Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seeking to Understand...and I Admittedly Don't!

At the risk of being misunderstood, I want to take some time to discuss the "undiscussable."  I just read an article found here:  http://m.knoxnews.com/news/2011/feb/13/social-cannibalism-tearing-at-east-knoxville/ written by a brave, black author who had the courage to speak of his experience.

I'd like to state right up front that I am no expert on the African-American experience, urban schools, or how to address the problem of low achieving students and high needs schools.  There, that's my disclaimer.  I'm simply going to share my experience, observation, and ideas.  Boy, I haven't written anything yet, and I'm terrified of speaking freely.  The last thing in the world I want to do is write something that could be perceived as "racist."  I'm already editing my thoughts before I type them and trying to find "neutral" words to express my thoughts.  Afterall, I'm not black.  I'm white.  What could I possibly know?  I have zero credibility to write about this subject, right?  Well, something brought you here to my personal blog, so you can leave now if you're easily offended because I'm going to do my best to express myself clearly without being offensive.

First.  I love my students.  Each and every one of them.  My fourteen champions enter our Locker Room packed down with baggage.  They're nine and ten years old and yet many of them have seen, heard and experienced things I've never encountered in my 45 years!  Most of my students live in poverty.  They receive free lunch and their parents do not pay school fees.  And yet... I know that four of my 4th graders have cell phones.  Okay, perhaps they need a cell phone for safety reasons.  Most of them have Wii game systems and flat screen TVs, many have the TVs in their bedrooms!  This bothers me.  A lot.  Granted, I'm not their mother and it's not up to me to raise these children, but it IS up to me to educate them.  Often my students fall asleep in class.  Why?  I've asked them that question and it's often because they've stayed up as late as they wanted playing video games until 2 or 3 in the morning.  Just yesterday, I had a student report to me that another student said something to her about "fingering her."  No kidding.  4th grade.  How tragically, tragically sad!  Where is their childhood?  Who stole their innocence?  Why are they exposed to cable TV shows, movies, and music that send them distorted messages about how life is supposed to work?  And yet church is important.  Church matters.  It's central to the community.  In my opinion, it's also one possible solution to the growing problem.  Community churches have credibility.  The people who live in the community trust their pastors.  The people in the community do not trust white teachers who come to their school to "change our children!"  They do not trust "religious" white people who look at them as "mission projects" or a way to feel better about themselves for donating their cast-offs to the "poor."  (Cynical me coming out full force now)  Can I blame them?  Heck, no! 

My students grow up fighting to survive.  They fight and argue in class a lot.  Each other...me...assistant teachers...substitutes...no one is off limits.  Why?  The jury is still out on this one.  Most of my students respect their mothers tremendously.  I cannot imagine them talking back to their mothers, and yet they don't hesitate to talk back to me.  I heard something that stopped me in my tracks yesterday.  A respected white teacher in an urban school was told by a student that his family had told him that he didn't have to listen to ANYTHING a white man told him.  I can't help thinking that may be true for white women too.  Why?  It's got to be a lack of trust.  Racism is alive and well and both sides are guilty of it, but somehow we are going to have to put aside our differences and come together in the best interest of our children.  ALL of our children, but especially those children who are painfully behind academically.  There is just too much at stake here.  Get over it, people.  Time is precious and time is wastin'!

I'm interested in knowing what a black child hears when I gently ask him/her to "Face the front and pay attention" that would cause the child to yell, "I wasn't doing nuthin!!"  Ummm, I never said that the child was "doing something," I simply needed him to focus on the lesson at hand.  Confrontation breeds conflict and conflict shuts down the road to learning.  I don't understand this about my students.

More later...

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