Sunday, February 22, 2009

“Well, it was fine with me, 'cause you don't want to be black, you don't have to be.” - Nikki Giovanni

The other night I was watching Nikki Giovanni being interviewed by Bill Moyers of Bill Moyers Journal. She was actually being interviewed about her new book Bicycles, and during the interview many topics came up. The two quotes below were made by Ms. Giovanni during the course of the interview that certainly made me think and I hope they will make you think as well. I’d love to hear your thoughts on her comments below. Feel free to comment.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. was about justice for the world. Martin would be happy, I'm sure. And, I don't want to speak for Martin, I don't want you to misunderstand. But he would be happy that the United States had elected a fine young man. But he would still weep for the genocide that we're finding all over Africa. He would weep for the children dying of malaria. He wanted a just earth. His vision was way beyond an American president.” Nikki Giovanni

“We have to recognize that when we look at a Barack Obama, we are looking at a man of color. If we just go back even ten years, when we looked at Tiger Woods, maybe 15, I forget how long Tiger Woods has been around, I remember Tiger Woods having that discussion, "I'm not really black." Well, it was fine with me, 'cause you don't want to be black, you don't have to be. Nikki Giovanni

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"What Did He Score on His State Assessment Test?

During today's edition of THE READING CIRCLE w/Marc Medley, I had a wonderful interview with School Administrator; Author; Hospice Volunteer; Advocate and Activist, Frances Shani Parker. Ms. Parker's latest book is Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes.

Both of us being school principals in urban school areas, she in Detroit, Michigan and I in Paterson, New Jersey, of course began talking about the current state of affairs of education today. Ms. Parker brought up a satirical analogy that said it best; she said "Johnny could be driving his car down the street with his mother in the trunk murdered by him, and when he is caught we would ask what did he score on his state assessment test." I laughed heartily at her comment and at the same time was saddened because of just how accurate her statement really was. I agreed with her 1000%.

As an educator, I constantly see children who are confronting so many issues in their young lives, that the last thing they can focus on is if two plus two equals four or if their sentence structure is correct. Many of these children have seen more sex, drugs and death by ten years old than I have seen in my entire forty plus years on earth. They come to school hungry, sleepy, and unkempt passing drug dealers, gunfire and prostitutes along their way and we are still driving ourselves crazy over the state assessment test score.
We must really wake up and understand that these children are never going to score well on these tests until the other variables are addressed with as much vigor as we attempt to address the accountability variable. We have taken away the arts and social sciences that help to make a well rounded person in an effort to increase his or her ability to read and count. On the surface and on paper this move makes sense, but the fact of the matter is, we have taken away the home economic; wood shop; print shop; music; and art courses and the children are still not reading or counting any better. In fact, according to our state assessment test scores, they have become worse. Why? Because the social issues have increased.
For education to function properly, the parent, the child, and the teacher must all work to achieve success. If any one of these players are missing, the chance of achieving the greatest success begins to wane. Parents cannot expect the schools to do everything and the government and school districts cannot expect teachers to fulfill the role of policeman, counselor, parent, preacher, social worker, food and clothing provider (the list of hats educators are expected to wear keep growing everyday) disciplinarian and obtain adequate yearly progress (AYP).
We will need to be realistic and creatively teach in ways that meet the children where they are. When having this discussion with a staff member, she said then "I might as well say to Hell with the book," and my response to her was yes, say to Hell with the book if that is what is necessary to get your students to learn. I've written in a previous Critical Thinker that we have gone through several ages (agricultural, industrial, machine, technological, information) and we are still operating in the educational arena like we did in the agricultural age.
The combination of the social issues many of these students experience and the pressures placed on educators to achieve high standardized test scores is in my opinion killing the educational process. We must come up with something (and I am not talking about some program that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars purchased by school districts that only make the book or publishing companies richer) that will address both the social and educational issues these children so badly need. Maybe that something is just plain old fashioned LOVE and COMPASSION and not so much a test score. I would be willing to bet that if more love and compassion combined with some good old fashioned parenting were shown, we would begin to see our test scores go up. I am willing to bet that if we can get our children to love themselves and others, our test scores would go up, I am willing to bet that if we moved away from the same old lecture, textbook and blackboard approach that a child would not attempt to spell "Thurgood Marshall" with "3rdgood Marsher."
Oh for the beloved standardized state assessment score.........................

The Critical Thinker