8.4.08

QUOTE OF THE DAY. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Eugene Kane notes that the failings of the Milwaukee Public Schools ought not be laid off on the students.
Just recently, the Milwaukee Public Schools system was identified as one of several districts in the nation with a graduation rate of less than 50%, which probably has something to do with all those fourth- and eighth-graders who never learn how to read and write. For some of us, it's hard to imagine such poor performance.

My earliest memories of education involve being a black boy with a "gift" for reading and writing. I got compliments for my work from the adults in my life, and that made me want to do even better in class. Sure, I was subjected to the usual "four-eyes" and "brainiac" taunts (my generation's version of criticizing black students for "acting white"), but it never turned me off education.

My parents wouldn't allow it. They weren't college-educated, but my father - who worked construction - was seldom without a book in his hand after work. His habit of reading was passed down to his son, which I believe is pretty much the way you end up with a kid with a "gift" for reading and writing. Whenever I visit schools to talk to today's students, I always stress reading and writing skills as a way to ensure a bright future. But I wonder how often that message gets reinforced in the homes.

Some racial topics are controversial, but I've found few people ever complain about a headline that says "State Black 8th-Graders Rank Worst In Nation." For some, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy that confirms their prejudice; for others, it's an uncomfortable stamp of inferiority that adds another layer to the problem.

To be fair, the headline should probably be more inclusive next time, naming Wisconsin as the home of "the worst teachers and parents of black eighth-grade students in the nation."
Tough talk, but it reinforces my assertion that one ought not use the "takes a village" maxim lightly: the village that reinforces the norms of the slum or the hippie commune is not likely to produce offspring of great intellectual curiosity or moral character. Perhaps, forty years after the death of Revd King, there is progress in Mr Kane concluding as he does, rather than accusing all observers of the disaster that is the Milwaukee Public Schools of blaming the victim.

One pedantic footnote: "four-eyes" and "braniac" are color-neutral manifestations of resentment against achievement.

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