Tag Archives: education

The “dream” plus 50

I watched with interest the series of commemorations a couple of weeks ago, on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. As I listened and read about the speeches, I began to wonder about the issues facing the African-American community, and for that matter, the entire American culture, today.

This is a sensitive topic to address, simply because I’m a 60-year-old white guy. I don’t want to come across as an insensitive bigot, but that seems to be the risk whenever you touch on anything related to race.

My question is this; after 50-plus years of struggle against oppression from outside the African-American community, has the civil rights movement now reached the point where the most fertile territory for continued growth is not outside that community, but rather within?

50 years ago, the issues were fairly clear. African Americans were restricted by a series of restraints imposed from outside their community — segregation, voting rights, fair housing, and so on. What’s the story today? Specifically, what are the issues, the causes and the solutions?

For the issues, I’ll turn to former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, who spoke at an event at a local college. He is a smart guy, a former two-term mayor and college professor. As quoted in the local newspaper, Johnson said:

“The fight definitely is not over.”

“Our unemployment rate is still twice that of whites, our poverty rate is astounding, our dropout rate is still very unacceptable, and you go on and on and on about the key factors in the lives of people of color…So the struggle must continue.”

Unemployment, poverty and dropout rate – those are good places to start. I’ll add a fourth — single parenthood, especially teenaged single-motherhood.

It is obvious the first three, and even the fourth, are all connected. If you drop out of high school, you will probably be unemployed, or only qualified for only low-paying jobs, and hence, be poor. If you start having children in your mid-teens, and without the benefit of a committed husband/father, the odds are also excellent that you will drop out of school, be un- or underemployed and poor. The out-of-wedlock birth rate in the African American community is outrageous — nearly 68% (two and a half times the white community’s rate.) Unfortunately, that frequently means “Dad” is not around, and the children are being raised by single mothers, grandmothers, and so on.
The Brookings Institute produced its fairly famous three rules for avoiding poverty.

  • Finish high school
  • Don’t marry until 21 and don’t have children before marriage.
  • Have a full-time job.

It sounds simple. It is also clear that many young men and women of color are not following these guidelines.

I realize there are still external barriers that minorities will face. I won’t pretend it’s an entirely level playing field.  However, on an individual basis, none of these steps is all that difficult. For today’s young black teens, the right course is obvious. So how do you convince a generation of young people to actually act in their own best interest? I don’t think the answer is going to come from Washington or from people who look like me. The answer has to come from within the young people’s own community. Ultimately, you have to convince young African Americans (and young people of any ethnicity, for that matter) to stay in school and out of their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s pants. That ethic must come from within the families and the community, not from a government program.

Yes, Dr. Johnson, the fight must go on, and there are still steps society in general can take. But for a significant part of the problem, the solution must come from within. Perhaps it is time for African American leaders to look to that great comic strip philosopher, Pogo.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Advertisements

Sick, recovery and back to work

The last few days have been fairly eventful, at least from my limited, self-centered perspective.

On Saturday, I was a judge at the regional Ocean Science Bowl competition. It involved 16 high school teams from Georgia and South Carolina. It was actually a lot of fun. I was a “rules judge” so my amateur knowledge of ocean science didn’t hurt me. I had one minor conflict with the moderator on my team of judges. He interpreted a rule incorrectly and, at least initially, was not happy about being corrected on it. We discussed it, and when he actually saw the rule in question, he realized he had made a mistake and everything turned out OK.

Mrs. Poolman and I went out for dinner with some friends Saturday evening. It was “restaurant week” in Savannah, and many of the up-scale restaurants had fixed-prix menus. I was not impressed with the restaurant, even though it had an excellent reputation. The chef barely seared my steak that I had ordered “medium.” Once the food was laid down, the waitress did not appear again until it was time for dessert. She didn’t even ask why a perfectly good (but practically raw) steak sat, barely touched, on my plate.

I’m not a complainer. If I’m asked, I’ll answer. Otherwise, I’ll just remain quiet but take my business elsewhere.

I almost nev­­er fall victim to a “stomach bug” or other gastro-intestinal maladies. So I was very surprised to find myself spending most of Saturday night in the bathroom with significant eruptions coming from both ends. What do they say about “thinking you’re going to die, and afraid you won’t.” Ugh. Not a fun experience.

So I spent Sunday like a zombie, laying on the couch, napping and watching TV. I napped through the first half of the Super Bowl. I apologized to Mrs. P for being such lousy company. There are benefits to being married to a nurse. She took good care of me.

Dinner?

On Monday, I recovered enough to drive to Atlanta for today’s Board of Regents meeting and a “Coastal Georgia Day at the Capitol” tomorrow.  I’m off in a little while to meet some of my fellow “coastal Georgia” people for dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse. Is it supposed to be ironic that the representatives of the Georgia Shrimp Association go to a Brazilian steakhouse when they come to the “big city?”

Whatever. I’ll report back on dinner tomorrow or later in the week.

 

 

 

 

A great turnout for our open house

We had a very full and exhausting Saturday a week ago.

We and all of our campus partners sponsored our annual open house event. Although three other organizations are involved in the project, it falls on my shoulders to organize, coordinate, publicize and trouble-shoot the event.  I have a ton of help so I don’t want it to sound like I’m a one-man-band. But the day of the event, it is very full, busy and tiring.

We had over 2,000 visitors throughout the afternoon. Here are some sample-pictures.

For the past six years, I have wanted to do nothing more the evening of our open house, than to go home, fix a drink, turn on some football and maybe order some wings or pizza. This year, we had two invitations to parties.  We had to pass on one of Mrs. Poolman’s friend’s 50th birthday party in favor of a dinner party at Writer Princess’s and Son-in-Law’s. This was their first event since moving into their house. Fortunately, they didn’t mind me watching the UF-Auburn game, although why I bothered, I don’t know. Ugly.

We went home and “crashed” early. We spent Sunday hanging around the house, doing laundry, yard work, etc.

Such an exciting life we live.

Day after day

It’s been a busy week. I have been trying to generate as much publicity as possible for our annual open house event next weekend. So far the omens are looking good.

My 5th grade CCD class is turning out to be a pretty good group of kids. They are rowdy and chaotic at times, but they are usually also engaged and involved. It’s been fun so far.

It is interesting to note what names are popular with parents at any given time. In my class of 23 kids born in late 2000 and 2001, I have:

  • An Alex, an Alexa and and an Alexis
  • Two Aidens, but with different spellings
  • Two Joshes
  • An Elizabeth and a Liza

And they wonder why I occasionally get their names mixed up.

Some of my former students occasionally stop by to say hello. I want to think it’s because they like me, but it’s probably because I usually give out cookies. This week, one of my students from last year’s class stopped by after class. She was wearing a scoop-neck top and what must have been some kind of push-up bra. I’m sorry, but cleavage on an 11-year old is just wrong. Whatever was that child’s mother thinking?

Don’t believe everything you read

I arrived at one of our local elementary schools yesterday to help judge a science fair. It is one of those schools with multiple buildings and an “open campus.” I walked up to what I thought was the front door. There a prominent sign that said:

DO NOT ENTER HERE BEFORE SIGNING IN AT THE MAIN OFFICE!

So I walked to the building to the right, but that wasn’t the right building. Then I tried the building to the left. I found a teacher and asked her for directions to the main office.

Her: “It’s in the building next door.”

Me: “You mean the building with the sign that says not to enter before going to the office?”

Her: “Yes, that would be the one.”

And these people are entrusted with educating our children.

What summer vacation?

A summer vacation from school is a long tradition dating back to the days when the kids were needed to help on the family farm. In just the past couple of days, I have run across two articles discussing the concept.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed people who think school starts too early and the kids and the tourism industries need a longer summer break.

On the other hand, Time Magazine has an article in this week’s issue that partially blames the summer vacation for lagging performance by American students, particularly those from lower income families. .

There was never any question when I was younger; summer vacation was clearly my favorite time of year. As an adult, however, I have had reason to question why the school systems sit idle for so much of the year. Putting student performance aside for a moment, because I have no experience or expertise in that area, just look at the typical school calendar from an efficiency standpoint.

School systems spend millions on buildings, books, supplies, computers, etc., but only use them for 70% of the time. (A typical school is open for 180 days. There are approximately 260 workdays in a year.) What kind of business could afford to compete if it allowed its facilities and equipment sit idle for 30% of the year?

The same concept can be applied to teachers. They are underpaid on an annual basis, although less so if you consider their pay and workload on a per-day basis. A typical young worker in another field may work roughly 245 days per year, allowing for two weeks vacation and five holidays. A typical teacher contract is for 185-190 days. Looked at on an annual basis, teaching is really a part-time job.

While there are some really great teachers out there, overall the teaching profession does not attract the “best and the brightest.” One reason for this is pay; young adults who are looking at careers know they can make a heck of a lot more money in fields like medicine, law, engineering, finance, business, and so on. Society could easily justify giving teachers a 29% annual pay increase, if the educational system allowed them to work the same number of days as most of the rest of the full-time world.

We have a good friend who is a teacher. She complains about her low pay. However, we don’t hear complaining about her fall break, spring break, Christmas break or more than two months of vacation during the summer.

A year-round school calendar doesn’t necessarily mean that every student would need to be in class for the entire year. Although I suspect some expansion of the number of classroom days wouldn’t hurt performance any. Many colleges solve this problem with summer terms during which the classes meet for fewer days, but for longer time periods each day.

Here is one idea.

A school year of 180 days equals 36 weeks. Add five holidays, two weeks for the December holidays and a week’s worth of annual preparation time for teachers and you come to 40 weeks. That leaves 12 weeks of idle time. Divide those 12 weeks into three 4-week, or two 6-week summer terms. Require students to attend one or two of the 4-week terms or one of the 6-week terms. You would also need to build-in flexibility for siblings to enroll in the same summer terms to allow for summer vacations.  This would:

  • Expand the students’ classroom time and increase learning;
  • Allow teachers the opportunity to work for an entire year and be paid accordingly;
  • Make more efficient use of facilities and equipment;
  • And still allow time for family vacations.

It’s just a thought.

You’re fired!

The latest news here in Savannah is the school board has decided to fire the entire faculty, staff and administration of one of the public high schools because of poor performance, as measured by a sub-60% graduation rate. It will be interesting to see if this actually has any significant effect on the performance of the students in the school. Somehow I suspect it won’t. I’ll go out on the limb and predict that there will be a short-lived jump in measurable benchmarks, but it will not last.

The purge will allow the district to get rid of what weak teachers are there, and, apparently, satisfy some state agencies. Plus, because of this massacre, the school will be the center of attention of the district. But it all can’t last forever. The normal ebb and flow of attrition will return the faculty to the same kind of level as other schools – some good teachers, some bad teachers and many average teachers. And the school will not be able to hold the spotlight forever.

Although the school has been making progress under a relatively new administration  in the past few years, it wasn’t enough. This school has been a weak performer for years. Some time ago, the admissions director of a nearby state university told me she wouldn’t even assign a recruiter to that and one other Savannah school because, “…there aren’t enough students who can meet our admission requirements to make it worth the effort.”  This raises the question – is the problem the school (teachers and administration) or the students? Principals and teachers come and go. The only constant is the students.

The purge will do nothing to solve,what I suspect, is an underlying problem — the elementary and middle schools. If a student arrives in ninth grade unable to read or do the math to handle the work, there isn’t much the high school can do to remedy nine years of ill preparation both at school and at home. The high school is at the end of the pipeline.

As anyone can guess, this school is in the inner city, with a high minority (98% black) and relatively high poverty area.

Coincidentally, George Will wrote a column this week for the Washington Post in which he puts the blame squarely on the students’ families.

“Plainly put, the best predictor of a school’s performance is family performance — qualities of the families from which the students come. Subsequent research suggests that about 90 percent of the differences among the proficiency of schools can be explained by five factors: days absent from school, hours spent watching television, pages read for homework, the quantity and quality of reading matter in the home — and the presence of two parents in the home.”

Will especially targeted one telling statistic — 71.6% of African-American and 51.3% of Latino children are born to unmarried mothers. If national statistics hold for Beach’s attendance zone (and there is no reason to believe they don’t), that means roughly three quarters of the students come from low-income and single parent families. This is not a formula for success for any new set of administrators and faculty.

Raising children well is tough and it takes time. Most children are not totally self-motivated to work hard, read a lot, do their homework, get out of bed to get to school, and so on. Left alone, children are like all other matter in the universe. The will tend to the lowest level of energy and organization. Children usually require a parents to set and enforce high standards and to create a culture of success.

So school district officials have decided to help those students by firing their teachers and administration, and replace them with supposedly better ones. It’s too bad they can’t do the same for the parents.