On the Issue of Achievement Gaps

On the Issue of Achievement Gaps

Each individual has a sensory learning style that allows for optimum absorption and processing of knowledge based on the connection to the student’s auditory, visual or tactile centers of the brain. This is the key to bridging learning gaps. To foster accelerated learning, and allow students to ‘catch up’ to higher performing peers in their age group, the system has to organize classes based on learning style and then teach to the learning style with state-of-the-art methods.

DCPS should launch a pilot program to implement small group learning aimed at developing individual creativity and love for knowledge. Methods used in independent schools may be effective at fostering accelerated development. Use of the Harkness Table, for instance,is a method in which an oval table seating 11 students is the centerpiece of a classroom. Students are involved in a collaborative discussion of material and the teacher demonstrates how to learn as well as what to learn. Early childhood implementation of this system could revolutionize classroom experiences for our children.

Harkness Tables originated at Exeter Academy in 1931 when philanthropist Edward Harkness challenged the Exeter faculty to create an innovative way of teaching. The purpose of the Harkness Table was to make class more involving. The 1930s faculty also understood that Harkness Tables would make being smart more fun. They knew that discussing even your least favorite subject around the Harkness Table would make that subject more interesting. But did they know that the Harkness Table would teach students to collaborate rather than compete with each other inside and outside class? And did they know that it would make the whole community respect one another’s ideas and become a safer place to learn and live? (Duke TIP Digest of Gifted Research)

Our broadcast discussion on 12/20/2012 touched on a description of the social and psychological challenges inherent in being smart. We have arrived in the era where fostering a new urban value system that embraces exceptional school performance requires us to confront the hard issues arising from the definition of what it means to be ‘cool’ or acceptable within the social peer group. Is it safe to be smart in the African American community? Do we value learning to the same degree as our peers in other groups? Are we really cognizant of how lack of education plays into limited life choices later on? Who gets to start this dialogue and what are the potential pitfalls? Do we have the courage to ask the questions, and will God help us face the answers?


Once Upon a Time in Washington

Responding to a recent story of an African American woman slapping a Hispanic woman with the words:  “That’s for taking our jobs,” I realize in walking the talk of loving people wherever they are, I would have fought that Sister to protect the Hispanic woman, and probably taken an ass-whipping.  Our City rocks with a new and wonderful energy because we are blending many cultures, and flavors and vibes, but let’s pull the focus upward and observe this awful incident from a macro level…
What would it be like to have so much power that all you had to do was sit in a room with other policy scientists and look at empirical data regarding demographic groups and say: These people are moving too fast, and there’s a subset of their group that actually threatens the status quo.  We have to pose (cosmic death-blow type) obstacles in their way, or our hegemony is over?”
Big business likes cheap labor.  That’s what drives the immigration laws. This is why Mitt Romney will never alter the new immigration initiative posed by Barack Obama.  Historical trends suggest that Immigrant populations are less likely to strike than Blacks, and the ruling class is more than aware of internal issues African Americans face in developing collective strategies. After all, the most effective strategy employed by COINTELPRO in the 1970’s was the “bring a bone, take a bone”  style of dividing and creating mistrust among coalitions of Black leadership.
What we had once upon a time in Washington, DC was a vibrant culture of business, music, art, theater, and a well-established, upwardly mobile, very well-educated Black population that created jobs for others.  Before the explosive growth in the Hispanic population, before the crack and gun wars, before the dismemberment of incentives for college matriculation, African American people were on track to build a kind of lasting stability that would have ensured a future we could have been proud of.
Instead, the expansion of opportunities for immigrants grew in direct proportion to severe limits placed on Black employment, this event co-coincided precisely with the influx of guns and drugs into the inner cities in DC and all over America.  C’mon…we are not stupid.  This perfect storm of events was meant to hobble a specific group without the appearance of direct involvement. History may effectively conceal the degree to which the DOJ was in the business of selective investigations, selective prosecutions and other strategies to prevent a lasting culture of success in the Black Community. The spiritual finishing blow is to have people come in to criticize and imply:  “We had to come clean up this mess, why didn’t you do this before”
For newcomers, you are viewing these developments in a vacuum, and you get to mop up distressed properties after the economic infiltration of the community. The financial sector has always red-lined even the best black neighborhoods, and there were many  commercial projects partnered or led by Blacks, but that level of economic activity is hard to sustain without expanded educational opportunities for young people coming into the pipeline.  The Bakke decision, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978)  had a massive chilling effect on University enrollment which continues to this day.  Bakke shifted the emphasis from “let’s go to Harvard and see where life takes me” to “If I apply to Harvard, everyone will think the only reason I got in was because I’m Black”  A ‘friend’ actually said that to me once.
As city dwellers begin to weave the fabric of a new multi-ethnic municipal order, it would be so easy to observe the current downward spiral and say:  “You people need to care about education and you need to own homes…. you people, you people, you people…” and wag the disdainful finger while  never understanding that the agenda of domestic social control is being played out right before our eyes with ALL of us as pawns.  Trust me when I tell you even a mildly intuitive person picks up the nuances of speech and the body language, and the awkward fearful looks and conversation.  It’s a shocking and painful time to be a Washingtonian of any race.

Praising the Baby Genius

Mommy, where’s my vertebrae?”

I actually looked around the room to see who spoke those words.  There just had to be a ventriloquist with a tiny little voice somewhere under the bed.   No part of my mind could grasp the idea that my 18 month old daughter just asked:  “Mommy, where’s my vertebrae?”  The words were so clear, and the concept so fully formed, it was obvious to me she’d been able to think in highly developed terms for a while.  She’d just waited until I could handle it.

I didn’t answer.  Maybe if I pretended not to hear, she’d pretend to be a ‘normal’ baby-girl and we could fake it until…  “MOMMY, Where’s my VERTEBRAE?”  “Justine, where did you learn that word?”  I asked.  “I heard it on tv.”  “Oh.  Your vertebra are in your back.”  I playfully rolled her onto her side and tickled her spine to emphasize the location of each vertebra.  Although she laughed,  the balance of power in our relationship changed right then and there.  By demanding instruction so early in life, she challenged us to provide intellectually stimulating experiences on a consistent basis. 

My older child, 22 months her senior, is also gifted.  His ability to sculpt objects from any material stopped many a bystander  when he was a tiny boy, and his eye for form, color and movement allowed him to distinguish the work of Lautrec from that of Degas, or Monet or Vincent VanGoh by age 7.  He could sight read and identify the continents and planets in the solar system by age 4.  Growing up in Washington, D.C. allowed me to spend countless hours in the free museums, and eventually take my kids there too. 

Part of the joy of motherhood has been watching my babies grow into very interesting people.  Sometimes I wonder if I did enough for them.  Other times I feel that I sheltered and fussed over them too much.  At times I wonder if creating a deep well of knowledge for them set them apart from others in a bad way.  After all, I too had been that kid in the ‘hood who always had their hand up in class, and who “tried to talk white.”  Sigh…

As for Justine, she began to max out in the public school system, getting all As and occasionally rankling teachers who themselves did not have perfect recall or full mastery of a particular subject.  To honor our commitment to her, we enrolled her into a private college preparatory academy.  She performed well and she’s a now a college student.

The pain of being ridiculed by classmates has faded for me, but my son had to hide his intellect for years in order to fit in with his friends.  When Justine went to a private high school, her old classmates all dropped her friendship, and the mothers and some school faculty gave me such a hard time.  When did a high IQ disqualify someone from being ‘down?’  What rule said you can’t have a challenging school experience and still have ‘flavor?’ 

The achievement gap between  urban schools and suburban schools is alarming, and parents should not be forced to resort to private school education in order to find a challenging curriculum for their children.  Instead of improving schools, Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative created new nationwide graduation requirements without funding for instructional support.  In that context, the requirements have become penalities that may prevent scores of children from receiving diplomas.  We must push the new administration to reverse this trend immediately, and whether Barack Obama wins the election on Tuesday or not, his education and achievement, and that of his wife must serve as an inspiration to us to push our babies to succeed.