Wednesday, December 05, 2012

What's Causing This?

A very interesting article in the SF Chronicle about race, academics, and so much more:
By kindergarten, 1 out of 4 African American boys in California is convinced he will fail in school, a self-fulfilling prophecy driven in part by poverty and trauma, according to the results of a legislative inquiry.
All you lefties who like to spout off about institutional racism in schools--these kids haven't even gotten to school yet.  Evil Whitey Teacher hasn't even started in on these kids yet.  There's a problem, all right, but it's not some imaginary "institutional racism".  These kids aren't getting these viewpoints from EWT, they're getting these views in the home.  On the street.  In the neighborhood.

In other words, it's like I've been saying all along:  it's culture.  Some groups have a culture that supports academic success, some groups do not.  If you want me as a teacher to fix the problem then what you're really saying is that you want me to change someone's culture.  Not my job, not gonna do it.

There's much more sad but interesting information in the article:
Currently, about 70 percent of California males under age 25 are of an ethnicity other than white, yet too many of those boys of color are failing in school and are off track to succeed in the workforce.

For example, by fourth grade, about 60 percent of black and Latino children score below proficient on reading tests, and by eighth grade, about 1 in 4 are chronically absent.
If white teachers and their institutional racism are to blame, then these teachers are efficient and effective. Look at what they're able to accomplish in only a couple years!  Could they really be so effective without truly intending to be so?  Imagine what they could accomplish if they intended to do something!  But wait, they intend to teach material to students, and they're not very effective at that with certain groups.  Something's amiss with this argument.

What's amiss is that blaming the teachers is not only wrong but wrong-headed.  Nobody in the education world is out to shaft black and Hispanic kids.  The problems these kids are having stem from certain specific and identifiable sub-cultural beliefs.  And we all know what they are.

So encouraging people to adopt different, more helpful, values is the recommendation, right?  Well, yes, but bass-ackwardsly so:
"We need to change our value system and recognize that investing in the most marginalized youth will yield the greatest economic returns for California," Swanson said.

Recommendations included expanding educational programs that reduce suspensions and expulsions and increase access to college and career preparation.
They get it wrong again.  Pretending that schools intend to suspend/expel darker-skinned students disproportionately, and then stopping that practice, makes certain people feel good but it doesn't solve the problem.  People should view suspensions/expulsions as exactly what they are:  markers for socially unacceptable behavior.  Removing the markers doesn't remove the behaviors, and it certainly doesn't make the now unpunished behaviors go away, and it doesn't help the student who exhibits those behaviors.  (see the update below)

So, why are certain groups of kids not doing well in school?  For the same reason their larger groups, ethnic and otherwise, aren't doing so well in society.  Until those problems get addressed, we can throw money at schools and create Diversity Officers and refuse to allow schools to discipline kids of certain races--and we'll accomplish nothing but wasting money, devastating good people with false accusations, and reinforcing behaviors that have never allowed success.

Guess what we'll do.

Update, 12/6/12:  I'm reminded of a line from the great movie Stand And Deliver: "There are two types of racism Mr. Escalante--singling out a group of people because they are members of a minority, and not singling out a group of people because they are members of a minority." It's a paraphrase, but the intent is the same.


maxutils said...

very interested to find out how one does a survey of pre kindergarten children. this story has bs all over it. and, other than that, you're entirely right.

mmazenko said...

It's our job to teach kids as they are, not as we'd like them to be. While I agree there are huge challenges of a self-defeating culture, I can't agree with blaming it on culture and giving up until "they change." Perhaps finding a way to reverse or rise above that culture in the short time we do have them is a responsibility we can aspire to.

Darren said...

Mazenko, I'm absolutely *not* one who, as the unions do, claims that we teachers can't do anything until every other problem is fixed. You've been reading this blog long enough to know that I firmly believe that we teachers need to do fix our own issues and do what we can.

But we must admit where the lion's share of the problem lies, and take steps to help remedy that, or else we'll never really accomplish the goal of educating kids.

maxutils said...

seriously? is no one else questioning the accuracy of a poll given to kids under the age of 6? how were they contacted? did they understand the question? this is obvious media bias, and needs to be called out. and, mazenko . . . you're right, but so is darren. we teach what we are given, as best we can. and the successful ones come from cultures who value education. i always try my best, and i still get thank yous from students. but those students? invariably came from households that valued education.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Maybe black kids have a lower, pardon my vulgarity, bullshit threshold then white kids and it quickly becomes apparent that for whatever reason they're being forced to attend the dreadful schools many of them attend, it's not for their benefit.

Since, in many cases, their parent(s) attended the same, awful school system, if not the same, awful school, there's no one to offset that accurate perception.

maxutils said...

allen . . . you are SO right about the amount of bs. There is way too much. Nonetheless . . . and it isn't a black thing . . . my students who did math homework almost always passed. And did well the next year. The ones who didn't, didn't. My problem? why do we have homework in first grade? Let them be kids, for a bit. And stop the busy work. A really super way to get a child to not want to read is to make him/her write a summary of what they have read. Maybe one analysis question, instead? Or actually paying attention in class discussion to see if they are reading, and assigning some sort of critical thinking assignment?