Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Acting White: Soft Bigotry of Hyped Expectations?

There is a soft bigotry in America where we do not speak the painful truth if doing so touches close to historical sensitivities, especially around race. It is acceptable for large groups of color to languish in silence, just as long as we can pretend that we are all the same. To this I say BS!

I am becoming a firm believer of the philosophy of telling kids and parents, sooner rather than later, what will happen to them if they are reckless with their opportunity for an education. They will be labeled stupid and their lives will pretty much suck. The potential for this ugly and inevitable labeling will spur some to go all-out to prove the labelers wrong – and this will be a good start. It will also set the stage for alternative education scenarios, away from the failure of a one-size-fits-all-curriculum's. I’m not advocating telling a kid that he is too dumb to read, but the current approach of telling him that anyone can read, anytime they want, seems to give him the power to ignore the urgency of the goal, as if he is hurting you the instructor, or society, more than himself when he fails.

Twice in the last thirty days I have visited a local urban high school classroom that has some amazingly bright kids (mostly girls), of the ones that bother to show up. The teacher asked me if I wanted more kids to attend our sessions, for the time I am investing. I said no, because I do not want her wasting her time rounding up kids who do not want to attend school. So instead of begging the slackers, and telling them that they are just as smart, if they apply themselves, I think we should tell them the truth – that they are under-achievers and should prepare themselves for manual labor at lower pay, if they are lucky enough to find it. Not only should they be told they are average or below, they should have a learning track to match their demonstrated abilities, instead of funding wasted college-prep educational capacity.

Telling the entire range of kids that they can do anything, go anywhere, better fits some ideal notion, where everybody lands on the planet equally endowed, rather than what we see in a real classroom. We tell black kids that they can be astronauts, while arriving at the school bell, at all, is their biggest accomplishment of the school day. From the start, we should tell them, and their caregivers, that not showing up ready to learn insures failure, and the school will not hesitate to treat a student as such if the behavior merits this. We must also stop accepting kids who come to school with no intention to learn, but rather to disrupt.

Not being truthful with kids, for fear of dissuading them, is wrongheaded. These kids know bullshit. What they need is the truth, no matter how painful some soft-bigot psychologist thinks it is. If we listen to the teachers, the kids and parents with perseverance show up regardless of obstacles, external and internal, and sometimes because of them. The kids who are not motivated should have the chance to excel at any moment, but opportunities should be driven by results. Otherwise we end up with school districts of advanced placement (AP) classes supplemented by overflowing special-education bunkers, where future DNGs (did not graduate) are warehoused until truancy laws no longer apply.

I know this sounds harsh, but the kids I see hanging around the school building and the streets are tough and need straight talk and straight learning, not educational pie-in-the-sky.

James C. Collier


Technorati Tags: , , , , ,


MuscleDaddy said...

Truth is that, while God may love us all the same, we're not all created equal - we each need to play to our strengths.

Pretending that everyone has the SAME strengths doesn't help anyone.

Some kids have the wiring for education - some don't.

Trying to teach a pig to sing wastes your time and annoys the pig.

- MuscleDaddy

Anonymous said...

i hear you brother

Anonymous said...

Along time ago, in the pretty much white bastion (at the time) of the San Fernando Valley, my mom worked at a the West Valley Occupation Center. It was run by the LA Unified School District, and they had the greatest classes as far as I was concerned. Automotive, hvac, cooking, haircutting (yeah, I was a victim of their haircutting classes on more than one occasion.)

My dad left WWII to learn how to become a watchmaker on the GI Bill.

In LA near LAX I know there's a community college that teaches courses on how to become an aircraft mechanic.

But in general, I don't think many people know about these sorts of schools.

Anonymous said...

How can a school punish kids who don't come to school?

I agree with you that our generalized education system is a big waste of time for most kids. If we focused earlier on getting young people into career tracks, or at least preparing them for some kind of job, we'd be a much more productive society.

Anonymous said...

I should add, James, that I think a lot of actual education has been replaced by liberal/multiculturalist/PC indoctrination, especially in higher education, in addition to self-esteem and "fun"-based curricula. It seems like this comes from the top-down education establishment and from many, if not most of the teachers/professors themselves.

I would like to know how you feel about this.

Pidgin said...

I don't think there is a need to tell kinds what they aren't capable of, any more than there is a need to promise the moon to them.

Plenty of successful people did not do well in school, and they might have been derailed completely if they were told they were dumb.

A lot of slackers aren't dumb, just slackers. A lot ARE dumb too, but lets not go from one extreme overly broad brush stroke to another out of frustration with the stat quo, I don't see how that helps.

GoldenAh said...

I thought back in the past, before the changes to the school curriculum in the 1960s-1970s, students were corralled into tracks that fit their "aptitude." The assembly-line style of schools were created to assist corporations with an educated workforce. Companies have opted out of influencing the educational system by preferring to find their future employees overseas.

Perhaps the swing has been too much in the other direction in that we get magnet coursework deprived of funds, and too many in special education.

We also have too many lawyers, and not enough plumbers, or people who want to work with their hands and shouldn't be denigrated for it. I'm not implying that intelligence has anything to do with manual labor either. Brilliant people tinker and create things we all use.

Nicola said...

"So instead of begging the slackers, and telling them that they are just as smart, if they apply themselves, I think we should tell them the truth – that they are under-achievers and should prepare themselves for manual labor at lower pay, if they are lucky enough to find it."

Tough talk, but it's the truth. And young people need to hear it instead of being coddled... and they need to see real-life examples of where they could be end up if they keep making the wrong choices.

Just because Obama is president doesn't mean every black child is suddenly going to excel.

Sean said...

I spent a few very rewarding years mentoring HS students at a crummy school.

From time to time I would talk reality- the kid who thought he was getting a Cadillac for his birthday, the short unathletic boy who believed he was NBA material, I tried to set them straight. It never sunk in. Ah, youth....

Excellent post, Mr. Collier. My one complaint with this site is it is not updated as frequently as I would like! Always well thought out.

Anonymous said...

I agree without reservation.

Excellent points throughout.

I have maintained everyone cannot do anything. People have certain tendencies that help them perform better at certain tasks/jobs.

I am visual and mechanical and logical. If I can see it work I can figure it out and if it's broken I can figure out how.
That's what I do for a living working in equipment engineering.

But there are people around me that can look at the same thing I am and not SEE what I see even though it's right there in front of their eyes.

I don't know why this is but I do know it IS.

Keep up the good work. Our kids sure need to be told the truth and get a good start in life and in school if they are going to have any chance at all of being a happy and productive member of society.

It helps a lot if they start life out with two good, caring parents that give time to their kids instead of taking all their time for themselves.
Something we see more and more of these days, SADLY....

Anonymous said...

What we see is the last chapter of the Bell Curve in action.

The elites will have two options: kill or pay off.


Anonymous said...

I don't think schools spend enough times exploring the thousands upon thousands of jobs that exist. For example, how many know that a Kelp Cutter job is possibility?

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, and your thoughts. As an old white guy with 29 years of public education service (so far) I find your observations in this post right on the money.

I am so frustrated with the "college for all" mentality of my state. I would much prefer that we have a wide range of education or training, leading to college for those so inclined (and prepared) or programs leading to certification a range of employable skills, employable in today's market.

And for those who went the blue collar route, an expanded and flexible commercial college system for that worker, now with a wife and kids and mortgage, that would like to be manager or foreman (or beyond.) Now, with the incentive they didn't have in public school, they should be encouraged to continue education in order to expand their job opportunities.

Anonymous said...

This is a multi-racial problem. I am a graduate student teaching chemistry labs. I see kids coming to college with no idea why they are here and they didn't bother to prepare for it in high school.
I see kids in my neighborhood who go to school with no intention of valuing the education that is offered them.
Everybody wants something for nothing.

Maxine said...

You are so right,James. Empowering people with false confidence can be just as harmful as destroying their self esteem, or even more so.

Melissa said...

Wow maybe I'm misinterpreting the message here but from what I understand you're basically saying that kids who struggle due to poor socio-economic conditions should not be encouraged to better their situation and instead should be pushed towards low end jobs that don't require education? If this is your message then I completely disagree. I've seen kids who started off not caring about school learn to appreciate it later in life after being really educated on its importance and go on to college and graduate. I agree that they should be told that unless they work hard they will not succeed but you can't tell them that they are doomed to failure from the start. That's the message black/latino youth are always getting. Society's always telling them that they aren't worth shit and so they don't even try. And no one cares that many of them have a lot of terrible things going on at home that impact their school performance. They are expected to perform at the same level as children coming from stable homes and that's just not fair. It doesn't even make sense. With more patience and more dedication from the people who are in power these children can succeed. Check out

Miriam said...

Perhaps they can achieve whatever, its just that the effort that's required is not equal for each child?

Maybe a realistic look at their strength and an honest evaluation can help?

Tara L. said...

You are right. Coddling lazy kids (black, white, etc.) is stupid and not going to be helpful. Hard work pays off. First you've got to show up.

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher, and here's what crushes my soul: in my district, WE DO tell the underachievers the truth -- but it doesn't matter. They continue doing nothing.