Sunday, May 28, 2006

Afraid of "acting white"...or just not interested??

Several different people have cited research to me that insists that the reasons our Black children are not doing well in school is because they associate reading and school work with "acting White." I really don't think that has a lot to do with it. I mean, sure, I've heard the phrase. I've heard kids and teens tell each other that they're "acting White" (though it's not as frequent as one might think). But, overall, the Black and Hispanic children I know do not struggle in school because it's "cool" or because they are attempting to avoid "acting White." Allow me to pose a different theory.

The urban schools I have been in focus on testing.

They prepare and test the kids for a baseline score in the fall.
They do school-wide simulated practice tests throughout the school year.
Then, in the Spring, they test them on the "real" test.

With all of this testing and test preparation, it is hard to squeeze in time for genuine, interesting, and practical learning. Kids who don't see the connection between rote memorization and life, kids who are drilled on basic, lower-level skills, kids who are taught how to bubble in letters just right don't stay interested. Would you?

We are living in a world that's made up of technology. Learning to use technology takes thinking and problem-solving skills. It takes hands-on application. Though low-income kids in urban environments may not have as much access to creative technology, they are not insulated from the impact it has on their life. They are also not insulated from the knowledge that kids in suburban schools have much more access to new technology--at school and at home. The Black and Hispanic kids I know want that access just as much as other kids. They recognize that they are not learning what other kids are learning and that they don't have the access that other kids do.

So do students jeopardize their learning to avoid "acting White"? I don't think so. Instead, it's a matter of not having on-going access to things that they know are necessary to do well in life...things that are needed to help them be successful in jobs that pay well and provide benefits.

There is a second phenomena at work as well. There are some kids who decide that learning of any kind is important. They decide at an early age that they are moving forward despite how other people label them. Yet, when they get to high school two things happen. First, counselors don't often place students in AP or high-tracked classes unless the student or the parent advocates for that higher-level learning track. When parents aren't astute enough to push for a higher track for their child and when students don't realize how this lower-level tracking affects them once in college, the students are under-prepared for post-high school education. Second, if they are in a school that has even a minority of White kids, the Advanced Placement (AP) classes are made up almost entirely of White students. I have heard from several students (and even adult friends of mine) who were hesitant about entering AP classes because they didn't want to be the only person of color in the class. Being White, I think we don't often appreciate or understand how difficult it can be to be the only person of your ethnicity in different situations.

My personal opinion is that by saying kids are afraid of "acting White," adults avoid responsibility. By putting the blame on the kids for being afraid of "acting White," we (the adults, the administrators, the policy makers) are absolved of the responsibility to make school and learning interesting and practical.

I am very aware of the impact books have on kids. I am aware of the research that says parents need to be involved in their child's education. I am aware that kids to have to take some responsibility in their learning. However, I think it has become too easy for us to put the blame on the kids and the families instead of cleaning up the education system and making it a place kids and parents (and teachers, for that matter) *want* to be.

Maybe if we focused on figuring out how we could make it different for the kids instead of writing them off as uninterested and unwilling, we might see a lot more interested kids and we might tap into a level of intelligence that would surprise us all. I truly believe that could happen. But I think it's going to have to start by taking the blame off of the kids and starting with ourselves.
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