Monthly Archives: March 2012

Tell Your Sons About Trayvon Martin

By now we imagine you are well aware that Black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by white Hispanic neighborhood crime watch volunteer George Zimmerman while Martin walked unarmed and alone in a residential neighborhood in Sanford, Florida, and that the Sanford police department has refused to arrest Zimmerman, accepting his claims that he was acting in self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

You are probably following on the Martin case, but are your sons? Tell your sons about the Trayvon Martin story as it is unfolding.

Tell your sons that even though the Sanford police department accepted Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense under a Florida law, the state legislator who was the prime sponsor of this legislation in the Florida House has written a statement found here in which he clarifies that this law does not seem to be applicable to the tragedy that happened in Sanford.

Tell them that even though the Sanford police won’t press charges, the Seminole County State Attorney is convening a grand jury investigation and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has opened an inquiry into the shooting. Tell them these state and federal investigations were opened because people nationwide are horrified and outraged by this tragedy, and their calls for action have been heard.

Tell your sons that Zimmerman called 911 and reported that a “real suspicious guy” was walking around the neighborhood. Tell them that the image of a young Black man as a threat pervades our society, and is promoted in the media, in movies, on television, in videos, and in music. Tell them when young Black men are regularly and primarily depicted in the media as criminals it helps people like George Zimmerman feel justified in believing that a Black boy walking down the street is looking for trouble and deserves to be shot in cold blood.

Tell them the New York Times chose to run an unsmiling picture of Trayvon in a hoodie with the hood up next to a picture of George Zimmerman on the first page of an early article about this killing instead of the picture of Trayvon smiling which they ran on the second page of the article. (The online version of this article has been edited to only show the smiling Trayvon picture.)

Tell your sons to read Charles Blow’s op-ed piece “The Curious Case of Trayvon Martin” found here in which Blow talks about “the burden of black boys in America and the people that love them: running the risk of being descended upon in the dark and caught in the cross-hairs of someone who crosses the line”.

Tell your sons that this story is every Black parent’s vivid nightmare.

Tell your sons not to be surprised if you hug them a little tighter when you send them out into the world these days, or if you stay in a bit closer touch by phone or text.

Tell them to keep Trayvon Martin and his family in their thoughts and prayers.

Tell your sons to keep their heads high, but to always watch their backs.

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 8-12, Saving Our Sons

Show This to Your Wannabe Final Four Star

Monday’s “Room for Debate” topic at the New York Times.com was “March Madness? What about Midterms?”, where writers and educators were asked to discuss how the NCAA can better focus on the “student” part of the student-athlete. Of particular note is a response from Ron Thomas, Director of Morehouse College’s Journalism and Sports Program and author of a book about the NBA’s Black pioneers. Thomas’ essay, found here, suggests that high schoolers who have their hearts set on playing college basketball should focus less on the colleges with March Madness teams and more on the schools which will give them the best overall college experience.

Thomas advises student-athletes to excel academically so they’ll be in the driver’s seat when it comes to meeting the standards of whatever schools have the basketball programs they like. Says Thomas, “If Coach Tommy Amaker’s philosophy fits you best, then you’d better have the grades to join him at Harvard”, and then cites two Harvard players who turned down basketball powerhouses to attend Harvard (who for the first time in 66 years is in the first round of March Madness). Thomas advises student athletes to follow their hearts to schools with academic strength, cultural focus or some other appealing quality, rather than chase the schools that traditionally end up in the Final Four. “Pro scouts will find you” if you are that good, he suggests.

If your middle school basketball superstar is more focused on having skills on the court than in the classroom, show him this article, and while you are discussing it remind him that less than 1% of college basketball players make it into the NBA. It can’t hurt, and it just might help him put the emphasis in “student-athlete” where it truly belongs.

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Filed under Sports

NYC Principals Cite Cultural Disconnect to Explain Greater Suspension Numbers for Black and Hispanic Students

Several New York City principals have suggested that the disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic students suspensions in NYC public schools can be traced to the failure of teachers and administrators to understand the street-wise origins of the students’ aggressive behavior. In an article found here the principals suggest that these students are having trouble understanding that the combative behavior which may serve them well in their neighborhoods is not acceptable in school.

Rashid Davis, principal of a high school in Crown Heights explains, “Many of my students live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and a sign of weakness is, unfortunately, timid behavior. So they learn early growing up, in order to not be picked on, they have to meet like with like.” According to Davis, teachers and administrators who did not grow up in these neighborhoods misinterpret this rough play as aggressive behavior which warrants the most extreme punishment. Musa Sharma, principal of a high school in Queens, agrees that the aggressive behavior is born in the neighborhood and makes its way back into the school building. These principals acknowledge that punishment for such behavior is warranted, but suggest that rather than having a zero tolerance policy, they would prefer that the students receive instruction on conflict resolution and other ways for them to make better choices. However, with school budgets growing tighter and tighter, there is often no money for such instruction.

Readers, would love to get your reaction to this. The concept that poverty explains unacceptable or even criminal behavior has been around for ages, and can be a dangerously slippery slope which conservatives and liberals both can slide down. Moreover, since Blacks and Hispanics are not the only people living in high poverty areas, even if this concept were irrefutable it would not explain why it appears that they are receiving a disproportionate number of suspensions. And even if one could establish somehow that Black and Hispanic students have a harder time controlling themselves than other ethnicities, it would serve no one well to have a policy which meted out punishments based upon whether the student was expected to know better.

Having said this, the idea that teachers and administrators may overreact negatively based upon their inexperience with or biases against other cultural groups is not without merit. How to tackle racial microaggressions in schools, where teachers may harbor unconscious biases which they act upon to the detriment of their students, has been gaining traction as an important issue for schools to face.

Moreover, Black and Hispanic students have resided in high poverty areas for generations, unfortunately, and have not had such a hard time historically keeping aggressive behavior out of the schools as they appear to be having now (if you accept that this is the cause of the disproportionate punishment). What’s changed? Are Black and Hispanic students more violent in schools today? If they aren’t, then how did teachers and administrators lose their way? What can be learned from teachers, administrators and policies in years past which may have helped with this issue?

And where are the parents in all of this? Just as we need to be advocates for our children against any unfair behavior, we also need to reinforce the concept that there is certain behavior that is unacceptable in school. It is a challenge to try to tell a teenager in high school anything, but there have to be effective ways for parents to get this message across.

How would you tackle these issues?? Let us hear from you.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 8-12, Experts

Noteworthy News Items

Here are some noteworthy news items which have surfaced this week:

Rise in Preschoolers with Cavities: Dentists nationwide say they are seeing more preschoolers at all income levels with 6 to 10 cavities or more, according to a New York Times article published yesterday and found here. Some dentists have resorted to using general anesthesia on their toddler patients with severe decay because the children can’t sit still for such extensive procedures while they are awake.

Why the rise in cavities? Dentists cite a number of things parents are doing which contributes to the problem: regularly giving their children bottled water instead of fluoridated tap water; allowing them to have juice or other sweet drinks at bedtime; not brushing their toddlers’ teeth twice a day, and not taking their children to a dentist by their first birthday so that they can be assessed for future cavity risk. Dentists also note that parents may miss the first sign of tooth decay, because the dull ache it causes their toddlers could be mistaken for teething. Some parents don’t realize there is a problem until the children’s teeth become discolored or break, or the pain becomes unbearable.

Parental awareness seems to be key here. Making sure your child drinks tap water instead of bottled, saying no to night time sweet drinks, making sure their teeth are brushed (no matter how much they object–if you can’t stand to see them cry over toothbrushing, just think of what it would be like to watch them get their teeth drilled), and getting them to the dentist seem to be relatively simple ways to avoid this problem. But for those parents who have been letting some of these things slide, this news item is an important wake-up call.

Black Students Face Harsher Discipline, Fewer Opportunities: The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released data on Tuesday collected from public schools nationwide during the 2009-10 school year which suggests that Black and Hispanic students face tougher disciplinary consequences, have a greater number of inexperienced teachers and have less access to advanced courses than their white and Asian counterparts. Reports of this data are all over the web, but a good summary is in the Huffington Post article found here.

The startling data with respect to potentially disparate disciplinary treatment has drawn the most national attention. The survey indicates that Black students were over three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. More than 70 percent of students arrested in school or handed over to law enforcement were Black or Hispanic.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali both stressed that the data is not “alleging overt discrimination in some or all of these cases.”, but further stated, “We are issuing a challenge to educators and community leaders across America to work together to address these inequities.”

GCP is not diving into the debate of what conclusions can be drawn or next steps determined from this survey, especially without further analysis of the actual data. But we will reiterate our mantra that our parents need to be keen and focused advocates for our children, especially our sons, with respect to any school issues. Being an advocate means paying careful attention to school issues concerning your child, speaking up clearly, strongly and rationally on your child’s behalf, and ensuring that the school community is working together with your support to give your child the best education possible.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-4, Ages 16-18

Mission U.S.: Helping Middle Schoolers Enjoy Learning American History

Mission U.S., a free online history game created by producers at public television station WNET Thirteen, gives middle schoolers the chance to learn about American History while walking in the shoes of characters who are living it.

In Mission 1: “For Crown or Colony?”, which was released in 2010, players take on the role of Nat Wheeler, a printer’s apprentice in 1770 Boston. When in Boston, Nat encounters both Patriots and Loyalists, and when rising tensions result in the Boston Massacre, he must choose where his loyalties lie. At every turn, players choose among several options for Nat, and each option dramatically effects what happens next and his ultimate outcome.

In Mission 2: “Flight to Freedom”, which just launched in January 2012, players have the chance to be Lucy, a 14-year-old slave in Kentucky. As players navigate her escape and journey to Ohio, they discover that life in the “free” North is dangerous and difficult. Players encounter a diverse group of people – from abolitionists to slave owners – and make decisions that affect the game’s outcome, while learning about the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement. Other missions are planned for release in 2013 and 2014.

A game to teach middle schoolers about slavery? Could be cringe-worthy; I had to try it. I enlisted my 7th grade son to play it with me, and off we went into the world of Lucy the slave. Two minutes in, we were hooked. We helped Lucy figure out a plan to escape the plantation to escape being sold away from her mother and brother, avoid being captured en route to freedom, make her way to a free state, and figure out if she could reunite with her brother.

Along the way we were able to use a fascinating collection of maps, posters, runaway ads, slave narratives and other materials. From time to time during the game my son eagerly clicked on “Smartwords” used in the story for additional vocabulary and historical literacy skills building (and extra points). At every turn Lucy had tough choices to make: Should she disobey the master? Could she trust a stranger along her escape route? Dare she try to rescue her brother? Each decision required us to carefully consider her options and what we would do in her position, and each had different consequences.

My son’s complaints were minimal: the anime-styled graphics weren’t as sophisticated as those in his favorite video games, and he would have enjoyed more mini games within the mission. But this did not stop him from wanting to help Lucy on her journey, and absorbing historical information as he did it. We look forward to trying Mission 1, and playing Mission 2 again.

You can find Mission U.S. at http://www.mission-us.org. Encourage your middle school sons to check it out!!

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Filed under Academics, Ages 13-15, Ages 8-12