Yes, Dear, There Really Is An Achievement Gap…and It Is Hurting Our Numbers

Posted: November 9, 2012 in From Student to Teacher
Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday, I read a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog regarding the term “achievement gap.”  Apparently it is considered offensive to African American and Hispanic groups.  See:

Dr. Carmika Royal claims the comparison between Whites and Blacks is “demeaning.”

When did America become so ridiculously sensitive?  As Christina Yang told Meredith Grey last night on Grey’s Anatomy, it’s time to “BUCK UP.”

Let’s pull back the curtain and be transparent for a minute.  The fact is, there IS a very real achievement gap and it exists primarily within the African American and Hispanic communities, in any given city or suburb, and it’s all over the United States. Is it pretty?  No.  Is it a hard pill to swallow? Absolutely.  As a Hispanic woman, with a Black partner, we both acknowledge it to be true, but it doesn’t mean we like it.

At the last school where I taught, the disparity between the population of White students and the the aforementioned groups was huge.  They were treated differently.  And there’s reasons for that which I don’t have time to break down.  Yes, Dorothy, there is still very real racism in America.

Back to the achievement gap.

Teachers are the usual suspects in a situation like this.  The government and its “lack of resources” also gets the finger-pointing.  You know how it goes…oh, the poor inner-city minorities get less funding, less qualified teachers, etc. etc. etc.

But that argument has no substance when you look at the Black and Hispanic students in a community like mine, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, where affluence oozes through the cracks in the concrete.  Here, the achievement gap is still rearing its ugly head.  The local paper, which is controlled by the superintendent (he and the editor are good friends) and the school board members (they’re all members of the same churches) publishes a reflective piece every year when the state releases its data, and the achievement gap persists year after year.

You don’t need a PhD in educational philosophy to see the implications.  Heck, there aren’t any IMPLICATIONS because it speaks very loudly to the core of what teachers have been saying forever.  The success of a student does not happen alone.  The other huge, monstrously obvious factor is their home environment, which includes economics, cultural norms, and parentage.

In the Black and Hispanic cultures, money is the dominant carrot. The television is the parent of many of these kids whose parents are either absent for personal issues or working.  Guess what’s on t.v.?  Jersey Shore, Pimp My Ride, celebrities gone wild, living extravagant lives, and more than I know about.  Let’s not forget reality shows which dominate the networks.

Then there’s the athletic realm, including guys like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and other players for other teams and other sports, who made their claim to fame, inspiring every inner city kid who can spin a ball on his finger to dream of a similar landscape in his life.  Unfortunately, the odds of making it to the professional leagues are pretty small.

I saved the best for last:  music.  As I have told my students numerous times, everyone loves music.  The human brain is predisposed to respond to rhythm.  It’s in our nature.  Children who grow up dropping it like it’s hot by the time they are three years old, and seeing rappers like Nelly swipe a credit card down the crack of a woman’s behind, or Beyonce and other megastars half-naked on the screen, showing more than anyone needs to see, develop an understanding of how the world works.  Sex sells.

Young girls in particular grow up with the knowledge that their bodies are their tool, their weapon of choice, to achieve their goals.  Do we wonder why there are so many young single, unwed mothers in the African American and Hispanic communities?  We are pumping it to children all across this great nation.  When I was a teenager, when MTV aired its first music video, the content wasn’t so borderline pornographic.  Why, we weren’t allowed to watch John Ritter in “Three’s Company” because it was considered indecent and immoral.  A guy living with two gorgeous females?  Are you kidding?

Over the decade of my tenure as a teacher, I taught students whose parents went to the club with them, who furnished alcohol for them at their parent-sanctioned parties, and I taught students who were one of eight or nine children, all with different “baby daddies” because the welfare checks would be greater the more children that were  listed in the household.

In the suburbs, I would bring extra snacks in my lunch tote for the students who were perpetually hungry and played sports after school because teenagers are always hungry, as everyone knows.  They often said there wasn’t much food in their houses and after practice they would have to go home and find something to eat as their parents weren’t home.

The bottom line is this:  education isn’t just a mess because of bureaucrats.  Education isn’t a consistent failure to millions of minorities across the country due to poor resources and poor teachers.

Education is a team effort.  Teachers can’t do it alone.  Parents can’t do it alone either.  Our entire nation, the culture that is evolving along with technology must recognize and be held accountable for its messages to our youth.  We don’t have to become an uptight “Footloose” nation once again but let’s let kids be kids.  And let’s establish boundaries of behavior and permissiveness.  I firmly believe if parents let go of the guilt and start holding their kids to task, and tell them every day if necessary, of how vital a decent education is, then teachers will have all eyes on them and be able to do what they need to do.

Perhaps it is too oversimplified, but the debate and discussion on education reform has become too twisted and complex, filled with pedagogical explanations that are over most Americans heads.  At the end of the day, I believe parents, teachers, and students just want a solid education and it can happen if the entire community works together.

A few years ago I read an article by a journalist named Randy Salzman (I think).  He explored the world of these young girls in the Middle East, who risked their very lives every day to read books in secret, because the Taliban did not permit them to do so.  He marveled at the contrasting picture in America, where we casually toss books aside and over there, the young girls risked it all.  They didn’t have budgets of thousands of dollars per child to educate them.  Their budget was zero.

Why can’t our country, ALL OF US, create a burning desire to read and learn, a quest for knowledge as Socrates believed, instead of glorifying the dollar?  Why would any kid want to pick up a book when nobody’s reading on t.v.?  They’re all just having sex or fighting, or making babies, or trying to win a million dollars.

It’s not the teachers who are screwed up, or the charter schools that are the anti-Christ.  It’s the message.



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