kindergarten. I am so happy now that that horrible time is over now and I would never subject my children to that kind of filth.

The author is clearly both racist and incapable of contextualizing what he saw.

Here is a link to the college version of this essay, with a Black teacher
http://www.sptimes.com/2007/05/20/Opinion/A_dream_lay_dying.shtml

Europeans traveled to Africa, enslaved the locals, brought them to America, and systematically tortured them physically and mentally for HUNDREDS OF YEARS...I really hope most of you lost money in the stock market or some other "legal" swindle by (mainly) white people. Those people stole more of "your" taxpayer money than any of these kids have.

After The Bell Curve was published, 52 scientists signed an article saying that the Bell Curve was in fact correct. Prior to that, for a 1988 book, 53% of over 1,000 psychologists said they believed that genetics played some part in the IQ race differences...Nobel Prize winner, DNA double-helix discoverer James Watson knows it, as did Darwin himself.

They go from grade to grade and they finally get their diplomas because there is so much pressure on teachers to push them through. It saves money to move them along, the school looks good, and the teachers look good.

In the new democratic South Africa where all are now equal by law and in practice, chaos reigns: infrastructure and services are collapsing. Crime and corruption are the norm. There are many Black-only schools with zero pass rates. Only the few remaining only white schools still have 90% to 100% pass rates.

My personal experience with Blacks in high school and the military agree with Mr. Jackson's account. In 1971, a Federal court mandated busing for my all white high school in Tampa, FL. Prior to the order, Plant High was considered the best academic environment in the city. The very first day the Blacks were bussed to Plant, they attempted to burn the cafeteria down, giving us all a two week vacation. Until I graduated in 1972, the situation at Plant just got worse and worse. Classrooms were in total chaos, robberies at knife-point in the bathrooms, boys publicly masturbating etc. The Dean of Boys at Plant, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, finally quit as he "was tired of going to court with the NAACP over expelling 23 year old males who only showed up to rob and pillage."

The students would throw their trash on the floor and when I told them to pick it up, would respond that it was the janitor's job. When the situation escalated, their parents also explained that it was the janitor's job to clean up the messes their children made.

How do you manage students who were told by their "mama" they don't have to listen to you because you're white? I have been called a b**ch by a student in SECOND grade because I was trying to maintain control of the class.

I did want to share a perspective of a young Black man who went through 13 years of public school and graduated college...The kids are just getting flushed through. I personally think you must take a militaristic approach.

The reality is that despite the extensive efforts to inform young Black people of the impact of Blacks throughout history, the vast majority aspire to become athletes or entertainers.

I would see kids in high school whose parents were making 200K+ who were still selling cocaine, getting bad grades or getting in fights, just living the 'gangsta rap' lifestyle and I couldn't understand it.

They shout about their "right to an education" and the relevant government departments actually support them in this. It is nearly impossible to expel delinquents, even if they come to school drunk, physically harm teachers or other students, steal, etc etc...Rights at all costs, even the rights of teachers and other students, it seems.

You're kidding yourself if you think that Black culture contributes to any of what was mentioned in this article. What kind of kid (Black, white, whatever) hears lyrics from a rap song and thinks that's how real life works?

Perhaps society needs to go further and actively promote birth control and more active rewards for moving in the direction of middle class values of delayed parenthood, two-parent families, and a more traditional lifestyle.

The irony is that the liberals who push the insanity of political correctness and race guilt know what this author has to say is all too true but do not care. Their goal is not to educate and advance Blacks, it is to keep them on the Democrat party plantation and fuel the fires of resentment to create another generation of faithful Democrat party voters.

Opportunity is truly at least equal. There are programs and opportunities for Blacks that have never been available for my kids. If one isn't motivated enough to take advantage, it isn't white racism. Black mothers must start getting more involved in their children's' lives and stop the laziness. Successful Blacks need to be more critical of those that are slackers.

bvw said... I can teach all Black classrooms but I can't teach a class where more than 50% of the kids do not have the internal self-discipline that seems gained only from homes where the father trains the child as only a responsible male can.

Progressives should be preparing a progressive discourse on racial difference that will enable us to demand social justice once the racial equality myths has been laid to rest.

Will we all just go down in flames reciting our feel-good litanies?

Marty Nemko said...The question that has troubled me more than any other regarding the issue of closing the racial achievement gap is this: If the core causal factor for the achievement gap is culture, then why, among the world's 195 nations--some in which slavery occurred, others not, majority Black or minority Black, colonized or not, Westernized or not--is there not one nation at any point in the last few thousand years at least, in which Blacks don't occupy the lowest socioeconomic stratum? I first heard that question years ago but have never heard nor can think of a helpful answer. I welcome your thoughts. A valid, ethical, constructive answer to this question may be the key to reducing the achievement gap.

I have broken up fights, gotten blood over my clothing, had a knife pulled on me, had a mother kick me because I wouldn't pass her son and had a student try to rape me in my own classroom after school. Just the kind of people that all you white liberals want sitting next to your child in school I suppose. No, you'd rather send your child to private school and blame all the ills of society on the teacher. Try it some time.

Dr James Watson (discoverer of the DNA double helix), who runs one of America's leading scientific research institutions, made controversial remarks in an interview in The Sunday Times. The 79-year-old geneticist said he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says, not really." (He was forced to retire after that statement.)

Colleges of Education produce edumajerks who spout edumababble. I suggest that all colleges of education be closed and all teachers be hired on the basis of their scores on the Graduate Record Examination.

Blacks may overwhelmingly occupy the lowest socioeconomic level in every country but each country must also have exceptions, as we have in America. What do the exceptional, successful Blacks do that the rest don't? And why don't or can't the rest do it?

I've read a lot of the comments and some of them are complaining about "hate speech", and some go so far as to demand censorship. I have not read any comment that I would describe as "hate speech". Someone stating that "A is less intelligent than X, or B is inferior to Y" is not hate speech. It's opinion.

I always read that Blacks need "higher self-esteem"...It has been proven that Blacks HAVE higher self-esteem than whites. I propose that this baseless and unrealistic sense of high self esteem is actually part of the problem. See www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200203/bursting-the-self-esteem-bubble.

I went to John Ehret High School on the west bank of New Orleans from 2000-2003, a public school in a predominately Black area...Everything is just as the author describes but he left out some things. Like how students call teachers racist that don't pass them or don't let them have their way. Or how teachers curve grades just so all the Blacks don't fail when they deserve to.

I would propose an online clearinghouse for Euro-American people who want to share their experiences without being vilified as “racists” or “white supremacists.” This might go a long way toward launching the public discussion on race that Mr. Holder and President Obama claim they want to have but which they shut down immediately when it begins on the grounds that “hate speech must be criminalized.” At the same time that we have been subject to a reign of terror from coast to coast and from north to south at the hands of Blacks in the formerly great cities of our nation, we have paid out billions if not trillions of dollars in various forms of assistance to the Black community It might go a long way toward healing the rift between Blacks and whites in the United States if Blacks would admit that whites have made enormous sacrifices to improve the socioeconomic status of Blacks and that our thanks so far has been a reign of terror.

It isn't about race, it's about, as R.D. Robinson stated, "a form of new slavery." I think this new slavery is caused by people feeling they are entitled to "free" things versus having to work.

If students use or sell drugs, fight, or disrupt class, they should be placed in separate classrooms from students who are following the rules....Is that necessary to rebuild/allow every individual the right to an education? I think the answer is yes.

With sensible, VOLUNTARY incentives for smart Blacks to have many children and low-IQ Blacks to have fewer children, in only a few decades, the achievement gap would close more than has occurred in 50 years of trying programs based on the cultural hypothesis as the cause of Black underachievement.

I have no patience for liberals who read Jonathan Kozol and think they know what goes on in inner-city schools. They have no idea.

Josh said...Black children adopted by white families matured to have IQs that are consistent with their biological peers. Asian children adopted by white families mature to have IQs that are consistent with their biological peers and which are higher than their adoptive parents. Sandra Scarr, after conducting the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study: "Within the range of 'humane environments,' variations in family socioeconomic characteristics and in child-rearing practices have little or no effect on IQ measured in adolescence." P. 476. "There is simply no good evidence that social environmental factors have a large effect on IQ, particularly in adolescence and beyond, except in cases of extreme environmental deprivation." Currently, the magnitude of the U.S. Black-White IQ difference is not in itself a major cause of scientific dispute. A recent meta-analytic review by Roth et al. yielded a 1.1 SD difference, with a range of from 0.38 to 1.46 for a total sample of 6,246,729 from corporate, military, and higher education samples. Further, that difference was consistent for college and university application tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT; N = 2.4 million) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE; N = 2.3 million), as well as for tests of job applicants in corporate settings (N = 0.5 million), and in the military (N = 0.4 million). Other researchers have corroborated our conclusion that there has not been any significant narrowing of the Black-White difference over the 30-year-time period (from 1972 to 2002) covered by Dickens and Flynn. In 2001, when Roth et al. [9] confirmed the 1.1 SD difference in a sample of 6,246,729 corporate, military, and higher education testees, they also addressed the question of whether the difference was diminishing. They concluded that any reduction was “either small, potentially a function of sampling error…or nonexistent for highly g loaded instruments”. Similarly, in two subsequent studies, Murray [28,29] concluded there was “no narrowing.” In the first, he found no narrowing in either verbal IQ or achievement test scores for children born to women in the 1979 sample of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. In the second, he again found no narrowing for 6- to 65-year-olds in the Woodcock–Johnson standardizations of those born in the last half of the 1960s and early 1970s. Roth, P. L., Bevier, C. A., Bobko, P., Switzer III, F. S., & Tyler, P. (2001). Ethnic group differences in cognitive ability in employment and educational settings: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 54, 297-330. 10. Vernon, P. E. (1982).

The Caribbean/West Indies Student Association had a lively debate over if they had any responsibility for assisting the inner-city African-American kids. At times, the articulate speakers sounded quite classically racist. I offer this anecdote as evidence that the issue is a cultural one.

Blame whitey all you want, as it's become so en vogue, but facts are facts. It's up to you and your people to change it.

I taught in Oakland, CA from 2001-2004. It was a horror show in many ways and I had innumerable experiences that mirrored those of the essay writer. I worked at every single middle school and at all but two of the high schools in the district, and the experience was a mix of despair, horror and hopefulness, but on the ground, at particular schools, it was indeed incredibly similar to the depictions made in the original essay.

Rachel said... Persons of sub-Saharan Black descent have crania and brains that are smaller in proportion to their bodies, on average, than whites or Asians...There are also differences in complexity of brain convolutions among the races... The facts are what they are. How we handle them is what we have control over. Here's the link. http://books.google.com/books?id=q7ENd_Rnb5UC&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=average+Black+cranium+size&source=bl&ots=zM3BV0D0zp&sig=zYuEJLwsx4pkhNXxO0yE2zpja4U&hl=en&ei=piZVSpWNCpX0NeX31eEN&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3

Indra Maghavan said...I notice many of the commenters are experts at blame-shifting...: "The students were bad because he was a bad teacher". Hogwash! Stop blaming the teacher for bad students. He's just describing what those schools are really like. That doesn't make him a racist. Actually, that makes him courageous in my book.

If otherwise decent people try to silence others just because they disagree, then they and we are no better than people who hate.

There is not one white male liberal sycophant out there who, if you hooked him up to a lie detector test and asked if he really believed in the equality of the races, would pass the test.

For two years of junior high, I never ever went to the bathroom alone. To do so was foolish; one unaccompanied white girl would be beat to a pulp and/or shook down for money. For two years, I never ate lunch in the cafeteria. I *was* beat up for that egregious infraction. During my two years in this hellish environment, I was threatened, bullied, beat up, slapped, spit on (repeatedly), ridiculed and slammed into more than a few walls. I saw a white boy thrown down a flight of stairs. His offense: He asked two Black boys to stop stomping on his feet. This school was extremely violent and completely out of control. For two years, I begged and pleaded with my father to get me out of that hell-hole. He was a fool and couldn't see how awful it was.

It's akin to a pot of crabs boiling: As one starts to crawl out, the others pull it down.

I live in the Nordic countries.. The difference in the educational performance between migrants of different ethnic groups is staggering. This performance seems to be inherited by the succeeding generations. A migrant of Asian origin seems to be able to climb the mountain even when starting from the gutter of the ghastliest refugee camp whereas migrants of African origin seem to, as a rule, fail no matter what the circumstances. And it's not that we urge them to fail, quite the opposite, we encourage them to thrive as well as we can--and that is a lot considering they are granted the benefits of the Nordic welfare state on an augmented scale.

Blacks in my experience are very easily offended, taking deep offense to something most people wouldn't even notice or would dismiss. Whether this is due to an over-compensated (but unadmittable) inferiority complex or their ingrained belief that everything is racism I don't know.

Here is my experience teaching Black students: - You have to take into account the effects of slavery. - You have to take into account the effects of racism. - You have to take into account the effects of poverty. - You have to take into account their "culture" - You have to take into account their "unique learning style." And you know what? After all that, you still have a bunch of disrespectful, loud, vulgar students who perform significantly lower that white students and for whatever reason, just can't learn. No thanks--It's just not worth the effort. I agree with the author and I am teaching in a white district where students can and want to learn.

There are poor schools that are mainly white where I live (Scotland) and you'll see the same characteristics in the pupils.

With a mean IQ of 76, inner-city Blacks fall about 0.6 SD below the African-American average nationally. More than a third have death-penalty immunity on grounds of mental retardation. www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/city.htm.

Lisa said... Blacks are an enormous burden borne by whites and other minority races, who may someday tire of their lack of productivity, their criminality, their chronic indolence, and their clear hatred of the society that has nurtured, supported, and subsidized them.

Booger Cat said.. The Black kids think school is dumb, don't do homework, and basically don't care. They focus on sex, drugs, rap music and cell phone. The girls talk about how cool it would be to have a baby, no father necessary, of course.

To justify privilege, the privileged classes must pretend they are in some way better than the have-nots.

Jen said... I am twenty-four years old and have a doctorate. I am Black and have lived in Black neighborhoods my entire life...While de jure segregation is despicable for ethical reasons, I strongly support a return to and real support of Black schools that are segregated de facto. I'm not just talking about a racial and cultural segregation of children, but of their teachers and administrators, as well.

Tlinz said...I am a 19 year old African-American female. I attended a white privilege conference in which I heard a similar account, however the teacher (who was white) actually looked beyond behavior and to other factors. He did not teach students according to what high officials told him to do but made his teaching more of an intimate matter.

I'm a foreigner (South Asian). I came to the US with heavy sympathies for African-Americans. Living in a heavily Black neighborhood for five years turned me into a racist. The kids, especially, are completely out of control.

I'll bet all the doubters of the essay's factualness will be shocked to learn that they have metal detectors at many Black middle schools, with security guards that roam the hallways with hand held metal detector wands to search these "children." Do you all think this is some great racist conspiracy?

Take him out of high school and give him on-the-job training in a field like other countries have done.

I would show up to a house party that featured all of the adults [20-40 year old Black males] getting drunk and acting stupid in front of the kids. Every little girl had another baby in her arms as they ran around in the streets... No one gave a **** about these kids.. Some house parties were hosted by the "aunty" or "ol granny" that was usually the oldest of the bunch and had the most wisdom but no one would listen to them--it was actually quite sad. The living rooms would have one mattress in where 5-10 kids would sleep/stay. Everyone babysat for everyone else to be able to go to work, so some would take on the responsibility of almost a small classroom of kids. IT WAS A DISASTER AREA. Black people have the best drugs--That is why they "get dat green." All in all, the environments were always very hostile and very ****ty for the kids... To help the ignorant Black kids in these schools, it has to start with the ****ed up parents that pop out kids in their late teens/early twenties before they are ready to fully function as a parent.

We see multiple generations subjected to the harshest and loudest kind of treatment. As an example, and not an extreme one, I was in the checkout line at a Wal-Mart. There was an AA "family" of three female generations--a disheveled grandmother, her daughter a little better decked out with too much jewelry and the most up-to-date cell phone, with a "Cash Money" cover, a toddler and an infant. The toddler was very cute, playful, maybe even precocious. But when she strayed a bit and played with the junk on the register aisle shelves, Granny yelled to Daughter (who was constantly on the cell) to "GET HER!" Daughter just turned from the cell phone and screamed at the toddler, "COME HERE, I'MA SLAP YO IN YO FACE!" Then back on the cell. Toddler looked at her with the one intelligent expression I saw from the whole group and hunkered down out of range. They proceeded to pay for their goods in three batches with different food-stamp/welfare debit cards (i.e., they're drawing under multiple accounts). I felt sorry for the toddler and the infant, who'll grow up with that kind of brutal stupidity. How would these kids behave in school? I can only imagine it would be chaotic, troubled and ultimately contrary. After all, what would you do if your loving caregiver routinely screamed at you, to "COME HERE, I'MA SLAP YO IN YO FACE!" You'd probably learn pretty quick NOT to obey.

Perhaps the solution is not to revamp our educational system but rather to obligate every single BLACK doctor, lawyer, teacher, scientist, etc. to teach for several years in predominantly Black public schools.

ludensbisto said... R D. Robinson (comment above) is correct about a conspiracy "exploiting the positive future of so many African American students." And this conspiracy begins in the home--in whitey-bashing homes. If you cannot trust your teacher, you won't accept a thing they say, even when it's in your best interest.

Artfldgr said... Those who are independent and smart choose not to have children because of finances and abort, while the dumber ones keep the kids.

res Ipsa Loquitur - I know, law-themes are lame... said...I am so disturbed by this essay. I guess I should make my disclaimer- I am a Black woman, BA, JD... What kind of ignorance must it take to make such sweeping and awful generalizations about an entire group of people in this country?

Rather than encouraging unsuitable people to become parents (welfare, housing etc), what do people think of providing financial incentives to women who do not get pregnant?

TheIkonoklast said...I have read the post and all 387 comments in it, start to finish....One thing is certain: this will not stop as long as it is considered "racist" to take note of it. Those who level charges of "racism" when violent people are treated as pariahs and stupid people are treated as unfit for all but menial jobs must be held liable for slander....Differentiated Instruction..is widely panned at Joanne Jacobs' blog. Its major purpose is to eliminate visible differences between classrooms associated with grouping by ability (because visible differences are "racist"). And it does nothing....Pay ANYONE with an IQ, for example, under 90 to be sterilized... Fix the rewards and the rest is likely to follow.

I taught for two years in a Bronx NY high school...The Black kids - omg - they were absolutely nuts, just as the article described. Throwing chairs across the room, chanting, "Let's get those b-s pregnant", rapping all the time, doing no work, stealing from your desk and cabinets, running around, fighting, etc... And this was ALL the time...Didn't the 'Freedom Writers' wonder woman and even Michelle Rhee leave teaching such kids after only 2-3 years! And Rhee had an assistant teacher her second year teaching little tots! The funny thing is that I'm not a racist. I'm white, married to a woman from India and I have biracial children and I think it's all great. I live in an integrated neighborhood.

Most Black and Latino teachers I know are disgusted by the antics of the urban youth, and they voice their opinions loudly, something I, as a white cannot do. Asian teachers, forget about it! The gangsta crowd chews them up. I've seen it a few times and it ain't pretty!

"This is clearly a fake article.... I doubt this person was ever a teacher." Yes, "Anonymous", unlike you, Christopher Jackson is clearly a fake (irony alert!). So is every other commenter in this thread who reports similar experiences. They're all making this up.

I live in a mostly white area but the few Blacks living here are just as described. I am tired of being called a racist for pointing out the facts.

What are the historical implications of educational disparity post-1865? How does socio-economic status play a role? In what capacity do external factors play a role in achievement (parental involvement, peer culture, etc.)?

I had a Black math teacher who taught hate-white history 5 days a week.

If you want to do something to help out the Black community, I suggest you understand what is happening. I would be a fool to tell you we live in the same world. We do not.

Marcus Goodwin said... With, AA kids you have to put the science book down (that's what I teach) and talk about real life. Sometimes you have to listen to what they listen to, watch what they watch. They have to know you can relate to them.

84% of whites will exceed 85 IQ but only half of AA's will.

My Plan for Closing the Achievement Gap

In preparing this plan, I've reread the teacher's report, all 447 comments, updated my knowledge about what holds the most promise for improving African-American achievement, took a few long hikes to contemplate it all, wrote a draft and sent it for review to my wisest colleagues and friends, diverse in ideology, race, and gender.

Even most low-income parents/guardians promulgate middle class values to their kids--e.g., the value of education and hard work--more than even the middle class, which has come to realize that education and hard work is no guarantor of success. And even though many of the parents don't practice what they preach, the Bill Cosby approach of guilt-tripping parents into being more diligent is unlikely to help enough. Low-income African-American kids hear the hard-work/get an education message not only from parents, but relentlessly from school,role models, TV, etc. A reduced achievement gap is most likely to come from these:

1. Reduce teen pregnancy. It's well established that children of teenage parents are at greater risk of school and life failure. So junior and senior high schools, especially those with high teen pregnancy rates, should implement data-driven teen-pregnancy prevention programs. The research does not support abstinence-only programs and so political pressures to restrict such programs to those should be resisted.

Sexually active teens should be encouraged to consider the full range of contraceptive options including the intrauterine device (IUD,) which offers reliable, minimal-hassle, minimal-side effects, long-term but easily reversible birth control. Planned Parenthood clinics offering free contraception, counseling on contraception and abortion, and referral to free abortion clinics should be on-site at high schools with high teen pregnancy rates.

Pilot-test and carefully evaluate a program in which girls in low-performing high schools are offered cash or other reward if they remain childless through high school graduation.

Pilot-test and carefully evaluate a program in which able-bodied teen parents were ineligible for cash welfare. (They would be eligible for health care, food stamps, parenting training, and career counseling.) Cash recipients, whether trust-fund babies or welfare recipients, often find that the free money demotivates them to work hard in school or to look for or succeed at a job.

Government should mount a campaign against teen pregnancy much like its successful efforts to reduce smoking in low-income communities.

Creators of teen-aimed programming (sitcoms, news, movies, video games, music videos, record labels) should be encouraged to replace content glamorizing the gangsta' lifestyle with content that would compellingly convey teen pregnancy's risks to the parents and child. For example, one of a woman's most important decisions is choosing the father of her child. The media could vividly portray the consequences of a good and poor choice.

2. Provide parenting education early. To increase the chances that from Day One, parents have the tools to be good parents, full effort should be expended to ensure that high-quality parenting education is highly accessible, especially to pregnant teens in low-income locales. The best parenting education involves interactive video of critical incidents in parenting--for example, what to do if your baby won't stop crying? What to do to ensure your child develops good language skills? Ethics? The Harlem Children's Zone's "Baby College" is receiving good reviews.

In talking with their kids, African-American parents should avoid excessive blaming of their problems on racism and the legacy of slavery. While those remain often legitimate factors, focusing on them can result in chip-on-shoulder attitudes, a sense of entitlement, and a convenient excuse for bad behavior. For example, commenters who are teachers said that Blacks too often inaccurately blame their bad grades, not on the quality of their work, but on racism.


True innovation in delivering parenting education is required. For example, high school websites and others heavily visited by at-risk teens, for example, www.mtv.com and www.bet.com should be encouraged to post the aforementioned parenting training course. To ensure its availability to people without computers, the community center in low-income housing developments should have a computer installed, which includes the parenting education program as well as other high-quality interactive-video programs, for example, on teen pregnancy prevention and on preventing and curing substance abuse. In hospitals, especially those serving at-risk communities, the TV in each obstetric patient's room should have a TV offering the aforementioned parenting training.

3. Parenting training for welfare-receiving teen parents. We require aspiring drivers to complete a driver's education course. As a condition for receiving welfare benefits such as TANF funds, teen or perhaps all parents should be required to complete a parenting education course.


4. Fully fund Head Start/Early Head Start if the results of the new major study support its cost-effectiveness. Logic suggests that Head Start (largely parent-run preschool education) should be of benefit. However, the data for its providing long-term benefit has not revealed the outstanding results many politicians claim. Indeed, the early results of the latest major federally funded evaluation finds Head Start yields only small benefit. The full study period will end on Sep 30, 2009 so I assume the final report will be published in 2010. The level of Head Start's future taxpayer funding should be affected by what that report indicates.

5. Better train teachers. Absurdly, pre-K to grade-12 teachers are trained primarily by theory-oriented academicians who have never taught in a pre-K to grade-12 classroom, let alone been a master teacher there. That must change. The primary instructors of would-be teachers should be master K-12 teachers, including those who have produced the best results in educating heavily African-American classes.

The high school teacher who wrote the essay referred to earlier as well as many of the commenters suggest that teachers of heavily African-American classes may well need to be masters at motivating, using a skillset beyond what is taught in most teacher education programs. So teacher preparation should include master-teacher-taught lessons on the art of classroom management, including strategies particularly likely to be effective in working with low-income African-American students. There is consensus, for example, that low-income African-American students do better when instruction is highly structured, with high but realistic expectations unerringly enforced but with an underpinning of caring, even love, apparent to the students.

Training should not end upon the teacher's obtaining a license to teach. Teachers experiencing the frustrations expressed by the essayist and commenters should be able to phone or email a hotline staffed by teachers who have successfully taught heavily African-American classes. In-person or Skype-based classroom observations should be available.


6. Change curriculum to reduce students' playing victim: Yes, discuss slavery, racism, and Afrocentrism but don't let them play a disproportionate role in the curriculum as they do in some heavily Black schools. The commenters and logic suggest that heavy emphasis on those encourages African-American students to avoid responsibility, be racist toward non-Blacks, to feel entitled, and go through life with a chip on their shoulder.

7. Flexibly group classes. In part, to avoid African-Americans being placed in low-track classes, achievement/ability-grouped classes have in many schools, largely been eliminated K-8, and reduced in many high schools. Unfortunately, that creates too great a teaching challenge for most teachers: teaching a wide range of kids in the same class--from low-achieving to high-achieving, from slow learners to fast learners. Usually, that results in bright kids being bored and not living up to their potential while slow kids becoming dispirited or angry, feeling they can never compete with the high-achieving, fast learners.

An answer is what I call flex classes. For academic subjects at least, group classes by achievement/ability level but conduct frequent reviews to ensure that all students, especially children of color, are given the opportunity to move up (or down) as appropriate to their learning needs.

8. Replace self-esteem building with honest feedback. Research is clear that Blacks, on average, already have the highest self-esteem of all racial groups (Asians are lowest) yet have the lowest achievement while Asians have the highest. Most successful people I know have only moderate self-esteem. That drives them to work harder. Thinking you're prima facie wonderful can engender complacency. Schools should replace such messages as "Black is beautiful" with "You're as good as your actions."

9. Increase use of computer-based instruction developed and led by master teachers. Interactive video lessons taught online by renowned teachers enable students, even at remote or poorly funded schools, to receive superlative instruction. Also, the computer allows for perfectly individualized leveling and pacing no matter how wide the range of students. That is impossible for most teachers to do and sustain.

10. Chronically disruptive students should be placed in special classes. Today, mainstreaming, even of chronically disruptive kids, is often the norm. If a student, despite the teacher's best efforts (with help from a supervisor) continues to deprive classmates of opportunity to learn, that child should be moved to a special class taught by someone with special skills in working with such kids.

11. Begin career exploration in elementary school. Many students find motivation by knowing they're preparing for an exciting yet realistic career. Plus, that reduces the problem that countless high school and college graduates have no idea what they want to pursue as a career. African-American role models other than athletes and performers should be highlighted.

12. Give students a choice: college-prep or career-prep curriculum.
Increasingly, in the name of high standards, all students, even high schoolers who read on a sixth-grade level and who have far more ability in working with their hands, are being forced to take a college-prep curriculum, replete with quadratic equations, the causes of the Peloponnesian Wars, the doppelganger, and stochastic processes. In California, you cannot get a high school diploma without passing a special exam based on a college prep curriculum. Not surprisingly, this causes many to drop out of high school. Or if they graduate and attend college (today, many colleges are open-admission even to the grossly underprepared), they disproportionately drop out. And even if they manage to defy the odds and graduate from college, they are likely to join the ranks of the millions who hold a bachelor's degree in a low-rigor, low-demand major from a minimally selective college. So many of them are unable to find better employment than they could have found with just a high school diploma. Meanwhile they incurred huge student debt, boredom, and ongoing assault to self-esteem from being forced to study academic material for which they were unprepared and unmotivated.

Junior high and high schools should offer a high-quality career-prep as well as college-prep curriculum. If I had a son or daughter who, by the seventh grade, showed clear signs of being unlikely to succeed in a college-prep curriculum, I'd encourage him or her to choose a career-prep program, which, for example, taught her reading, writing, etc. but in the context of preparing her for a career that doesn't require college, for example, robotics repair or entrepreneurship.

13. Require a course in life skills. Before requiring at-risk, indeed all kids, to learn simultaneous equations, the halide series of chemical elements, and the use of onomatopoeia, students should be required to pass a course in life skills, for example, budgeting, interpersonal communication, and the aforementioned sex education and parenting education. To not do so is to be guilty of the very elitism that many educators and politicians decry.

14. Involve kids in immersive programs that engender reverence for life. For example, have kids plant vegetable and fruit gardens, cook and eat what they've grown and sell the rest. They'd learn science, cooking, nutrition, and how to run a business. And they might join me in awe of the miracle of growth. A model program for this exists: www.gardenproject.org. Similarly, pair at-risk kids with nursing home residents or hard-to-adopt animal-shelter dogs and cats who otherwise would be euthanized. I've seen hard-bitten people grow loving when involved, one-on-one, with a non-threatening person or animal.

15. Require colleges to provide full disclosure to prospective students. In their attempt to woo students, especially minority students, colleges and high school counselors, as in the Tuskegee Experiments, often hide the information students need to use to decide whether to enroll:

  • the four-, five-, and six-year graduation rate.
  • the average amount of growth that students with specific high school records make in reading, writing, thinking, leadership, and quantitative reasoning.
  • the average amount of student debt assumed, disaggregated by family income and assets.
  • the employment prospects for students who graduate, disaggregated by major.
  • alternatives to four-year colleges that the student should consider: short-term community college programs, apprenticeship programs, the military, on-the-job training, etc.

16. Try bold pilot studies. Admittedly, the previous proposals are not revolutionary. We should, in addition, be pilot-testing bold new ideas. For example, one commenter suggested sending African-American kids to deeply impoverished parts of Africa, perhaps as part of the Peace Corps, in hopes it would inspire them. It's worth a pilot study, carefully evaluated. Here are other out-of-the-box ideas to get your brainstorming juices flowing:

-- Create cross-age mentor pairs: for example, at-risk sixth graders with at-risk first graders. There may be no better way to learn than to teach.

-- The essayist and so many of the commenters reported chaos in the classroom. To what extent would it help to have each student's desk fitted with distraction-avoiding side walls? This has been used successfully with ADHD students.

-- Pilot-test urban public military academies. The U.S military has had success in educating and employing African-Americans. A number of commenters suggest that many African-Americans do best in a highly structured, rule-bound program. Indeed, I found that to be true when I taught in the inner city. When I started, I tried a flexible approach, which was too often perceived as weakness. When I adopted a strict, zero-tolerance yet caring approach, my class behaved much better.

-- Provide free genetic counseling to at-risk prospective parents. All humans, indeed all animals and plants, are a product not just of our environment but of our genes. Educating prospective parents may help them make more fully informed and thus wiser choices.

In the spirit of President Obama's call for a frank conversation about race, I view this article as a mere conversation starter. What are your ideas for closing the racial achievement gap? Post them as a comment on my blog:http://martynemko.blogspot.com/2009/09/nation-of-cowards-toward-honest.html

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