Wednesday, February 20, 2008

When Did Being Smart Become Acting White?

TwitThis


The first thing that struck me when I walked into my
into my
college prep high school was the
smell.
It smelled of new paint, new carpet and
new books.


Books so new that they had never been used yet
.

In fact, I stopped by there last August
and it still retained that new school smell. Creepy.

The public middle school that I came from?
There wasn't anything particularly NEW about it.

The biggest difference between the schools were the money
spent on each student and the students attitudes towards learning.

Regarding the cost difference, the public school was "free",
but we all know nothing is free. The prep school was $10K/year.

Regarding the students, there was a mixed bag.
Some dudes, came to play, get at girls, and the young ladies did the
same. Others guys came to both learn and socialize as well.
And then there were some known d-boys just passing the day
by until the could grind when the sun went down.

Now that I think about it, it was kind of bugged out to be in
middle school, with cats that were known to sell cracks,
but then again, thats Oakland/Chicago/Philly/Newark/DC....

I thought of this contrast in experience when I read the new
Will Okun post where he discusses being a teacher
and the frustrations that go with the territory
.

Full disclosure. Will reached out this morning and requested
feedback on his post. I started writing an e-mail response
and before I knew it, I realized that it was way too long,
and that it would be a better blog post instead.


He used Dead Prez's song, "They Schools", to
illustrate his point.



Will goes on to quote a veteran teacher speaking
on what it feels like to teach middle schoolers.
She states,

“We are not teaching them about their lives or their communities because it is not in the curriculum. Instruction is driven by standardized testing. We are teaching testing, not knowledge. No one hears these kids, nor do we try. There is absolutely no respect for these students. These middle schools are like prisons where the spirits of our children are slowly crushed, and I have been an unwilling participant in the destruction of young lives. Simply being witness and not speaking out daily makes me feel the soulful guilt of a thief,”.
Almost every school that I have been in since high
school has been small-
350 to 450 students.

(In fact, that probably underscores why law school, which
was approximately 1500 people, was so difficult for me).

My experience in small school settings has taught me that
only when the school is small, will the transformative, soul bending
learning that needs to take place, actually occur.

I don't cosign on the notion that children can't learn
in environments where there are 1499 other students.

I just know that it is a formidable and damn near impossible.

I also know that public-urban-education
isn't designed to create critical thinkers.

People say, kids need to learn, "In my day...I walked
ten miles...blar, blar blar." I always respond to those statements
with, "If it were YOUR daughter in that school, what would you do?"

In fact, I have often wondered what schools would
be like if state or federal charters required that teachers and
administrators to live in the cities that they taught? What if
they were required to enroll their children in public school system
in which they worked as well?

Can we say "skin in the game"?

Black teachers and administrators had skin in the game
prior to integration. (The other side of That coin is the seperate
but equal learning
that was taking place, damned if you do...)
I always think of this when people talk about our fear of
being told that we are "acting white" if we are high
achieving. Prior to integration, there was no one saying that
"being smart was acting white". There were no (or few if
any at all) white students in our schools for us to be compared to.

=======
=======

Skin in the game and educational systems.

Acting white as a consequence of integration?

Nice combo, eh?


Oh, and I REALLY like the phrase "soul bending learning."

======
======

21 comments:

Chuck said...

"I also know that public-urban-education
isn't designed to create critical thinkers."

Thats real spit right there..... I grew up in Oakland, but I thank god I went to high school somewhere else.

Model Minority said...

Say word.

We cousins?

Lol.

Big Man said...

Teachers will never be required to send their kids to the public school systems in which they teach, and whenever that is "encouraged" they usually set up special magnet schools for the teachers' kids to attend.

On the whole issue of learning being thought to be a white thing, I have varied thoughts.

Both my brother and I excelled in school mainly because my father gave us whippings when we failed to bring home straight A's. I never was told that I was acting white for being smart, but my brother said he was.

So, obviously it happens, but I don't know exactly why some kids are singled out and others are not.

Boosy said...

This is an issue that has been going on ever since the schools were publicly funded. We take a different prespective on the issue and it might lead you to what other generations think.

Heavy D! said...

This is an issue that has been going on ever since the schools were publicly funded. We take a different prespective on the issue and it might lead you to what other generations think.
======================================

Just a few years ago, John McWhorter wrote damn good book on this subject, and I've been recommending it to people ever since. Unlike the kid in that article, though, the extreme majority of people who tell me I act white (because I speak the King's English, I don't have any gold teeth, I'm in law school trying to better myself and give back to the community, and I wear a belt) are as black as I am...and that's the saddest part of all. Hell, even Joseph C. Phillips wrote a book called "He Talk Like a White Boy." I haven't read the book yet, but I can probably guess where he's coming from.

The biggest problem is that we don't have the same respect for education that our grandparents and great grandparents did. More than a few of the people who are amazed at how "proper" I talk are old enough to know better, or so I would hope.

Another problem is that the whole label of "acting white" seems to affect the boys more than the girls...and considering what people once went through to get access to a decent education (the Little Rock 9, for example) that makes it even sadder.

The best answer is that Black America as a whole needs to stress the importance of education as a way to ensure that everything our ancestors fought, bled, and died for doesn't go to waste.

Moniker said...

My High School is JUST like that video.
Damn.

jp said...

Long time lurker here, found your spot by accident one day. IMO there are several different issues going on here.

1)Southern culture, where most black people come from(full disclousure my family is from Caribbean), doesn't stress education, it is very religious and anti-intellectual. A lot of black folks stress the church(or sports, see point 2) and don't encourage and nurture education. I'd never forget walking down the main strip in my neighborhood when I was in 7th grade and get made fun of by not a just classmate, but here burly chainsmoking dad for being nerdy. The chainsmoking caught up with has he had a heart attack and died, and his daughter had her first child at age 15.

2)The rise of professional athletics and explosion of hip-hop makes a lot kids think thats all they can do. The whole hoop dreams culture, when adults fawn over kid who can shoot the jumper, or run the option while ignoring that kid over there rocking his AP Calculus books.

Model Minority said...

So, obviously it happens, but I don't know exactly why some kids are singled out and others are not.
======

The notion of "acting white" is a product of forced integration.

Model Minority said...

The best answer is that Black America as a whole needs to stress the importance of education as a way to ensure that everything our ancestors fought, bled, and died for doesn't go to waste.
=======

White people are fascinated by Obama because they Don't know any black men like him.

Warm, gentle, brilliant, hard working, articulate Black men. Many of us don't THINK he is the greatest thing since sliced bread because we were raised by, whipped by, hugged by and comforted by men just like him.

I don't agree with any statement of "black people just"...anything....

There is so MUCH money made off of improvershing us and keeping us there it is ridiculous.

Educator consultant this.
Subprime that.
Community program this.

The state of our children is ALL OF OUR faults. All of us.

You are in law school and you did not get there with out the assistance of Families other than your own. I DIDN'T get to law school without the assistance of families other than my own.

Once it is framed as a collective failure we can work towards a collective solution.

Until then our boys will keep dying.

Model Minority said...

JP, Glad you stopped by.

My education posts tend to bring 'em out.
Keep coming back.

1)Southern culture, where most black people come from(full disclousure my family is from Caribbean), doesn't stress education, it is very religious and anti-intellectual.
========
I would behoove you to not make statments like this about african americans.
Moving to NY as a young person, I was consistently surprised by hearing Caribbean folks call us
lazy.

I would think to myself, My 5 great grand AND your fith great grand were both picking cane/cotton, so,
why WE gotta be lazy?

If we were so lazy, why were OUR people brought here to WORK THEY land.
If we ARE and were so lazy, how were we able to do it for 300 years?

A lot of black folks stress the church(or sports, see point 2) and don't encourage and nurture education.
========
Again, I would urge you to have more compassion and empathy.
Granted, some parents are fucked up. Some care and just don't know HOW to do it. Others are amazing. I am cool of looking at Black People pathologically. It is dangerous and poisonous thinking.

2)The rise of professional athletics and explosion of hip-hop makes a lot kids think thats all they can do. The whole hoop dreams culture, when adults fawn over kid who can shoot the jumper, or run the option while ignoring that kid over there rocking his AP Calculus books.
=======
Um. Children in general, not just ours, have the BET/NBA problem.

Again, it is more indicative of our collective failure than of their capability.

Kids are brilliant.
They see the double standards all the time.

"Why should I grow up and be a teacher like you? HOw much money you make?"

"Why I gotta be smart? With a mean jump shot I can go to any college I want" And boy, schools "HATE" affirmative actions, But Will bend over with a gallon of vaseline for a barely literate High school baller. Kids see this.

I hope you are receptive to my words, or at the very least they have given you some other ways to ponder.

jp said...

MM,
Obviously I'm talking in generalities, I don't consign the "black americans are lazy bit" that a lot West Indians trot out and what I'm saying doesn't apply to every black person, but as you mentioned these are issues. Some of us are lazy, and don't teach our kids to value education. I'm not John McWhorter at all, but as you Obama says the solution is with us, we have ask better of ourself as we confront the crimes of those in white America that seek to impoverish us. Your right about ball dream affecting all kids, but something in the larger white culture IMO manages to put it in perspective, that doesn't happen in ours for some reason.

jp said...

BTW, Caribbean folks have a lot the "Lord will provide" mentality too, and it drives me nuts.

jp said...

More thoughts, if you don't know how nurture your child's educational desires, that is a failure of institutions around. It maybe the family institution(aunts, uncles, etc), the social institutions(church) and the goverment(schools). Take a place like Brooklyn, it has as a treasure trove of educational activities for kids, the childrens museum, BAM, the greatest library in the world, a short subway ride to Manhattan, where it would take a day to write about all the educational stuff there. Any of the institutions above can make it their business to expose the youth to these things.

Stephen said...

The notion of "acting white" is a product of forced integration.
****
You already know i take issue with this.

Aunt Jackie said...

As mentioned in the Tipping Point in direct relation to Oakland Public Schools it takes a team of educators to effect change.

My mother as a long time educator, founding member of one of the first Charter High Schools to have 100% of the students be accepted to college, did so when a TEAM took on the Problem.

Gladwell exposes the fact that without a team, there's no inclination for individuals to attack the educational ills in our system, because school hasn't changed, and teachers too can be ostrisized and ridiculed for their new fangled ideas...

In regards to acting white..I would say that would be a close relation the what education meant to slaves.

my two cents.

texas truth said...

JP,

I'm black, a Christian and from the South, and i find your critique of black southern culture highly inflammatory, offensive and unproductive.

Big Man said...

JP

The church and God have provided a lot support for the black community over the years. While some churches have focused on the pie in the sky mentality, others have been actively out in the community doing things.

The Civil Rights movement, despite all its flaws, was driven for the most part by black churches.

The black church remains one the easiest avenues for information dissemination and indoctrination in this country.

I think you misunderstand the way faith can provide strength for those in need. Besides, the Bible does not advocate that Christians remove themselves from trying to fight the ills of this world to concentrate on the next. In fact, the bible says the exact opposite. The messages of the Bible have been co-opted by too many people with ulterior motives.

jp said...

Texas Truth,
I'm not trying to offend or push buttons. I come from a religious family myself. If I have I wholeheartedly apologize. As per Southern culture, I'm not saying that its bad or good overall, they are things to be admired about Southern culture. I love its hospitality, for example. However, I do think there is an strong of anti-intellectualism that runs through it. Look at Sonny Purdue in Georgia with the water crisis, instead of implementing policy to deal with the sprawl and development issues, and make peace with his neighbors and the Army Core about the rivers and Lake Lanier, he gets up on Capital steps and prays for rain. I think a lot of that mindset affects how we as black people look at education.


Big Man,
I agree with you 100%. I want that church back! Where did it go? I was reading the text last week of MLK Letter from the Montgomery jail. He talks about the church becoming "an irrelevant social club" if they don't address the issues of the day. IMO that's what has happened for the most part. Where are the black church leaders when it comes to arranging tutoring programs for kids? Parenting classes and support? Even schools if need be?

Anonymous said...

“We are not teaching them about their lives or their communities because it is not in the curriculum. Instruction is driven by standardized testing. We are teaching testing, not knowledge. No one hears these kids, nor do we try. There is absolutely no respect for these students. These middle schools are like prisons where the spirits of our children are slowly crushed, and I have been an unwilling participant in the destruction of young lives. Simply being witness and not speaking out daily makes me feel the soulful guilt of a thief,”
-------

Oh, word? I'm really feeling 'the Dickensian aspect' of this quote right here... RIP Snoop...

That said, why don't we hear more about the school-to-prison pipeline?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FONH_R6Su0o
like, we wonder where people get the impression that fucking up is the only thing they ever do. it's because that shit get's -familiar- that we keep doing it.

M.Dot. said...

HOLY SHIT.

I AM STARTING AN EDUCATION BLOG.

THATS IT.

OR AT LEAST A POD CAST.
==========

the Dickensian aspect...I STOPPED WATCHING THE WIRE...and NOW I know snoop is dead. THANKS dude.


School to prison PIPE LINE.

ON it sir. We On it. We On it. We On it.

Capital P said...

M. Dot -

I just finished reading Okun's blog entry, and I'll be damned if it isn't on point. The frustrating aspect of the teaching profession - I teach 9th grade English in Houston - is that the motivation, or lack thereof - does not just reside in the students. The administration is just as frustrating to deal with. Honestly, I feel like I am a glorified babysitter. I do more disciplining than anything, and when I tell you that I've gotten more flack for not having students' work displayed on my wall as opposed to praise for trying to get my students to think, I am not lying. I have students who don't know what the NAACP is. I have students who don't care weather they pass or not. I have AP's who are more concerned about test scores than the intellectual stimulation of the students. All of this stuff makes me want to lose my mind, and a profession that I've wanted to enter since I was in high school is quickly becoming a profession that I don't want to be a part of. There are so many problems, and there is NO TIME for solutions. If we attempt to make time for solutions, we are met with ridicule and ciriticism for "taking time away" from the real goal - achievement via test scores. I'm so disillusioned, I have no idea what to do. Did I mention that the students absoultely lack motivation to do ANYTHING?

Whew! That felt good!

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