Running up that hill
For the past two years, our school has been spending staff development time talking about the minority achievement gap. Did I say that we had accomplished anything tangible? No, I did not.
We have talked about that there is a gap. We have talked about how big it is, exactly. We have talked about how long it is that we have been aware that there is an achievement gap. We have all been told-- including the teachers who are themselves members of minority group-- that we are prejudiced and we are oppressors and that our failure to learn every student's name on the first day of school is the reason why students feel that they "don't receive the respect they deserve."
What we haven't done is talk about tangible steps we can take to try to bridge this gap. I am, to say the least, on the verge of screaming, I am so frustrated. And, of course, strictly taboo is discussing any attitudes on the part of students or families that impinge their interest in getting an education, which I have noticed is actually not racially based but rather is common among certain socio-economic groups. You know, attitudes like letting your child stay home from school 1-2 days a week and claiming they're sick when really they just don't want to go or they didn't finish their homework or study for a test. Like believing that the only way your children will become successful is by becoming an athlete or entertainer. Like believing that education has nothing to do with your responsibilities as a parent.
I will say that I am dismayed when I see students who actively seek to take advantage of educational opportunity be labeled as "sell-outs" or "nerds" or, if they do belong to a minority group, as "acting white." And I have heard these comments while walking amongst the kids during my hall duty or cafeteria duty. I am dismayed when I see students act as if they are entitled to a credit or a grade or a future well-paying job "just because." I believe that everything you do with kids-- every kid-- involves holding students to high standards and making it clear that you know that they have the ability to meet those standards. I believe success lies in eschewing simplistic worksheets in favor of activities which require real thinking. But I also know that when students talk about what makes them feel "respected" it has to do with people letting them do whatever they want. I heard, "let me turn in late work whenever I want," or "let me leave the room as many times as I want," and only a few really serious responses. And of these demands, let me just say that I am not "down with that."
I am repulsed when I hear teachers or counselors (many of them minority members themselves) claim that certain students can't succeed in school due to their skin color, or that they can't take challenging classes.
What about you? What have you seen that you think contributes to the minority achievement gap?