Monthly Archives: September 2011

What Do Your Children Know About Our Civil Rights History?

Today’s New York Times features an article, found here, which details how little today’s schools teach about the history of the Civil Rights movement and how little today’s students know about basic civil rights history. Julian Bond, the former civil rights activist who began teaching the history of the civil rights movement twenty years ago, speaks of having students who confused segregationist Gov. George Wallace with “60 Minutes” journalist Mike Wallace. While we can decry the lack of inclusion of Civil Rights history in our children’s schools, this is no different than when we were schoolchildren and there was scant, if any, mention of African American leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, A. Phillip Randolph or even Frederick Douglass in our classrooms. It was incumbent upon our parents then, and it is incumbent on us as parents now, to make sure that Black children understand the history of African American struggle and achievement that allows them to live in a country where their equality is rooted in the law.

Of course, some of us had the advantage of growing up during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, so we could see the battles unfolding around us on the evening news. We could see the value in learning Black history to understand how those movements fit in the continuum of the struggle of Black people for full citizenship. Our parents made us aware of the responsibility we had as the first generation able to take full advantage of entrance into elite schools and mainstream professions and companies. The reality is that two generations later, many of our children don’t feel that sense of urgency. We’ve all had conversations with friends bemoaning the unintended consequences of the hard won gains of the civil rights movement and the comfortable, integrated middle and upper middle class lifestyles it has made possible– our children believe they have the freedom to be mediocre.

The last three years of the Obama administration have shown us that the backlash against the Black equality his presidency represents is a real threat for all Black Americans. Considering the efforts by several Republican state legislatures to restrict our access to the ballot box and the persistently higher unemployment rates among Black people pushing many middle class people into poverty, our children can ill afford to skate by academically or bask in comfortable ignorance of our history. As the axiom says, “Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.”

GCP would like to know, “How are you making sure that your children know the history of the Civil Rights movement?” We’d love to share good ideas about how to make our history come alive for our children.

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Are We Helping Our Children Learn to Handle Adversity?

Today’s New York Times Magazine includes a very interesting article, found here, about how the heads of a Manhattan private school and a national charter school program are working to help their students develop good character traits as well as good study habits. The private school head feared that his school’s focus on testing at every juncture and encouraging students to excel academically above all else did not give them a full set of tools with which to lead a successful life. While the head of the charter school program, whose students are almost all Black or Latino and from low-income families, was less concerned about the effects of frequent testing, he was concerned that a number of his highest achieving graduates had trouble doing well and sticking it out through college (an oft stated goal for all of their students), and that the students who were graduating college were the ones with the stronger character traits rather than the best grades.

Both educators saw a real need to give their students the psychological tools to pull themselves through a crisis (academic or emotional), come to terms with their own shortcomings and to work to overcome them. The article details how they worked together with a University of Pennsylvania researcher to come up with ways to teach their students important character traits which can help them develop these tools.

We at GCP have had many conversations with African American parents who worry that some of our children who are being raised in comfortable homes, with many of their wants and needs met on a regular basis, haven’t fully developed the skills to deal with adversity in or out of the classroom. A comment in this article made by one of the officials at the private school sounds uncomfortably familiar: “Our kids don’t put up with a lot of suffering. They don’t have a threshold for it. They’re protected against it quite a bit. And when they do get uncomfortable, we hear from their parents. We try to talk to parents about having to sort of make it O.K. for there to be challenge, because that’s where learning happens…[These parents are] overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving, but at the expense of their character.” While GCP staunchly advocates active parent involvement in our sons (and daughter’s) schooling, we agree that parents who are focused on fixing each and every problem for their children can impede their children’s ability to fix things for themselves, which is a critical life tool. Moreover, it can make the children believe on a subconscious level that they are unable to fend for themselves.

Of course, no parent thinks it is a good idea to create spoiled, soft children. And as this article notes, parents from every economic strata have the natural instinct to want to give their children what they want and need, and to protect them from discomfort and harm. The struggle for parents is knowing when and how to step back and let the child experience adversity and figure out how to make things better on his or her own. GCP will be exploring this issue, and how it particularly pertains to our community, with parents, teachers and experts. Stay tuned.

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Will More Male Teachers Help Our Boys?

The concern about boys not doing as well as girls in school is growing in Europe, and officials there worry whether the lack of male teachers in school could be a contributing factor. An article originally published in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro, found here, discusses the concern about there being “too many women teachers” in the French school system. While the French perspective described in this article dismissively suggests that women become teachers because it is a profession that “suits their way of living”, and advocates attracting men to the teaching profession “by offering a better salary”, the issue of whether boys benefit from having from male teachers is valid, and one which American educators are studying as well.

Back in 2006, an study published by Stanford University’s Hoover Institute concluded that gender matters when it comes to learning, as boys learn more from male teachers. This study, described in an article found here, has been hotly debated. While experts tend to agree that the quality of the teacher is more important than the gender, they also agree that male role models can be helpful to boys, especially in circumstances where there is no male presence in the home. In 2010, only 18 percent of elementary and middle school teachers in America were male, according to data compiled by www.menteach.org.

My sons have been taught by both men and women throughout their school years (one is in middle school, the other in high school). I have certainly seen them respond favorably to female teachers throughout these years. However, I have also seen the benefit of their having male teachers, who show them that it is important for guys to learn and care about subjects like poetry and music as well as math and science. While I certainly agree that the quality of the teacher trumps gender every time, from my vantage point a male teacher can in some instances more readily spark a boy’s interest in learning.

Readers, what do you think? Please take the time to leave a comment. In another post we will take a look at Black male teachers, their impact, and efforts to grow their numbers.

Special thanks to our Parisian correspondent, Albert Pettus, for focusing us on this issue today.

Carol Sutton Lewis

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Back to School for Parents

Now that our sons are back in school, it’s time for parents to focus on our Back to School To Do List. Here are a few things you can do to help your son start the school year well:

Review your son’s schedule. Find out what you can about the teachers from your son, other parents and whatever adult sources you’ve got in the school. Where does your son’s lunch hour fall in the day? If it is very early or very late in the day, you might want to start the practice of putting (or having him put) a few healthy snacks in his backpack to get him through the day.
Talk with your son about teacher’s expectations. In the post elementary school years, teachers generally begin the semester by outlining what their classes will cover, what their expectations are for the students, and when they are available outside of class. They usually put this information in writing and distribute it to their class. Check with your son to make sure he focuses on this important information, and have him put a copy on his desk at home.
Review Academic Planners: Does your son have a daily academic planner to record homework assignments and upcoming tests? If his school doesn’t require one for him, make sure you purchase one for him, and instruct him to write down all homework assigned that day and all tests/quizzes announced in class for all classes. The start of the school year is the perfect time to establish this practice. Even if your son has done this in years past, he may need your help during the first few weeks with remembering to keep his planner up to date. Depending on his level of focus on these kinds of things, he may need your help remembering throughout the school year!
Take a good look at the school calendar, and take note of all of the upcoming important meetings. When is Curriculum or Open School night? Lock it into your schedule now. Also take note of the Parent’s Association or PTA meetings on the horizon. Make it a point to attend as many of these meetings as you can, try to do at least one a quarter. If your work schedule simply doesn’t allow it, take the time now to connect with a parent who regularly attends the meetings, and ask if you can follow up with them after the meeting to see what took place. It is important to know what is going on at your son’s school, even if it doesn’t seem to directly impact him at this time. It is also important to know the players within the parent’s association—you never know when you might need their help.
What school-sponsored events are coming up? Book sales, bake sales, after school events? Is there an opportunity for you to become involved with their planning? Lots of work can be done via telephone and email, which can be done anywhere. Everyone appreciates your pitching in to help, and it enables you to connect with other parents and the administration in ways you might not otherwise.
What is your son doing after school? While it is important to get afterschool activities scheduled as soon as possible, make sure you are not crowding his week with too many things to do. As the school year progresses, he will appreciate downtime during the week, and he may need it to focus on more challenging schoolwork.

Readers, any other suggestions? Please leave them in a comment below.

Best wishes for a good and productive school year!!!

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Tips to Combat Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a huge issue for children and parents in this digital age. Common Sense Media, a non profit organization devoted to helping families navigate the world of media and technology, has developed a “Cyberbullying Tool Kit” to help educators and parents deal with this problem. The toolkit, which can be found here, includes parent tip sheets on cyberbullying and other informative articles on this subject. Once you are on their site, check out their advice for parents on other media issues, and don’t miss their helpful child-focused reviews of websites, movies and television programs.

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