Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You Cannot Change the Schools Until You Change the Community: Max Reddick’s Commonsense Argument for the Betterment of Minority Education

This weekend I ran across an interesting post over at Prometheus 6 which concerned minority education. The post centered around an article featured in The Washington Post, “Making the Grade Isn’t about Race: It’s about Parents,” written by a high school teacher in Alexandria Virginia.

The basic premise of the article is that the educational problems and failures of minority students is due, in the main, to the lack of parental involvement in their children’s education and, most specifically, the dearth of fathers and male role models in minority communities.

I have heard and read this argument ad nauseum, and let me say beforehand that I do not discount the writer’s premise altogether; there is some truth to that argument. However, that argument is wholly incomplete. The answer is more complex than that. The lack of parental involvement and the dearth of fathers and male role models are but symptoms of a greater problem that must be overcome if minority children are to take full advantage of the benefits of education—poverty and its effects.

In my opinion, based on my experience in and around education for the past fifteen years or so there are two main reasons minority children are having the problems they are having in schools. Each of these reasons is closely tied to the other: 1. More and more, schools are being called upon to perform functions that they are not equipped to handle, and 2. Governmental energies, emphasis and dollars are being mis-targeted.

At one time, many different institutions took responsibility for the rearing and education of children. Namely those institutions were the community at large, the church, and the family. However, as these institutions are either failing or falling down in their responsibilities, the functions of these institutions are being charged to the schools who are poorly equipped to handle them. Schools were barely able to meet the function of education, and now they are being asked to be agents of socialization, agents of discipline, mental health providers, childcare providers, and a myriad of other disparate functions. And among all these functions, the most basic function of education is pushed to the side.

To prove this next point, allow me please to use the Duval County Public School district here in Jacksonville, Florida, as an example. There are three high schools here which are predominantly and historically black. For the past several years these schools have led the county in every conceivable negative indicator. Duval County and the State of Florida first responded by threatening to close these schools down and bus the students to other schools who were performing up to standard. However, the because of the historical nature of these schools, the county and the state backed off.

So, the district and the state then responded by pumping absolutely obscene amounts of money into the schools. However, much to their chagrin, this did not work either. The schools continue to perform well below standard and continue to lead the county and some parts of the state in every conceivable negative indicator.

However, no one has thought to take a hard look at the communities from which the students attending these schools are arriving. In at least two of the schools, a good portion of the student population are from the housing projects and/or poverty stricken communities surrounding the schools located. In all the schools, the vast majority of the students are from families mired in poverty.

Poverty works to produce a certain unique mentality, a certain mindset. And this mentality, this mindset must be overcome if educational efforts are to be successful. A good study in this regards is Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty. But to get to the meat of my argument, the millions the county and state are pouring into these schools to no avail could be put to better use by working to alleviate the effects of poverty in the communities the students are arriving from. The millions could be used to revitalize the communities and provide opportunities for growth and development outside of school.

Also, keep in mind that old theory by psychologist Abraham Maslow which posits the notion that before an individual can perform at optimal levels, certain needs must first be meet beginning with the most basic physiological needs such food, followed closely by safety:

In other words, the negative indicators will never decrease until the mentality of the parents and students change and the community is able to insure that the most basic needs of its members are met. You can put the best resources in place, you can employ the best teachers, you can use the latest pedagogical methods, you can do whatever, but until those students come to school with their most basic needs met, having the correct mindset, able to imagine a future greater that the present, and willing and ready to learn, we are simply jousting with windmills.

And as a postscript, with the huge amounts of money to be made "reforming" dysfunctional schools, is there really an incentive to do so? If we find a working solution to "reform" our schools, a lot of people would stand to lose a lot of money. I cannot tell you how many paid consultants and experts are in the employ of the county and state for the purposes of improving education. Yet, the system does not seem to be moving forward. I would even be without a significant portion of my income; I have cashed more than a few of those consultant checks myself.


msladydeborah said...

I totally agree with your basic premise.

Until we begin to work in earnest on altering our mentality about our self worth and what is good for us as individuals throwing money at the problem won't solve what is at the root of the problem.

When did attaining and education become a point of assimilation? I don't understand how our Black identity suddenly becomes lost when we stand upright morally, attain a workable education that helps us into the ranks of the employed, when we take the responsibility for ourselves and all that we help to create.

Shouldn't we be questioning why the charter schools that run by AA's, seem to be out performing the schools that we pour our tax dollars into?

I am of the firm believe that busing our children out of our communities on the fake notion that other schools were better is bull. At least this is how I see it in my part of the union. What actually happened was the break in the bond between the community and those institutions.

This cycle of throwing money into failing to thrieve schools is not the answer. It might up grade the physical building or help to shore up the weak portions of their curriculum offerings. But without a sane and safe community that is working on a similiar mindset about improvement and attaining goals, it is not going to work.

FreeMan said...

As a kid born, raised and educated from Compton whose family are educators and administrators in the school district I 100% agree. You don't know how many stories my family has talked about this same issue. You don't know how many uniforms I bought for kids who my mother, sisters and brothers asked me to buy so the poor kid wouldn't feel out of place.

The issue becomes is the system so corrupt that we can't fix it or is it the people are so lost that we can't bring them back. Now from my point of view a kid can learn anything you put in front of them so the system has to change. The core issue is NO one in their right mind believes it will so why pursue it that way. You have Book companies coming up with new editions when the old edition was just fine, consultants hustling their methods, principals and superintendents trying to keep their jobs and a neighborhood concentrating on survival and will probably never pay attention to education as a result.

I threw out a basic blueprint on my other blog about this.

I don't think it's in the best interest of the school district to actually educate kids. I believe it's like prison just a place to hold them and collect tax dollars off the attendance roles. With all the evil money manipulating intent surrounding our children why would we keep thinking the same way.

Education will change the community in one generation. So to me trying to change the community through jobs and the like may take longer than just building boarding schools and focusing like a laser for 20 years on giving Maslows theory a real try.

Safety is what is killing our kids. A unstable environment destroys all.

As an outsider who is more

Justice58 said...


Would you add us at to your blog roll? We'll add you to ours!

Thank You Kindly!

Max Reddick said...


One of the main reasons charter schools are outperforming traditional schools is that they have the autonomy to put into place many of the programs that target the needs of the whole child and that child's family.

And busing children to school's outside their community will help some, but for many the experience is perhaps more harmful than helpful.

To reiterate my point, stop the clever schemes and address the real issue--poverty and its effects.


A friend attended a conference for black educators this weekend. When he returned, he could not believe the number of consulting firms and book companies that were in attendance. He stated, in fact, the consulting firms and book companies, all supposedly dedicated to helping close the educational gap, far outnumbered the conference attendees.

In addition, he made another observation. A lot of African Americans are making money off failing schools. Now I am not against anyone making money. I like money. But the question then arises: Are you doing this because you are really concerned about our children or have you just figured out a clever hustle?

And I discussed the boarding school idea with a principal recently. That principal stated that if she could just keep the children 24/7 and not send them home, she could really make a difference in their lives. It was her observation that much of the foolishness they are learning at home and in the community is in direct conflict with the values she is attempting to instill in them at school.


Will do. Good to meet you.

CareyCarey said...

"So the question then becomes is a Chocolate City even desirable? And what are the advantages for blacks in Chocolate Cities?"

Hello Max, I came here via Uncle Black's blog. You made that comment. That's a very good question. I'll wait to see your thoughts.

Freeman wrote: ..."I don't think it's in the best interest of the school district to actually educate kids. I believe it's like prison just a place to hold them and collect tax dollars off the attendance roles. With all the evil money manipulating intent surrounding our children why would we keep thinking the same way"

I say Bingo! I smell money.

It's my opinion that we can talk all day about, busing, better "schools",poverty, violence, poor parenting,poor districts, inferior teachers, etc,. None of those are at the core of the problem. If I can refer back to Max's quote, there lies the problem. It called racism and money.

Religion is a cousin of racism.... hold that thought. Since the begining of time, race and money has been at the core of all that's evil. I hope I don't offend anyone, but Christianity was/is a form of racism. Well, "wait on yours(darkies), it will come in the morning"..."Here's a bible, read about it, while we reap the rewards".

Granted, poverty is a secondary problem, but the question is, who creats poverty? Alas, we have come home. Racism and those with money. Just as Max questioned.... "is it desirable....". Well, if history is true, where there are large numbers of blacks, poverty is present or soon to follow. Ushered in by talking head Negros, and racist who frequently "arrive" and say "look at me, dis how you do it". Money talks, the rest is just BS.

CareyCarey said...

Uncle Black = Uglyblackjohn.

I know it may sound silly, but I have a hard time calling a man "uglyblackjohn"

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Max on this. Interestingly I have been thinking about this lately because I have young siblings who are educated in the neighborhood that I grew up in and it is amazing but at a very young age they don't even want to go to school. The mentality is just not conducive at times to education and that really worries me.

They are in a poor environment where the hustle is king. They don't feel like they need a education. My youngest sibling is eight and he says that he is going to get a job. He doesn't like school. And sadly the education he is getting is a joke because like you said the school is now more of a catch all of wayward children.

If someone would truly invest in these communities as well as the people then that mentality of education being some foreign thing would cease to be a reality.

FreeMan said...

@Max - Look We Blacks have to admit that this drug problem has kicked our ass. It has disabled our community and created a alternate destructive reality.

So what did the Chinese do when they were faced with OPIUM. They killed everyone the addicts and the dealers to purge theirselves.

Now I don't agree to be that harsh but we have to get our kids out of the areas where this alternate reality exists. We have to create our own schools because we know money is running our schools. We have to create our own because any new way of teaching is forced upon our group and then scrapped for another one the next year.

We know what to do but we like to tell others to do it! No one is going to save us but us.

CareyCarey said...

@ Freeman, I think we are on the same street.

"My aim is not to provide excuses for black behavior or to absolve blacks of personal responsibility. But when the new black conservatives accent black behavior and responsibility in such a way that the cultural realities of black people are ignored, they are playing a deceptive and dangerous intellectual game with the lives and fortunes of disadvantaged people.

We indeed must criticize and condemn immoral acts of black people, but we must do so cognizant of the circumstances into which people are born and under which they live. By overlooking these circumstances, the new black conservatives fall into the trap of blaming black poor people for their predicament. It is imperative to steer a course between the Scylla of environmental determinism and the Charybdis of a blaming-the-victims perspective." - Dr. Cornel West (Race Matters)

And this: "So what did the Chinese do when they were faced with OPIUM. They killed everyone the addicts and the dealers to purge theirselves"

I am following your flow. I know you are not calling for the eradication of those that have "problems" yet, I hear you saying the softer/easier way has not worked - HAS NEVER WORKED.

As the Last Poets said: "Niggas will jive and bulls**t" - each other. And then call it progress.

md20737 said...

Max if there is a will there is a way. I totally agree the home life has a direct correlation whether it be negative or positive on a child learning process and ability. But if the parent is serious about the childs education they will not depend on just the teacher for the child to learn.

We know as blacks that since Crack/Cocaine emerged in our communities we have never been the same. The healing and progress that took place in the civil rights era that brought us so much pride and progress was almost erased. Crack has destroyed families and started a devestating cycle of kids raising kids. I see so many kids these days taking care of thier parents becuase their parents are on or were on Crack. In my family I have many relatives who motherless, fatherless, or both. They all have severe emotion problems. Some have over come and some have not. Each family memember with these problems has not been successful in pursuing higher education. They barely graduated high school.

If children are to get a good education the parent or gaurdian must take the extra steps to ensure learning is taking place. If that includes moving, homeschooling, sending to private school it must happen. Its never easy to be or get the best. The black community is in shambles. The black community is extremely segregated within each other so I dont know if the communities can ever be fixed. The root problem may never get fixed, so the problems stemming from the root may never be fixed.

Think about this public schools are run the by government. This is the kind of education that is approved for Minorities and non minorities that can not afford private schools. What message is that sending? I know what it says to me. What does it say to you?

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