On a monthly basis, lifeseek.org will be featuring a thought-provoking essay that is designed to stimulate healthy dialogue and a collective resolve to seek the face of God for answers of some of the most pressing issues of our age. Your participation and feedback is very important to us and we encourage you to leave your comments, facebook or tweet this post after reading.
The School House . . . STOPS!
In my original article, “The School House Rocks,” I examined some of the features of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and its implications for education today. Though NCLB is a reality in public education today and likely to be overhauled this year by President Obama; it is not the only impeding factor that has thrust our national education system into this downward spiral of mediocrity and struggle. Take this journey with me . . .
Some Child Left Behind . . .
I’m an 80’s baby . . . When I was in school it was simple . . . READING, WRITING, and ARITHMETIC. You got a report card with letters for grades “A” to “F” (except “E”) and numbers for behavior where you received a 1, 2, or 3. Your parents showed up to your first conference of the year, talked to your teacher, and THAT determined how many of your Christmas gifts were taken back to the store before December 25th! My how times have changed . . . school isn’t quite as simple as it used to be. Kids are expected to come to school with a “readiness” to learn, and if they aren’t ready, it’s the schools job to get them up to speed. But what are we getting them ready for in the long run? YEARS ago it was to be a productive citizen in the American society . . . however, as we discussed in “The School House Rocks” many of our kids today are being programmed to pass state standardized assessments. Teachers are given pacing guides, curriculum guidelines, and a set of “assessments” that must be completed within a certain amount of time, regardless of the overt fact that ALL children learn differently. This is all to prepare them to “Do their best on the Test”. Take this scenario for example: A student who has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan – Special Education) is typically instructed at his instructional level, which can often times be 1 – 2 years below their actual grade level. So a 5th grader can be instructed at a 3rd or 4th grade level in reading and math, and it’s by LAW that you follow the student ‘s IEP with fidelity to deliver that instruction. HOWEVER, when it’s time for these state tests, you test them on GRADE LEVEL. So we teach the child at a 3rd or 4th grade level, honoring the IEP which is a legal document, but TEST them at the 5th grade level (which is based on another legal document, NCLB) and then PENALIZE schools when their IEP students don’t score “proficient” is simply asinine. This is just ONE example of some of the drastic and inequitable changes that have taken place in education over the years. This example is further amplified when you consider the amount of African-American children who have IEPs (Special Education) in comparison to their Caucasian counterparts. The numbers are staggering, and the unfortunate reality is that there are more and more “minority” students being placed in Special Education everyday . . . we’ll revisit this later.
“America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters…and the race starts today. I am issuing a challenge to our nation’s governors and school boards, principals and teachers, businesses and non-profits, parents and students: if you set and enforce rigorous and challenging standards and assessments; if you put outstanding teachers at the front of the classroom; if you turn around failing schools – your state can win a “Race to the Top” grant that will not only help students outcompete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential.” 
This quote was from a speech given by President Obama as he rolled an initiative called, “Race to the Top” . . . which in a nutshell took 4.5 Billion dollars of stimulus money (Out of the $100 Billion set aside for education) and basically required states to come up with “Action Plans” to improve various facets of public education. At first glance it sounds like a great idea, until you realize that this “race” to the top is truly a competition between states . . . an “Amazing Race” that puts the potential future of MANY of our children on the hopes of someone’s ability to write a grant proposal. REALLY??!?? This sounds like a business approach, to create competition between other companies (states) to see who can garner the most support (funds) based on their ads (proposals). But the difference here is that these “companies (states) are ALL producing the SAME product (KIDS)! And our kids cannot be looked at as products or merchandise whose worth in investment is determined through state competition. If you have $4.5 Billion, then why not divide it up amongst the poorer districts FIRST (whether urban or rural) and give them an opportunity and the SUPPORT to develop plans to manage resources that many of them have never had! Why play a game where the end result is, some win, some lose . . . The problem with “Race to the Top” is that it only rewards “some” states, those who win. And no matter how you “slice” it, the other states who don’t “win”, ultimately, “lose”. If a state has an expressed and documented need, how is it equitable or even constitutional to place that need in the realm of competition to determine if it will be met? What if our hospitals worked this way? You have a gunshot victim, a stab victim, and a woman who is in labor . . . all three have insurance, but the hospital is only going to share medical resources with the person whose insurance company has the most compelling plan to provide coverage for their policy holder. Sounds absurd doesn’t it?
Remember the movie “Training Day” where Denzel Washington played the character Alonzo Harris; a crooked narcotics officer who spends a good portion of the movie traveling through Los Angles trying to secure money to pay off a group of Russian mobsters who put a hit out on his life; he does so by robbing, killing, and stealing from drug dealers and gang members. Jake Hoyt, the officer being trained by Alonzo, played by Ethan Hawke, was the rookie cop who thought he was being trained on the ins-and-outs of being a narcotics officer, but he was really being set up the entire time. Allow, if you will, an allegory, likened unto Training Day. Denzel, the crooked cop represents everything WRONG with public education . . . his (its) purpose is to satisfy its own needs, to cover its own back. Our educators (teachers/para-professionals/administrators), are akin unto Jake (Ethan Hawke’s character), who go along with all of these changes and trends because they believe in the system, and they want to help kids. So we deal with new laws, statutes, regulations, and other trends like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the newest trend with gifted education, because we truly do believe in the system. But just like Officer Hoyt in Training Day, there has to come a point in time where we recognize how flawed the system REALLY is and see ourselves (educators, advocates, community members, parents, etc) as the vehicles by which to promote change. The most poignant part of Training Day was when Officer Hoyt stood up to Alonza (Denzel’s character) and made the statement, “Do you want to go to jail or do you want to go home.” See Jake realized midway through his journey that being a police officer was an honorable job, a responsibility. He suddenly realized HIS obligation to hold those accountable who abused their power and authority! His statement basically said, are you willing to be accountable for what you’re doing (going to jail), or do you simply want and expect to get away with what you’re doing (going home).
I pose this question to the 60 and 70 year old politicians who consider themselves to be an authority on education, having never spent a day in the classroom. I pose this question to officials who want to medicate kids rather than altering teaching styles to meet their needs. I demand an answer to this question from all those who see our kids as products & I.D. numbers, rather than our future leaders, politicians, and educators!
Say it Loud . . . I’m Black and I’m . . . (My Soapbox)
In closing . . . I’d like to reflect a moment on Black History Month. However, I’d like to take it a different route this February. . . rather than focusing on heroes of our past and repeating speeches and quotes that we hear year after year (this is not to negate their importance), I’d rather focus on where we are headed as a people in light of all that is happening in education in America today . . . I’d like to take a moment to face some brutal facts and harsh realities that should motivate us today.
Brutal Fact 1: Did you know that only 37% of African-American children come from two-parent homes? This statistic helps to explain why some parents have trouble making report card conference or have sufficient time to help their kids with homework; though many are labeled simply as “not caring about their kids”. 
Brutal Fact 2: Did you know that African-American children make up only 17% of the American school population, yet we make up 41% of the Special Education population. 
Brutal Fact 3: On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), average blacks students that are 17 years-old have scores that are equivalent to average Caucasian students in reading, math, science, and writing, however, those Caucasian students are only 13 years-old. 
Brutal Fact 4: As of 2003, 31% of all African-American children lived in poverty . . . a situation that I’m sure adversely effects a child’s ability to focus in class . . . but consider that 36% of all children being medicated for attentional issues (ADD, ADHD) are African-American as well. 
My Point? There IS a problem in education today and it won’t be solved with gimmicks, competitions, and more laws. The problem is systemic . . . and when a problem is systemic, the only way to solve the problem, in many cases, is to completely destroy the system altogether, and start over. The unfortunate reality is that our kids are failing because the system is failing them. But what are some of those systemic problems that result in the failure of many of our kids? Some suggest that because many curriculums are developed from a Euro-centric point-of-view (and are often left-brained in nature), and therefore, are innately discriminatory (not intentionally) to the “black experience”, and consequently do not relate to our children. This is a modern and covert example of the oppression that exists within the system . . . and though it may not be purposefully executed in that manner today, the design of the system has maintained and perpetuated the cycle for years. Therefore, the Jake Hoyt’s I spoke of earlier need to rise out of our black communities . . . out of the environments of those who are being or have been “oppressed” by the system. To be clear, I am not saying that educators/school districts are trying to oppress our children, however, I am suggesting that the system, at its core root, has features that are oppressive in nature. In closing, I’d like to share a quote from Paulo Freire’s book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
“The oppressed must accept the struggle for their liberation . . . when they accept the struggle . . . they accept their total responsibility for the struggle. They are fighting not merely for freedom from hunger (not literal food), but for freedom to create and to construct, to wonder and to venture. The oppressed who have been shaped . . .by the climate of oppression must find through their struggle the way to life-affirming humanization.” 
Stay tuned for the final edition of “The School House Rocks (The Doctorate Level). Your feedback is welcomed!
1. The White House. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/fact-sheet-race-top
2. Minority Diversity Issues. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.ecs.org/html/IssueSection.asp?issueid=84&subissueid=157&ssID=0&s=Quick+Facts
3. Bennett, W. (2008). 20 Troubling Facts about American Education. Retrieved from http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/education/ed0033.html
4. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group.
V.J. Delos was born in Philadelphia, PA to J. Johnson and H. Johnson. After years of being raised in a Christian household V.J., soon realized the importance of a personal relationship with Christ. God soon moved individuals into his life who were able to teach him how to study the word and the importance of the fellowship of believers. After attending Temple University and graduating with a degree in education he quickly became and advocate for children. V.J. quickly discovered his talent and passion for teaching, music, & spoken work and seeks to use these gifts to glorify GOD. After some life-changing events V.J. has an unwavering desire to serve GOD, fellowship with His people, and to provide young people with the oppportunities to maximize their potential. Recently receiving his Masters Degree in Education Administration, V.J. Delos currently works as an elementary school administrator. His love for youth, desire to serve his school community, and passionate pursuit of a lifestyle rooted in integrity is what drives him on a daily basis. His life’s mantra, as was that of his late mother is that, “This too shall pass”. No matter how hard life gets, GOD sees the provision that he’s already given by his Grace to see you through it . . . With this in mind, V.J. Delos is sincerely desires to serve GOD and the people of GOD with joy, humility, and love.