What Is the Source of the Dilemma of Black Urban
Social Policy? Class Oppression? Race Prejudice? Lack of Personal
Kam, Miriam, Jane, Jeannette,
I read this book—
Zero Tolerance: Resisting the Drive for Punishment—2
years ago and found complicity between school
administrators and juvenile authorities. They make money
from charging our kids with crimes.
Rudy: Charles, yes, I checked
the amazon reviews on
Zero Tolerance. A more extensive review
of the work from your perspective would be welcomed.
Though I am always suspicious of Jesse Jackson, who
blamed black parents in the late 70s like Bill Cosby
recently for their kids lack of performance, I'd be
quite interested in what Bernardine Dohrn has to say. I
worked in a magnet school last year and found the black
principals (we had two in one year, a man and a woman)
outrageously authoritarian, stupidly self-centered and
In another instance, there was a news
report extended over a period of months of a Richmond,
Virginia, middle school that brought in a white
principal from the suburbs who was so cocky that he knew
that he could set the school on track. The first thing I
noticed in the report was the militarized aspect of the
school—metal detectors, armed guards, and all. The
principal soon learned that the teachers over whom he
lorded himself as "expert" finally knew more than he
about the situation. These urban black teachers were
underpaid compared to those of the suburban schools and
they were ready to protest putting in the evening
after-schools hours that the principal began to demand.
They had 2nd jobs to maintain their middle-class
Finally the principal shut down the
cameras, discovering that the news audience was
discovering that he was a pompous ass.
What we discovered is that this
school situation was not a race problem as the principal
believed, initially, but a class problem. That these
kids knew more about the realities, the underbelly of
impoverished America (their neighborhoods) and smart
enough to survive that world. Neither white principal
nor black teachers appreciated the situation.
Both the principal and the teachers
were not from that world or lived in that world. They
were teaching the kids to tests and standards, not
teaching these kids how to survive in the world that
they were forced to live in. Neither principal nor
teacher felt they had anything to learn from these kids.
Receiving no respect in this top down education, the
kids rebelled and neither the teachers nor the principal
could contain that rebellion.
We are much more interested in making
kids into our middle-class images rather than dealing
directly with their poor working class circumstances.
This problem goes beyond administrators and the juvenile
systems. It has to do with us who are taxpayers and
voters. For we believe and go along with all the
disparaging images and things said about such black kids
without trying to change the environment in which they
have and manage to endure.
So there is a lot of blame to go
around. Too many of us are too zero intolerant when we
encounter black kids in dire situations. I have seen the
wonderful work that such kids can do from such
environments when they are given the love and
inspiration they hunger for and need. If we are to make
a better America, that love and inspiration these
working class children need must come from all of us
(white, black, Latino, whatever class), not just their
parents or their families. We should all refrain from
doing a Bill
Cosby on black parents and their children.
Kam: Interesting take. I tried
teaching high school in the inner city when I first came
out of college, only to discover that neither the
principal, my fellow teachers, nor most of the students
were interested in education. I was forced to pass 90%
of my students even though 90% deserved to fail. They
had already been pushed along thru grade after grade,
never having to master the material before, and they
I had attended Catholic school and never knew
that NYC's public schools in the black
community were a total joke. I had to argue
with the black head of my Math Department,
who pressured me to pass even the a-holes
who sat in the front of the class all year,
playing the dozens with me while I tried to
"Class, today we're going to learn about the
hypotenuse." "Your momma's a hypotenuse!" Thank God I
split, and had the sense not to waste my life somewhere
I wasn't appreciated. Public school teaching, from my
experience, is for hacks who just want a paycheck,
though I know it's different in some communities.
Rudy: Kam, I am not sure how
to respond to you or this situation, other than to
reiterate my point that we have all failed these "inner
city" kids, unless we conclude that these kids get what
they deserve. I can appreciate your looking out for your
individual interest. I have worked with the parents of
such children in adult education programs (in the
90s) and their writings had extraordinary insights that
we would all benefit from. I will post some of them on
our website ChickenBones, soon. That city program
was closed down under Clinton.
Let me say this finally, possession
of knowledge to transmit to others is not sufficient.
Doubtless the administration of this school was a
disaster. There are existing models that have dealt with
these same kind of "inner city" kids successfully. I
think we as teachers must do some introspection to
discover whether we are contributing negatively to the
dilemma. To expect that things will run like your
Catholic school seems to expect too much. So it seems
you were defeated as soon as you walked in the door.
The question remains whether we are
committed to quality black education, and without
militarization of our communities and our schools. For
that's the plan in operation.
Kam: My experience occurred in
the mid-70s, back when the black mantra was to develop a
skill with which to return to the community. I was very
young and had never, in grammar school, high school or
college experienced the phenomenon of functionally
retarded students who had simply been moved up grade
after grade undeservedly. I also was shocked by the
presence of unruly students who seemed to revel in their
ignorance and in disrupting the class. I had no idea
that that existed, or how it came to pass. In my
Catholic grammar school, which was also all
black, education was very serious business. My public
school experience was a joke, just babysitting.
Latorial: I taught 8th grade
in Charlotte, NC, and my first month was very much like
Kam's. I began teaching in January of that school year,
and the principal told me that I was in for a rude
awakening and a challenge. I was the kids' 13th teacher
since August. They had brought a female marine to
tears. And this was supposed to be a magnet school.
To be honest, like Kam, I found it
very hard to teach at first. The kids were
disrespectful. They cursed all of the time. They didn't
do their work, most of them, let alone bring books to
class or carry them home. I had females who had
carjacked or were "so-called" gang members. I had
little boys who were calling themselves drug dealers,
black and white. And this was supposedly a magnet
school in North Carolina.
I had one female student invite me to
whip her ass. I had a little guy all of 4 feet push up
on me when I tried to correct him. It's simply hard
trying to teach in an environment where the kids lives
are shot because of what has gone awry in their homes.
I was at a loss, but I hung in there. I was just as
bad as they were, and I was determined to not allow them
to push me out by June. The school administrators'
hands were tied. You couldn't do much with these kids
because all of the alternative schools were filled to
capacity, and while there was no place else to put them,
we had to endure hell in the classroom because of it.
When June came, I felt that I had
really made a difference in the lives of some of the
kids, maybe 5 of them out of 60. I found it sad that
you could simply look at them and predict who would make
it through high school or college. They were all
carried away on their clothes, sneakers and hair and
nails for the young ladies. Everybody was having sex.
This was 8th grade, and several of them had even been
caught having sex in the school.
I hated to see our youth in this
predicament. And I was sorry that I couldn't be
everything to them. In this case, the school had not
failed. These kids, mostly black, were in a wonderful
school filled with resources (just like what I see here
on the N. side of Chicago), and they had a black
principal who was very concerned about them. But in this
case, the school system had not failed these kids.
Their mommas and daddies failed
them. Most of them were from broken or single parent
homes, and when I called parents for conferences, it was
a joke. They either didn't come because they worked or
because they were already "too through" with their own
kids. When I told one parent about her son trying to
hit me, she wasn't surprised because he'd called the
cops on her various times, and she couldn't discipline
(We can blame our gov't for this).
But it's really sad. Black men and
women need to learn how to stay together and parent
these children. We need to be serious about all of
these babies being birthed by teenagers because this is
the result of all of that. School can't slap a Band-Aid
on children who are suffering from hurt that comes from
home. It's very hard. You can't teach them algebra or
English or history when their minds are already bogged
down by things beyond their control.
After that semester, I returned to
teaching college students where I don't have to deal
with the rigorous activity and the disgust and
frustration of some public schools. That was not my
arena, and I certainly didn't want to go to jail for
defending myself against someone else's child.
All I know is that some people have a
natural talent for being able to make a difference in
these lives, but I was not one. I stick to what I know
and do best, but I'm glad that I had the opportunity to
see it firsthand. And I really wish people would stop
criticizing middle and upper class blacks for seeking
out better schools for their kids. I think that parents
ought to always make the best decision for their child.
We can still be a part of this race and give back to our
communities, but we must also seek out the best for our
children, so that they can grow up and do the same. I
have made a vow that I'll go broke educating my children
before I allow them to go to a school where the children
have so many issues that teachers cannot teach.
I felt really sorry for the children
in my class who were serious and ready to learn. Most of
them came from good parenting. But they missed out on
what school was supposed to give them because of all of
the problem students in the classroom.
I know that every school is not like
this, but many public schools are. Last month, I had
the opportunity to speak at two schools for Black
History Month. The first was my children's school in
the Highland Park area. This are is pretty wealthy. To
give you an example, I live about 2 miles from Michael
Jordan. We are a military family, so we are probably
considered part of the lower class, right along with the
Mexicans who provide most of the labor in this area.
The second school that I visited was a school further
north, mostly black and filled with kids from the
military base. When I got back into my car, I was
literally brought to tears when I saw the difference
between the resources available in Highland Park and
those available in N. Chicago. It was appalling and
sickening. We need to do something to make public
schools equal everywhere. I left that school with a
sense of needing to do more, write some congressmen,
tell everybody I know, etc.
A month or so ago, I saw where a
south side Chicago school was in such bad shape that
some white citizens banded together and volunteered to
go and clean that school up. They brought the damn
materials themselves. They painted, repaired doors, they
did it all, and the children were proud of their school.
It's a disgrace to see our schools in chaos.
We need to get back to family. The
solution to this problem begins at home. Our children
need to learn how to be children. They need to feel
secure in their families, and they won't feel so
threatened or left behind in school. This is not a
one-sided problem. I agree that our government needs to
do more for our children, but I think that mainly WE
need to do more for our children and that includes being
a real family, teaching them morals and values that will
allow them to be productive students.
My husband and I do a pretty good job
with our boys. They get the best. If they grow up to
be something less favorable, it will not be our fault.
But many black youth don't even get this head start.
There are too many negatives in the equation when they
are born. It's not impossible to come from meager
beginnings and make it. Slavery has proven that. Most
of us have come from humble beginnings, and we've done
well. But what we see in the Black community today is
not families who aren't doing well because they can't.
Honestly, there are a various families in chaos because
of the choices that have been made, bad choices. Thank
God for all of those who do have a strong sense of
family, but I'm praying for those children who do not.
It's hard to grow up and succeed when you have no idea
of what success looks like or feels like. We need to
look at ourselves. We need to repair black families.
Chicago lost 2 children in the last 2
weeks to drive by, reckless shooting. A 14 yr. old
black honor student and a 10 yr. old just this weekend.
I'm sorry, but this is not the white man's fault. White
America has its fair share of blame when it comes to
Black people in America, but I believe that half of our
trouble begins with us. If we fix us, we can begin to
fix the problem. I'm not speaking from the outside.
I'm speaking to my own family. I have brothers and
cousins, aunts and uncles who are plagued with the ills
of a black family gone bad. I am seeing younger family
members rise up without half a chance to only continue
making the bad decisions that they have seen made by
their superiors and family leaders. It's sad.
We need to work from within. I
really believe that if we work from within, the other
great things will come.
Rudy: Latorial, I respect you
and I think you are well meaning and I believe you want
to think the rights things and do the right things.
Whatever you can do for your kids to bring them along in
the world I have no objections. No guilt is
required. But I do not think that you have a full grasp
of the issue of the failure of quality black education
within black communities.
The same is probably true of
me as well. I recommend you read Prof Hayes
The Collapse of
Urban Public Schooling if you have not, also the
Abell Report. There are probably other such
documents for Charlotte, North Carolina and Chicago
There is a thread that runs through
much of the dialogue on black education, namely,
abandonment. Another is betrayal. Still another is
isolation. That is the fate of poor black kids. That
they misbehave as a result of this treatment should be
of no surprise, considering the gravity of the
situations within, not only their families, but their
entire communities. It is difficult at best for any
parent or two parents, when poor, to raise a child or
I am not unaware of the difficulties
that exist in urban public schools within impoverished
communities. I have substituted in such schools and I am
aware of such behaviors you and Kam describe. I too was
stunned by the extent of it when I first went into those
schools. The loudness, the rudeness, the lack of
deference, I have not lived the oppression under which
they suffer. To a great extent I have lived a sheltered
life. I attended a rural, segregated school in backwoods
Virginia (1960-1965) – Bible country, to which I had my
The culture of such a society in such
an era is extraordinarily different from that which
exists now, and even from that which existed in
Baltimore at that time. I came to Baltimore first when I
was 12 for a summer visit. That was in a segregated area
south of the City called Cherry Hill, a mixture of
public housing and private homes. I had never
experienced the like of it and there was gang violence.
I was victim of such violence—broken tooth, hurt
But I hold no hatred of poor, urban
black kids. And I ain't gonna be playing the dozens on
them and talking about what their parents didn't do, as
some comfortable middle class folks are inclined to do.
I took a tour through the South last summer. It was my
Journey. There was outrageous poverty and
lassitude everywhere, all up and down the coast from
Baltimore, MD to Jacksonville, FLA. Of course, this
universal black urbanization was occurring as I left my
rural village in 1965.
But there were still people then
working in the fields—picking cotton, shaking peanuts,
crapping tobacco—for no more than $6 a day for ten hours
work. Or working as domestics in white folks homes or at
roadside restaurants for about as much or less. Annual
income at best for most was less than a $1000, sometimes
much less. But people were attached to the land. They
could raise pigs, chickens, plant a garden, can and
store up food for the winter. All those advantages have
been lost with urbanization. We don't get food care
packages from the South any more. There is no place for
poor kids to go in summer, and no jobs.
What we have in the cities today are
descendants of those field workers, America's 20th
century slaves. Their great grands, and grands
were driven from the land into the cities, where there
are fewer and fewer jobs, and the wages are becoming
less and less. And there is much less government
Even within the best of that rural
environment, education was as much of a failure as it is
now in the urban centers. Of the 200 8th graders that
began with me in 1960, less than 90 graduated when I did
in 1965. And there was also violence within the schools
and on the buses and there was bristling up to teachers,
not to the extent as now, but it was there.
It was at once a class and a
commitment problem. It was extraordinary fortune that
that about 90 graduated. I thank God that I did not go
to an integrated public school. My suspicion is that the
outcomes would have been much worse. Violence and
misbehavior would have been worse. Teachers that taught
me taught my mother and aunts and many came from the
community, live in the community, and went to same
churches. Today, those kinds of connections do not
exist, as you and Kam have amply explained.
The previous generation had a much
lower rate of graduation. I say that for neither my
mother nor her four sisters, who lived through the rural
Depression in which they received pay of 75 cents or
less a day, did not graduate from school. Yet they
committed themselves to their children's graduating,
Most of those who graduated did not
go on to college and graduate. Their families just did
not have the money and could not afford to invest in
their kids' education. Some few got the few industrial
jobs available depending on their family contacts. I had
a family that extended into Baltimore and thus as a
resident I was able to start at Morgan State College for
$99.50 a year. And Morgan had a program to assist such
rural and urban kids that came from a tradition of
Coming from a tradition in which
children (from as early as 8) as well as adults had to
work in order to eat and keep warm, I worked as a
construction worker during the summer for my tuition,
while my mother worked in the textile industry for less
than $2 an hour. I dropped out in my junior year. They
say black girls are more dependable than black boys.
There's probably some truth in that. But more financial
weight is on boys who get girls pregnant.
In some sense I was much more blessed
than today's public schools kids. Many are without this
tradition of an extended family with resources and
contacts, of childhood work and the availability of
jobs, of living without running water and an indoor
toilet—the hard, hard times), of cultural isolation, of
commitment to education. I was ten before we got our
first tv. Back then people used to go to each other's
houses to watch tv.
Now, there are so many more cultural
influences (of the negative sort, self-indulgences,
gangster rap, and pornography) that the new
technologies have brought into our children's lives,
into our homes, brought to us by billion-dollar
corporations. Parents have lost control as a result of
business schemes and government policy. These new
cultural influences geared and fabricated from
without are emblems of progress and prosperity. These,
for the poor, are their vacations at Martha's Vineyard,
in Mexico, and Paris.
In addition, there's widespread
distribution of drugs of all sorts that did not exist
when I was growing up in rural Virginia. But these
cultural influences and drugs are all over the South and
throughout the rural regions, which now have become
bedroom communities, rather than places of work and
I now possess two graduate degrees
but that at great cost of wife and children and a stable
household. I made that selfish sacrifice for a
university education. Many in my family and other
acquaintances think me a fool, loving this life of the
mind. I am an odd ball in my family, and even odder in
that it has not translated into a middle-class house,
middle-class status, a fancy car, and middle-class debt.
For that is how education is translated in these schools
through their teachers. Too many of us are debt slaves
and proud of it.
Of course, certain social policies
influenced my educational outcome. All my degrees are
from the University of MD, College Park, which became
open to black students and it facilitated black students
in getting a graduate education by way of either
scholarships, internships, or other financial support.
With three degrees, I borrowed only
$1,000 for eight years of undergraduate and graduate
education. Is that possible today? I doubt it. Rodney
Foxworth is working on this new phenomena. He will be
reviewing for us a book called Generation Debt.
We must be careful in generalizing
from personal experience. I think we have to look at
what our researchers have written—our authorities in
education, political science, and economics. My general
impression is that class, cultural and technological
shifts, and the failure of social policy have everything
to do with what you and Kam experienced in teaching
working class kids in public schools. Disparaging the
kids and their parents, I do not think is the proper
Doing that which is necessary to
change this system of governance so that it administers
to the least among us is where we should have our focus.
And for those of us who have the leisure that means
study, finding out how the phenomena you observed came
to be and how we as Americans can change it without
militarizing our society and criminalizing our kids. I
recommend we read Ron Walters's
White Nationalism, Black Interests. Read the
Lani Guinier interview
and her Meritocracy, Inc. when it is published. That is
the approach we should all make. That is the best way WE
can make our significant contribution. I will do what I
can to correct some of the wrong-headedness that is so
glibly being passed around.
Kam: Latorial, thanks for
sharing your experiences. It certainly resonates with me
and so closely mirrors my experiences. You triggered a
memory of my trying to break up a fight in the hall
between two boys, only to have the sister of one of
them start swinging at me as I tried to pull them
apart. Fortunately, I didn't have the ego to think that
I had to be a part of this insanity, since I had grown
up in 100% black atmosphere where everyone I knew
respected elders and had high aspirations.
I didn't really know that black people like that
existed, even though I grew up in NYC. Thank God, I
could see that the system was bigger than I, and that my
job in that public school system would be as a
babysitter to souls long since lost. And exactly like
you, I felt sorry for the 4 or 5 students in each class
who really wanted to learn, but the rest of the class
kow-towed to the disruptive jackasses. It truly was a
culture shock for me. And sadly, the schools have only
gotten far worse since the seventies.
We need to get
back to family. The solution to this problem begins at
home. Our children need to learn how to be children.
They need to feel secure in their families, and they
won't feel so threatened or left behind in school This
is not a one-sided problem. I agree that our government
needs to do more for our children, but I think that
mainly WE need to do more for our children and that
includes being a real family, teaching them morals and
values that will allow them to be productive students.
Latorial, I agree with you 110%. You have
stated the situation quite eloquently.
Those are the same conclusions that my
daughters—one, a public school teacher and
the other, a former teacher with a child in
Last week, my daughter was bodily
threatened by a student, and there have been 200
assaults against teachers by students in Memphis, but
the administration will do nothing.
They are bending over backwards to
"protect" the students, and the result is that many of
the really fine, dedicated teachers are leaving the
school system. This is a tremendous problem that WE as
a community must address, and the parents have to get
involved. This is much much more than a class issue,
and we cannot blame concerned parents, whatever their
circumstances, for seeking the best possible education
for their children.
My kids were threatened daily in the
D. C. schools many years ago, but I taught them how to
screw up their courage and fight back. I took my
8-year-old out of the public schools, however, when I
found that her classmates were calling her "white
bitch," threatening her every day, and, as a result, she
was hiding out at home for three months, after I left
for work. I would not sacrifice my children for
any "cause"; that would be the height of
Books by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Daughters of the Diaspora: Afra-Hispanic Writers
Singular Like a Bird: The Art of Nancy Morejon
Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells (1995) /
Erotique Noire/Black Erotica
* * *
Rudy: I agree that "WE need to
do more for our children." But that WE usually ends up
being translated by too many as, "THEY should do more
for their children." WE need to make a revolution. But
too few are buying tickets for that game. For WE got our
Jane (from Canada):
I found it interesting to read Latorial’s
comments and see what similarities American schools have
with Canadian schools. Now I do not teach and I did not
go to school here in Canada so I shall not claim to be a
connoisseur of the education system. So I am going to
use the example that one of my former co-workers gave
Ella is a Belarussian immigrant. She
graduated as a teacher in her country before coming to
Canada. I must say, having experiences it firsthand, she
is an excellent very patient teacher. She was teaching
for several years but she came here and had to deal with
the red tape most immigrants deal with. Having to go
back to school and work wherever you can in the process.
Because she loved teaching, she did
that, making lots of sacrifices because she is a mother
of two. While doing that she used her languages and
worked in a call centre. Finally after over 5 years she
had a chance to go there and teach, but the only jobs
available were French teachers. So she chose a suburbia
school so that she did not have to deal with the inner
city youth issues. She assumed that things would be
better and it also worked for her because it was close
Well! Before her several teachers had
come and gone, one had even had a mental breakdown. So
she tried to use her old country styles and she had the
principal all over her telling her that she was too old
fashioned. But she went through some of the things that
Latorial went through. Kids calling her a bitch, (can
you imagine that!), telling her to shut up, laughing at
her accent, refusing to do their homework, heckling her
in class, talking while she was talking, fighting with
When she tried to talk to their
parents, those who did not have a defeatist attitude got
angry at her for challenging the way they had brought up
their kids. These kids by the way were not even 13 yet!
They had been studying French for over five years and
none of them had anything to show for it. By the way
most of these kids are white . . .
The last time I spoke to her she was
ready to have a break down and that was only 3 months
into the job. She is no wimp. She is a very tough woman
who has gone through a lot. But the kids are killing
her. She has two small kids to take care of and she is
wasted when she gets home she is too wasted for her kids
and husband. She considered going back to the call
centre but did not want to give up her passion for
Another co-worker a teacher from
Mauritius went through the same experience. In the end
she gave up and decided to take a pay cut of almost half
what she was getting and go to a call centre where she
could punch in and leave . . .
Something is wrong. I HATE being on
the 76 bus at 3pm (when the kids leave school). It’s a
nightmare. They are little terrorists. The girls (13-18
years old) are all in miniskirts (uniforms) that are shy
of their underwear length with tones of make up, chewing
gum with their mouths opening and swearing like whores.
In fact an alien who has been
studying whores will think that they are whores. The
guys are no better. Every word begins with the F word.
No stepping up to give seats to old and pregnant women,
if you look at them they curse you out and say “bitch
who are you looking at?” It is scary. I find the white
kids worse than the black kids to be frank.
The black boys are already dealing
with a negative stigma so they mind their own biz. The
black girls are just seeking attention like normal
teens. In general the Asian kids, especially the Chinese
ones are the best behaved I find. In general I just keep
my eyes on the window. Something is wrong.
Now in Africa, let me speak for
Uganda, it’s different. Dare to speak up against an
elder as a kid and you will be beaten. Not abused.
Beaten. They will get a stick and whip you on your ass.
Teachers are allowed to do that and so there is a
general respect for teachers. I received my share of
licks and let me tell you they put me in line. Some kids
needed more licks than others (the stubborn ones who got
immune) but for the majority we were scared of the
You just do NOT disrespect elders.
You call them Mr, Mrs, Sir or Aunty and Uncle. No first
names. You greet an elder. In some areas, you even kneel
to greet elders—male or female—to not do so means you
have no manners. It’s an old custom but still exists.
For example as modern and emancipated as I am (my dad
never really reinforced the old traditions as I grew up
I could never refuse to kneel for my
grandmother. It’s just a respect thing. You do not
interrupt elders conversations, you never call them
names (try calling one of my aunts a bitch!—They will
whip any of us to high heaven). Punishment is big in
Uganda. Here it’s called child abuse, but parents do it
to keep their kids in line. They hit their bottoms to
show them that what they did was wrong.
Unfortunately a lot of Western
cultures are permeating African societies and the youth
are changing but not that drastically. Teachers are
needed there, so African Americans can consider that.
The pay will not be the same but neither will the
standard of living. There is where you can make a
Every response is a great contribution and I say 'thank
you' to all . We now see a portion of the problems in
public schools, with an aspect that has crept back
in..., "The Shame of the Nation: Desegregated Public
Schools in America" by Jonathan Kozol has revealed what
was a peculiar institution of the Jim Crow South has
become the norm across the nation..., and we haven't
paid it the least bit of attention. Has this occurred by
natural selection or is this the result of a plan with
the end results yet to manifest. Charles
Latorial: I just wonder what
Malcolm and Dr. King would do?
Rudy: They would be for not
only a revolution in personal values, they would be for
a social and a political revolution, beyond the static
universe that is implied by those who responded to your
very sincere and personal comments.
Jeannette: Rudy's analysis is right on the mark.
As a public school social worker who regularly visited
inside the homes of urban students between 1981 and
1991, particularly those designated as "emotionally
disturbed," (most of whom were black boys) I found
parents and grandparents in dire need and desirous of
emotional and many other kinds of support. These parents
and grandparents did not receive it from extended
family, churches (filled with teachers and school
administrators) or community.
Many "middle class"
teachers came to school with their own set of personal
and family problems, making it even harder for them to
deal effectively with "acting out" children or relate
with understanding to the woes of their parents.
I saw adults (principals, administrators, teachers,
teacher aides and other school staff ) who had health
insurance (that would pay for individual and family
counseling) unwilling to begin doing the inner work that
might help them become emotionally healthier
individuals, which might in turn have some effect on how
they dealt with many problem students.
I saw parents and grandparents working for less than a
living wage who had no resources for ordinary individual
or family counseling. (The local mental health clinics
(no longer in the neighborhood) basically were set up
for severe problems like sexual or substance abuse.
I saw overworked young probation officers who didn't
particularly care and court-related therapists who
didn't really possess the skills to engage urban
families in on-going "family therapy."
I saw juvenile court judges that paid little attention
to the school social worker's recommendations.
"Managed care" for mental health became everyone's "big
brother," dictating that whatever individual or family
ills one possesses must be "fixed" within a designated
number of sessions. Teaching professionals who possess
health insurance must be insistent and seriously
committed to self-examination.
So yes, while we wring our hands and disparage parents,
grandparents, urban children, and black folk, we need to
look at CLASS and SOCIAL POLICY. We also need to
seriously consider Murry Bowen's FAMILY SYSTEMS THEORY.
This knowledge might help us to understand how
INTERGENERATIONAL FAMILY DYSFUNCTION in this country
goes all the way back to somebody's PLANTATION and the
ALMIGHTY GREEN American dollar.
Thanks Jeannette. Sometimes, I despair. According to
Sharif, Stokely said white people cannot condemn
themselves of their racism. I think that principle is
true too of our black privileged middle and upper
classes they cannot condemn themselves of their
demeaning hierarchical views of the poor and the
oppressed. Though it is now seen darkly, it will come
out in the wash of history.
I'm not sure how much I can contribute to this
conversation. I've never held a teaching
position per se, but I have worked as a
youth counselor and instructor during the
summers, working mainly with low-income
students, many of which might be classified
as "problem" children. Most times their
parents didn't know any better; other times,
when the children had active, involved
parents, the child had fallen victim to
outside influences. We so often forget that
today's children interact less than 8 hours
a day with their parents, so the parent's
influence is not--in my opinion--as strong
as we'd like to think.
And this is a sign of
the times, I don't put the blame at the feet
of the parents necessarily. Even quality
parenting might not be able to best the
outside influences that plague our cities.
This is not to say that parents shouldn't
parent, only that we should come to terms with the
cultural shifts that have made it that much harder for
parents to transmit the values and ethics that we all
believe are valuable.
I've been a student in the classrooms
that Kam and Latorial have described. I was one of those
kids serious about their education, a "goody two-shoes."
I just wanted to go about my business with school. But
my experiences in these classrooms, as a student, were
few and far between. My mother has worked at the
courthouse downtown since before I was born, so I have
always been informed about the criminal system and the
local political players, and the picture my mother
painted for me was that academic excellence was my one
shot. I took that very seriously most times. But I
didn't have it bad. When it was just me and my mother
and stepfather (I recognize him as my father, but just
to clarify), my parents were able to move from Edmondson
Village to a Cross Country apartment so that I could
attend that community's "zone" school. My mother saw
everyday what can happen to young black boys, and she
wasn't about to let that happen to me. Rather, she was
going to provide me with more opportunity so that it
didn't happen. Now, my parents don't have the resources
to just up and move and provide my sisters with more
This past summer, I worked with a
group of working class, low-income students who attended
public school in the county, though this county is
really just an extension of the city, which is to say,
the schools are crap. The curriculum is crap. Pardon my
French. The students were unaware that they were being
ill-prepared for the world, and this had nothing to do
with their behavior. This was about the curriculum. And
students could be passed having only acquired remedial
reading and writing skills. Remedial might be
exaggerating the case; subpar is probably a better
description. And this mediocrity lasts a lifetime: Here
in Baltimore, there was a recent newstory about the low
literacy of the police force. One officer was unable to
read the Miranda Rights that had been written down on a
piece of paper. But any way, these were all good kids,
though they lacked motivation, which is something we are
all guilty of. I implemented a policy that they would
have to at least get scores of 80 percent on all summer
course work if they expected to participate in some of
the summer activities.
"Why so high?" they asked and
I thought it a joke at first. But
then I realized that the bar was set so low for these
kids, that their concept of high achievement was 80
percent, if not lower. This isn't to say that 80 percent
is bad, but in most quarters that is just a C plus at
I tried my best to explain to these kids that I was
looking out for their best interests, and at 14, 15, 16,
17, they needed to be doing the same. Clearly, the
school system wasn't looking out for them. They weren't
allowing them to compete with their more well-off
suburban peers in what is a growing knowledge-based
economy. And so the options for these kids will be
limited and they don't yet comprehend it; it is so
We need innovative thinking, not the
same old tired arguments.
"But the kids are so bad!"
Yes, we can all agree that good
parenting is a necessary step, but that is just one
piece of a rather large puzzle. It is indeed a positive
step forward. But will good parenting counter the
onslaught of parental unemployment, the joblessness of
the children, the violence, the broken public school
systems, temptations of the underground economy, and
political mismanagement? No. These are all forces at
work against "our" youth. Even if our children achieve
to the highest levels in secondary school, what then?
College? Where might they find the money? Meaningful
work? Where might they find the jobs? We need a more
contemporary conceptualization of the economics,
politics, and policy adversely affecting the youth in
addition to constructive criticisms, not the sort of
mean-spirited stuff that we are inclined to spew without
an inkling of meaningful sociopolitical context. I've
said my piece. Holla.
Rudy: My brother, my brother,
you move me to tears.
and Foxworth, you
all are doing a great service with these
heartfelt pieces. I have invited my daughter
who is an urban school principal, and her
teachers (struggling valiantly in West
Oakland) to join this conversation. Her
school was featured in an article in the
Oakland Tribune just yesterday. They are
doing amazing work against tremendous
obstacles. Their school has an on-site
clinic,by the way, that also provides mental
health services--needs that Jeannette
discussed. I'll pass this conversation on
to my son, who is an emergency room
physician--and who sees the casualties of
the system everyday.
will also engage my own students and invite
them to share their perspectives on what is
happening here in Georgia. They are seasoned
school teachers and administrators.
This "crisis" has a long history,
as other correspondents have pointed out, and it is not
only a national problem, it's global. What we get in the
Black community is a harbinger of what's on tap for the
other folks who might think they are "safe." Plus, we
could be having this conversation in Brazil--adding of
course, their own specific circumstances. Foxworth, you
offer us some powerful observation about how the society
is working. These and other issues raised in this
discussion are addressed in the book, Black Education,
which I edited for the American Educational Research
Association. (Rudy posted information about the book
I am convinced that that we need to
think beyond the "either-or" arguments of "class versus
race." We need to deepen our understanding of
the nature of the system we are in and the systemic
nature of our dispossession--as Black people and what
this means for others as well. This conversation points
us toward a more complex and nuanced understanding. For
example, "we" are dispossessed--from the
Black "underclass" to the so-called "middle class" folks
who are just two or three paychecks away from falling
out of the "class structure". But our dispossession
serves a system-maintaining function. White folks and
"middle-class" black folks can say: "Well, at least I am
not. . .(fill in the blanks--"black and poor" or
"African and poor" or "oppressed by Saddam," etc.
The curriculum is critical and so
are funding issue but also fundamental is our own
capacity to respond--in our families and
communities. What we are dealing with is a systemic
crisis of immense proportions and the "chickens are
coming home": How will we (all) make a living and live
as human beings on the planet? How will white people
divest themselves of their "dysconscious" whiteness that
Jonathan wrote about in his piece on Bill Cosby and
Billy Graham? How will we all get rid of the
anti-African inclinations that lurk in our minds and
that propel the media defamation that our children are
defending themselves against--even while they try to
"out do" these distortions of their humanity?
Hollywood (the corporate-capitalist
mass media) is a major culprit and some of "our" black
actors (and musicians, comedians, etc) are all about
getting "paid". Of course, what they get is crumbs
compared to the profits to be made selling degrading
images of Black people around the world. How many of us
believed the stories about heinous murder and rape of
babies coming out of New Orleans? How are teachers of
any color or class supposed to love and care about
students whose people are so easily perceived like that?
If we understand "equity" and
"justice" to mean seeking "middle class" consumerism for
more of us "Americans"--as the solution--we should bear
in mind the cost the rest of the world pays for
our "freedom" to (over)consume. Black youth's "bling"
consciousness only mirrors (darkly) what the rest of the
society is doing.
There are excellent resources
available for further study. There are excellent
examples of outstanding education going on in our
communities and in some of the most "unlikely" places.
The book, Black Education, includes up-to-date analyses
of the economic problems that globalization poses and
concrete democratizing solutions. That the book is chock
full of "best practices" --examples of what IS WORKING
in cities like Detroit and elsewhere is not to deny that
the problems, however, are massive.
In my work (teaching and research)
I try to focus on getting clear about our vision of the
solutions we are seeking. I'm finding ways to bring
community people and educators together to address
concrete manifestations of these problems in the lives
of families, students and teachers. Our students need to
envision themselves not as a problem but as the solution
to our problems--as Grace Boggs wrote years ago in her
article: "Education to Govern." This gets us back to
the fundamental issue: What is the purpose of our
education? The times have changed and the situation we
are in has indeed worsened. But it's still "all of we."
Dr. Joyce King Benjamin E.
Mays Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership
Books by Joyce
Preparing Teachers for
Cultural Diversity /
Teaching Diverse Populations
to Sons: Juxtaposing African American Literature with Social
* * * *
Rudy: Thanks Joyce, your comments are quite
excellent. I was hoping, in that you are an expert,
Angela: I think that if surveyed, issues
concerning the safety, well-being, and education of
children would be paramount in importance to most
Georgians. After 11 weeks of working within the Georgia
Juvenile Court system it is clear that a concern for the
long-term health, emotional stability, and safety of
children is either unexpressed by or completely lacking
within the Georgia legislature's financial policies and
actions concerning children.
Over the past couple of months, thanks to the Barton
Child Law & Policy Clinic, I have been able to observe
every aspect of the Juvenile Court System in Georgia.
What I have learned is that every department with a
significant impact on the system is overworked and
under-funded, that there is a lack of communication
between the various departments which inflates the time
and cost of dealing with children in a given community,
and that the goal of protecting children is lost in the
Angela Blevins, Barton Clinic Summer 2005
Intern Report, The Georgia Department of Juvenile
posted 14 March 2006
* * *
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * * * *
The White Masters
of the World
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * *
Negro Digest / Black World
Browse all issues
* * *
Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /
George Jackson /
* * * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
posted 22 July 2008