Black or White They’re Just Kids: They Need Us & We Need Them; a refrain!

The original version of this article was written two-and-half years ago but events in the intervening months suggest to me that it needs repeated; with a few updates. It will be followed by a related article on bullying and peer pressure.

It is incredibly difficult for a white person to understand what it is like to be black. Sadly, most white people are perfectly content to know as little as possible about such things. For others like my white daughter and son-in-law who are parents of a black son, it is imperative that we understand as much as we possibly can.

My wife and I have now have four grandchildren. The eldest is a little girl who was adopted by that same daughter and son-in-law. She is of Mexican descent with beautiful, thick black hair, brown eyes, and golden brown skin. The second is a little boy whose skin is a beautiful, rich brown with eyes to match and who came out of his birth mother’s womb with a natural Afro. Our youngest two grandkids are the biological offspring of my youngest daughter and her husband. The eldest (and our third) is the palest of whites, bordering on pink, and her hair is as red as her father’s beard. Our fourth, now 18 months of age, has skin not quite as pale as his big sister’s but hair every bit as red.

Each of them have magnificent smiles that light up our lives even more than the lights of the holiday season and laughter that warms us during the coldest of times. Their smiles have reminded me that throughout my whole life, whenever I have been blessed to see a child smile, I am blind to any of the other features, that for reasons that are difficult to fathom, cause some human beings to pass derisive judgment. For me the smile of any child is a source of incalculable joy that is as common to the shared universal human experience as anything else in life.

These children represent our family’s beautiful rainbow and like all grandparents we love them so much that it hurts.

When our daughter announced that they were adopting a black infant we knew he would face challenges but we did not yet grasp the whole of it. In the four-and-a-half years since the birth of this sweet child, our nation has been rocked by racial violence and hatred. We have known that the American people have been divided, politically, for decades but could we ever have imagined that the President of the United States, through his words and actions, could model such rhetoric and enmity?

It is bad enough that so many citizens could interpret our President’s words and actions as a license for the public expression of embittered hatred but are we truly so divided, ideologically, that good men and women would choose to tolerate such enmity out of hope that this President can “make America great, again.”

Is there any reason to believe that a man who builds walls, figuratively and literally; who condemns one of the world’s great religions for the radical violence of a few (as if Christians have never done a despicable deed); who provokes confrontations; calls people names; who brands the free press as liars; who challenges the legitimacy of our election process; ignores and ridicules the advice of his diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement advisors; who rejects the research of the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists; and, who blames others when things go wrong can be the kind of leader who will unite a culturally diverse nation? Can a bully provide the kind of inspirational, positive leadership we need, so desperately?

Through the escalation of the violence and hatred over the last four-and-a-half years we have become painfully aware of the dangers our sweet and beautiful little guy will face; not because of anything he has done but only because of the way the color of his skin will affect the attitudes of a huge population of Americans.

I have spent my entire lifetime striving to understand why our world is so full of hatred over issues as insignificant as the color of one’s skin. I still struggle to understand why differences in eye or hair color are perceived as different shades of beauty while differences in skin color produce such extremes of bitter passion.

I was blessed to be born to parents who taught that we are all children of Creation and that we were blessed to live in a country in which we are all considered to be equal under the Constitution.

I was equally fortunate to live in a neighborhood and attend an elementary school where I learned to be friends and playmates of my black classmates before I ever learned of the existence of bigotry and racism. Somehow, I never noticed that when I was playing with my black friends that my white friends were off doing something else and vice versa.

When I first witnessed the hatred that my white friends had for my black friends, I was devastated. Innocence was forever lost but I never lost my perception of diversity as something to be cherished as beautiful.

Later, at the age of 20, I was privileged to spend a summer working in a churchyard in Philadelphia, providing a place for young children to gather and play, safe from the reaches of the gangs whose territories sandwiched our little oasis. All but one of these kids were black. While I was responsible for the boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 16 who came to play in our churchyard and game room, I played with them far more than I supervised. While my job was to keep them safe, I must confess that these youngsters taught me far more than I ever could have taught them.

For the first nine years after college and the military, I worked as a juvenile probation officer where I supervised a multi-racial group of boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 17 and worked with their families. Later, I was one of the founders of a local Boys and Girls Club where, once again, I was privileged to be around and play with a diverse group of children. Later, when I decided to focus on my life-long dream of writing books, I worked part-time as a substitute teachers for my local public school district and glimpsed, first hand, the challenges that both students and teachers face.

What I learned about children during these significant chunks of my life was that whether black, white, or shades of brown; rich or poor; male or female they are all just kids.

They all laugh when they play or act silly; cry and bleed red when they get hurt; get mad when they lose; celebrate when they win; get embarrassed when they are made fun of; yawn when they get sleepy; respond to warmth and affection with warmth and affection; and, suffer egregiously when abused by their parents or society or when bullied.

These boys and girls all have the ability to learn; they are all curious about the world around them; and, they all get discouraged and feel humiliated when they fail. They all suffer great loss of self-esteem when they give up on themselves after repeated failure and no longer believe in their ability to compete.

They all deserve our respect not only as individual human beings but also as members of their unique cultural traditions. The only difference, once they arrive at school, is their level of preparation and motivation. They all deserve the best we have to offer and the very fact that so children fail provides irrefutable evidence that what we are doing does not work for everyone.

I truly believe that, in spite of the heroic effort of our teachers, it is here, in our elementary schools that we will find the roots of the problems that beleaguer us as a nation and society. Whether we are teachers, administrators, policy-makers, or deans and professors of schools of education, educators must be willing to pull our heads from the sand and stop defending the indefensible.

The fact that so many children are failing, particularly minorities and the poor, is not a predisposition of birth or a fact of nature. That children are failing is nothing more than an outcome of a flawed system of human design. The performance gap between black and white children and other minority classmates is an outcome our traditional educational process is structured to produce. Like any other production- or service-delivery process it can be reinvented to produce the outcomes we want and need.

This flawed system is not the fault of teachers and other professional educators. Rather, the culpability of educators is that they are the people in the best position to identify the failure of this flawed educational process but they hold back as if they are afraid to act. It is critical that we understand that this lack of action is not because they are bad people or incompetent professionals rather it is because they have learned to perceive themselves as powerless.

Teachers must be challenged to accept that powerlessness and hopelessness are functions of choice.

The over-riding truth as we move deeper into this exponentially complex 21st Century is that we need each and every one of these boys and girls just as desperately as they need us. Our ability to compete in the world marketplace will require the absolute best of every single American and if we do not pull together as one beautifully diverse nation of people—the proverbial melting pot—the results will be tragic for all of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, black or white or any of the colors of the rainbow. What we see happening, today, is a preview of the rest of this 21st Century unless we choose to act.

It is only when we have gained an understanding of the forces that impede the education of our children and accept responsibility for our outcomes that we begin to acquire the power to implement meaningful changes in policy and practice. This is what positive leadership is all about.

I invite the reader to check out my Education Model and White Paper to see one way we can reinvent the education process to produce the outcomes we need.

Educators are as justified in their opposition as Indiana’s new pathway to graduation is essential!

I understand the point of view of teachers and other educators who have spoken out against Indiana’s proposed pathway to graduation. They are as justified in their opposition as the new pathway is necessary for the State of Indiana.

“How can this be?” you ask. “How can such divergent points of view have validity?

From the perspective of employers, our colleges and universities, and even our Armed Forces, a new and more rigorous graduation requirements are essential. The lack of academic preparedness of an unacceptable number of high school graduates is, well, unacceptable.

I saw it as a juvenile probation officer during the first nine years of my career; as an employer, beginning nearly 40 years ago, I saw it as a substitute teacher for ten years, and I see it now as a test administrator for the Department of Defense, responsible for administering the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) for young men and women seeking to enlist in the military. I have also spoken to professors, who teach freshmen and sophomores in our colleges and universities, who are frustrated at the lack of academic preparedness and motivation of students.

In previous posts I have written about the ASVAB and how many high school graduates and seniors are unable to achieve a score of 31, which is the minimum score for enlistment eligibility. I have written how the performance of black and other minorities, on the ASVAB, mirrors what we see on state competency exams, and on data from NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress). It is interesting that achieving a score of 31 on the ASVAB is being proposed as one of the additional requirements for graduation under the new pathway but did you know that although a 31 is the minimum score for enlistment eligibility, that enlistment incentives are offered only to candidates who score 50 or higher. A score of 31 might make a prospective enlistee eligible but it does not make them desirable candidates.

The bottom line is that far too many of the young people graduating, today, are poorly prepared or motivated to be successful on the job, in the military, or in a university classroom. Certainly there are many students who graduate with excellent records of achievement but they are far from a majority. There are comparable percentages of students at the bottom of the academic performance continuum who are virtually illiterate and innumerate. Most disconcerting is that the large group of graduates in the middle of the continuum are not qualified to do the jobs that society requires of them if we are to compete in a global marketplace.

The impressive sounding graduation rates about which so many public school districts boast are essentially meaningless. An official looking piece of parchment is meaningless if the bearer cannot compete in the mainstream society. Being unable to compete means that these young men and women have very few choices available to them as adults and often end up being dependent upon government support rather than being contributors.

As disturbing as is the data, it pales in comparison to the disturbing nature of the denial on the part of public school educators. American public school teachers and administrators seem oblivious to the level of dissatisfaction that exists in the communities they serve and in the nation at large. They seem disconnected from the dissatisfaction of their customers and seem not to understand that education reforms are motivated by this dissatisfaction and not by the greed of corporate executives.

This is tragic because education reformers evidence no understanding of the challenges of teaching children and their reform initiatives do more harm than good. We cannot solve the problems in public education until public school teachers and administrators accept responsibility for the problem; and please note, I said responsibility, not blame.

I consider myself to be an ardent advocate for public schools and teachers. I view all public school teachers as unsung American heroes especially the ones who teach in diverse or segregated public school districts. They are being asked to do the impossible. They are being asked to provide a high quality education to our nation’s most vulnerable children within the context of an education process that was already obsolete 65 years ago when I arrived for my first day of Kindergarten.

I am saddened that so many of the educators whom I respect and admire will stop reading about now because they do not wish to hear what I have to say. They are seemingly unwilling and/or unable to pull their heads out of the sand and acknowledge that what they are being asked to do does not work. I understand the trepidation of high school teachers in Indiana when they feel overwhelmed by what these new graduation requirements will demand of them when they are already overwhelmed by the enormity of what we ask them to do under the current requirements.

As necessary as more rigorous graduation requirements might be to the welfare of society, it is outrageous to expect public school educators to meet these expectations unless we are prepared to fix an obsolete education process that allows kids to arrive for their first day of the ninth grade as unprepared for the demands of high school as our twelfth graders are unprepared for the demands of the work force, of university classrooms, and military entrance requirements.

American society is as disconnected from what transpires in our nation’s most challenged public schools as our public school teachers and administrators are out-of-touch with the level of dissatisfaction of their customers.

Yes, I know that there are many of our nation’s finest school districts that will insist that they are doing an exemplary job with their students and that those young men and women leave high school well-prepared for life after high school. They too are wrong. They are wrong not because they are doing anything wrong and not because their students are incapable, rather because the education process, itself, impedes the ability of even our best students to strive for, let alone reach, their full potential.

The problems in public education are so huge and so pervasive that it is easy for us to feel overwhelmed in the face of its challenges. This is true only because educators are so immersed in the education process that they cannot view it as an integral whole.

The way we have structured our schools and classrooms and the way we have designed our instructional methodologies and the way we have organized our curricula, and the way we have allocated our resources are nothing more than components of a logical process. Like any other process, whether production, assembly, service delivery, or software application the education process at work in our schools, both public and private, can be reinvented, re-engineered, re-designed, re-tasked to do anything we want it to do, even things we have not yet imagined to be possible. It is time for us to step back and rethink what it is we do and why.

Is there anything more important for the future of our society in the uncertain times that are unfolding before us, than the way we prepare the children on whom that future depends?

It is time to take a few step back and examine the education process in place in our schools from a systems-thinking perspective. It is time to challenge each and every assumption we have made about what we do and why. It is time to redefine our purpose and then reinvent the education process to give our teachers the direction, structure, time and resources they require to give each and every one of our students the patient time and attention they need to learn every single lesson.

It is not enough to teach lessons, however, and we must do so much more. We must teach our children how to get along with one another; we must teach them how to question why we do what we do as a people; we must teach them how to think creatively and how to utilize their imaginations to find new and innovative solutions to the challenges we face in this ever-more complicated world; we must teach them to understand history not so that we can yearn to return to a simpler time because there will never be a simpler time. We must teach them history so that they can learn from our mistakes just like we want to help them learn from their own mistakes.

We must teach them how to be successful and I am not talking about being rich and famous. We must teach them that success is a process of learning from our mistakes, building on what we know, striving for ever-higher expectations, and learning the most important truths in life. The first of those truths is that there is no such thing as failure; there are only disappointing outcomes from which we can learn and grow. The second of those truths is that people are more important than things and that the value of everything in life is measured in terms of its utility to people. The third truth is that what got us where we are today will not take us to where we want and need to be tomorrow. Our success in meeting the challenges of tomorrow will come from the wisdom we have gained from the mistakes we have made and learning that there are no final answers. Every question answered raises a whole new set of questions, Our questions are the energy that powers our imagination and ingenuity.

Every problem facing American society today is rooted in the manner and success with which we educate our children. That makes public education the most important issue on the American agenda and the civil rights issue of our time.

I challenge teachers to believe that both you and your students deserve better. I challenge you to have the courage to accept responsibility for the problems in our schools and in the education process with which you are expected to work. I challenge you to shout out at the top of your voices when what you are being asked to do does not work and to draw upon your collective power to demand support for changing the reality of public education in America.

Raising expectations is a good thing only when we give ourselves the tools necessary to meet them. Our educators do not have the tools they need to meet current requirements, let alone the new ones, however much needed they may be. We must give them these tools.

The Pathology of Secondary Agendas in Public Education!

Over the years in teaching, like so many jobs people do, our core purpose has become obscured by secondary agendas. It might help to look at a simple example from another venue.

In a government organization for which I do some part-time testing, reduction of spending to avoid exceeding one’s budget has become a top priority. Someone in the command structure decided to eliminate overtime as this was a big contributor to over-spending. Overtime now requires prior approval by top leadership.

It was fascinating to observe how quickly the “no-overtime mandate” became more important than saving money. This problem occurs anytime multiple testing assignments are scheduled on the same day in my immediate geographical area. When this happens, my organization’s solution is to send someone from an hour or two away to handle one of those assignments; thus obviating the need to pay me 4 or 5 hours of overtime.

The practice makes sense until one compares the actual expenditures for the two test sessions. On close examination, one would find that bringing in another test administrator from an hour or two away more than doubles the cost of paying me between 4 or 5 hours of overtime. Not only must they pay the second test administrator’s testing time, they must also pay that person’s two to four hours of round trip travel time, plus $0.535 per mile in travel reimbursement.

The end result is that adherence to the overtime policy, instituted to reduce expenditures, has become more important than saving money. In just one of these examples they spend about $250 to avoid paying me an extra $100 of overtime. So much for saving tax dollars.

This is what happens, often, when our core purpose becomes obscured by secondary agendas.

In thinking about the core purpose of public education, at one time homework and classroom work in preparation for a quiz or test, were intended to be viewed as practice. Their purpose was to give teachers an opportunity to use the mistakes students make to, first, identify where their students need help and, secondly, to help those kids learn from mistakes. The same is true for mistakes on quizzes and tests. In many classrooms, the scores of practice assignments are recorded in a gradebook and are factored into computation of grades. Practice assignments, and especially quizzes and tests often signal the end of a given lesson and time to move on to a new lesson.

Compare practices and performances of a band, choir, or athletic team. Practices in preparation for a concert or game are to help improve performances in the concerts or games and are rarely graded. Even mistakes that occur during the performance are singled out so the performer or athlete can continue to work on those areas in which their performance is weak and rarely for grading purposes. While level of performance throughout a semester may influence grades, individual mistakes are rarely tallied for record-keeping purposes. Mastering the skills are the clear objective.

In the academic arena, grading and then recording scores of students’ homework, classroom work, quizzes and tests often seem to have become more important than using a student’s mistakes to help them learn and master the academic material.

Grading practice assignments, quizzes and tests that were originally intended to signal that there is more work to be done seems to have become an end, in and of themselves. It signals that work on one lesson is completed and that it is time to move on to a next lesson, grading period, semester, or school year.

In today’s education environment, schools and teachers are under tremendous pressure to keep their students and classrooms on pace, per their state’s academic standards and in preparation for statewide competency exams. The unintended consequence is that the original mission of schools and teachers, which was to help children learn, has become obscured.

There is no way to pinpoint when this change occurred and it is not the fault of any one person. It is simply one of the pressures to which any logical process can be subjected. It happens all the time in production-, assembly-, and service-delivery processes in private enterprise but the effect on product or service quality almost always results in a quick reduction in customer satisfaction. Many business failures occur because producers of goods and services do not monitor customer satisfaction closely. Successful producers are always listening to their customers and are able to take immediate corrective action.

In public education, customers such as employers and the military have been expressing dissatisfaction for decades and they are not the only ones. I have heard any number of college professors who teach freshman and sophomore classes complain about the lack of academic preparedness and self-discipline of many of their students.

Understand that this is not the fault of teachers who are doing what they are being directed to do. Making sure their schools are not diverted from their core purpose is the responsibility of leadership, however, starting with principals and ending where the buck stops in any public school corporation.

It is incredibly difficult for leaders, in any venue, to admit that what they are doing is not working and is producing unacceptable outcomes and the further removed they are from their end customers, the more difficult it is. High level administrators of public school corporations, along with their advocates, must be challenged to recognize that the education reform movement, misguided though it may be, is motivated by the same type of customer dissatisfaction as a struggling business entity. What distinguishes public education from producers of consumer goods and services is what is at stake.

In public schools, our nation’s children are suffering, especially disadvantaged students, and this is having an adverse impact on every aspect of life in American society.

Somehow the superintendents and governing bodies of local school corporations; along with teachers, both individually and collectively; must find the courage to accept responsibility for the problems in our public schools. It is not until we accept responsibility for our problems that we begin to acquire the power to solve them. And, it is not until educators accept responsibility that the failure of disadvantaged students will cease.

Please check out my Education Model and White Paper
I also want to introduce a few new blogs I have found:

https://shanephipps/wordpress.com/
http://www.justintarte.com/
www.davidgeurin.com
www.tsschmidty.blogspot.com
www.marlenagrosstaylor.com/blog
www.brentclarkson.com/blog

Focus on Success in Education – Part 4 of “Inequality and Education”

This is my fourth video in my series on Inequality and Education and this one discusses the importance of a focus on success in education. Kids must learn more than just academic lessons. They must learn that success is a process; a process that is a skill that must be learned to sustain ongoing success in whatever they do.

In our last segment we talked about the importance of partnerships between parents and teachers. Today, we shift our focus to success, one of the key variables in the education equation.

In my book, The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership, focus on success is one of the core principles of positive leadership. A crucial lesson for leaders in any venue is how to create and sustain a motivated workforce. The answer is: make people feel important and, no, it is not enough to just like them and treat them nicely. People know they are important when their leaders demonstrate, through both words and actions that they are dedicated to the success of their people.

This is true for leaders in business organizations, for public school principals, and for teachers in a classroom.

Winning is a form of success but success is more than just winning. Successful people win often but they also lose, sometimes and get disappointing outcomes. What distinguishes these powerful men and women from others is that they’ve learned, both, to accept responsibility for their outcomes and that success is a process. They’ve learned not to be discouraged by their mistakes and disappointing outcomes and they understand that they are opportunities to learn and grow. This confidence eliminates the fear of failure and, in turn, enables them to strive for ever-higher levels of achievement. It fosters and sustains a motivation to learn.

We all want to be successful at what we do but it doesn’t just happen. Learning how to master the process of success is a skill just like learning how to read, write, add, and subtract. In the classroom, it involves giving kids however much time they need to grasp the underlying logic or principles of a lesson and to learn from their mistakes.

When the child succeeds, that success is celebrated and the student is ready to move to a new lesson. When that process is replicated, over and over, the child is not only learning specific academic lessons, they are learning how to be successful; they are learning the process of success.

The challenge for teachers is that kids, by definition, lack maturity and are prone to be discouraged by failure. They are quick to give up on themselves in the face of difficulty and often choose the easiest path which is to stop trying. Letting students fail has devastating consequences for young lives, not to mention society.

The best time to prevent failure of these kids is during their first few years of school. If we wait until middle school or high school, the damage is already done the odds of turning these kids around diminishes, significantly.

One cannot learn how to be successful without having experienced success, particularly hard-won success. If you are a teacher, examine your classroom and ask yourself:

How many of your students experience success, routinely?

How many experience repeated failure?

We are teaching kids how to fail every time a teacher records a low or failing score in their gradebook and then moves the class on to a new lesson before some kids are ready.

This is not what teachers want to do rather it is what the education process demands of teachers. This education process sets kids up for failure.

Please take the time to read my education model and white paper to see one way we can reinvent the education process to focus on success and eliminate the kind of failure that destroys a child’s motivation to learn. Examine it not in search of reasons why it won’t work rather seeking reasons why it can.

Please, share this video with everyone you know and ask them to join you in a quest to transform public education. Millions of children are desperate for your help!

It is public education on which the futures of our nation’s children depend and it is our children on whom our nation’s future depends.

Remember, It’s all about the kids!!!!

Check out Part 3 – Inequality and Education

In this third segment of my series of videos on Inequality and education, which is the civil rights issue of our time, I answer the 2nd of the two most important questions in education:

Why do some kids succeed in spite of the tremendous disadvantages they face?

The first question was “Why do so many kids fail?

Today’s question is the most important of the two because as important as it is that we understand why kids fail, it is even more important to understand how some kids overcome their disadvantage and enjoy academic success.

When we begin to understand what works we can work to replicate that success.

The key to success of these wonderful exceptions is that the kids who break out of poverty to become successful, academically, and go on to lead productive lives is that these children were supported by a parent or guardian who was fiercely determined that an education would provide a way out of poverty for their child.

These parents, grandparents, or other guardians worked hard to instill a powerful motivation to learn in their son or daughter; they did everything they could to prepare their child for academic success; they make sure their child does their work; and, when their child struggles they work patiently with them to make sure they learn.

What they also do is show up at school and get to know their child’s teacher. They often initiate this contact out of suspicion and mistrust because they are fearful that the teacher will not be looking out for their child’s best interests. These parents and guardians are, after all, part of multiple generations of men and women who have always failed in school and have always been poor. Their experiences with their own teachers are often unhappy memories.

Once they get to know their child’s teachers and begin to witness the success that their child enjoys and hear how much their child loves that teacher, these parents or other family members become committed partners, sharing responsibility for the education of their kids.

This partnership is a powerful thing that not only preserves the child’s motivation to learn; it fuels that motivation. It is a crucial variable in the education equation.

It is the creation of such partnerships that we need to replicate. Such replication is easy if the parent is already engaged and committed but it becomes an extraordinary challenge when they are not so engaged. Very often, in addition to their suspicion, these parents and guardians are indifferent and have few positive expectations. How can they have positive expectations when their own experiences were disappointing and disillusioning?

In Part 4 of my series on education and inequality, we will talk about what it is that teachers must do to pull these parents in as partners. Inevitably, the answer depends on creating opportunities for the child to enjoy success.

It is such a sad thing that so many children are failing and the adverse consequences for both the children and society are incalculable. It doesn’t have to be that way but we cannot alter this reality until we change the way we task, structure, support, and resource the education process that is the milieu in which teachers live and work. This requires positive leadership from our principals, superintendents, college professors who train teachers, and policy makers who are in charge of the mission, vision, and values of public education; the people who have strategic responsibility.

What is frustrating is that it is so easy to change. All we need to do is refuse to let kids fail. Teachers, however, are unable to “refuse to let kids fail” when the education process is focused on failure than structured to focus on success.

More about this in my next post.

No Quick Fixes or Simpler Times

One mass shooting after another has our nation reeling in grief and disbelief, prompting people to call out for action. “We need to fix this!” some people shout. “It’s time for action!” others proclaim.

Listen carefully!

There are no quick fixes and there will never be a return to simpler times.

The problems of our nation are fundamental and have evolved over many generations. They are rooted in the deep economic, cultural, sociological, emotional, ecological, and political issues that divide us as a people.

These differences that divide us as a people result from a huge population of Americans who are embittered and angry because the American dream is not and has never been real for the vast majority of their children. It results from black Americans for whom the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s and beyond have not been kept.

These difference also result from a huge population of Americans who are angry and embittered because they are being asked to support millions of dependent Americans whom they view, rightly or wrongly, as unwilling to support themselves. It results from the propensity of so many Americans to feel their prejudices are justified.

These differences have damaged some individuals spiritually and psychologically to the point that they seem compelled to strike out in futile anger at the world and at innocent men, women, and children; with mass shootings having become their fashion of our times

People want to return to simpler times when values were clear; when it was clear who was in charge; when most of us looked alike, at least with the color of our skin; and when the political issues of the day were such that republicans and democrats were able to come together and find solutions with which both sides could live.

Times will never be simpler than they are today and our society will never be less diverse. It is only a matter of a few short decades when white Americans will be a minority population. The combination of our nation’s poor who depend on our government for economic support and the baby-boomer population that is rushing into retirement will place unprecedented pressure on those who work to keep our economy productive.

The complexity of the world marketplace, political jigsaw puzzle, growing world population, and the changing environment are of an unprecedented breadth and scope and will not respond to the policies and ideologies of the 20th Century. We are now in the 21st Century and we have only gotten a glimpse of the changes on the political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological horizon as this 21st Century unfolds before us. What we need are fresh solutions, new and innovative ideas, open minds and imaginations, and a new appreciation that we are all in this together.

No matter how hard we think we are working to find solutions to the issues of this new century nothing we will do can possibly work unless they meet the needs of every single one of us. There can no longer be a “we” and “them,” republicans and democrats, liberals and conservatives, “free-marketers” and socialists. There are just too many of us and every action any of us take, unilaterally, will cause a series of reactions that will reverberate across the sea of our world’s population; not like ripples on a pool rather like a series of tsunamis across the oceans of the planet.

We must start by addressing the fundamental issues of American society within the context of a democracy in which everyone counts or no one counts. It must begin with the way we educate our children.

We can no longer accept an education process that lumps our children together and pushes them along an academic path that expects them all to arrive at the same place at the same time.

We can no longer tolerate and education process that is structured to support the convenience of educators while ignoring the unique needs of a diverse population of our nation’s children.

We can no longer permit an education process that ignores the reality that all young children need a rich and nurturing environment in which their relationships are more important than what we do with them. We must understand that it is only through our relationships with them that we can give them that which is important.

We can no longer ignore the fact that the world-wide-web has made peer influence more powerful than it has ever been at any time in the history of mankind and that has become more powerful than the influence of either family or our schools, working independently. The only hope we have of remaining the most powerful influence in the lives of our children is for families and schools to work together as partners.

We must no longer be willing to forgive educators for sending one class of our nation’s children after another out into the world so inadequately prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship and so poorly equipped to support their families and to compete in the economic marketplace.

Neither can we continue to place the blame for the problems of our systems of public education on the shoulders of the men and women who are asked to teach our children in the midst of an education process that works for neither the teacher nor the child. Our public school teachers are heroes but they must be challenged to break out of their encapsulation and change their paradigms.

However distasteful it may seem to some Americans, we must find an economic solution that can feed, provide power, house, educate, and provide for the health of not only a burgeoning and more diverse population of Americans but also what will soon be the ten or more billions of people on this planet. How are we going to respond to the next great plague that will erupt across the world and devastate a population of people with no immunity to protect them?

I challenge all of you to consider the following as an analogy for every aspect of human life on the planet Earth: “how do we feed ten billion or more people on free-range chickens?”

These problems are too big for there to be any quick fixes and we can only control that which is within our power to control.

For the United States of America, it must begin with the way we educate our children and it must begin in our public schools. Surely it must be as obvious for public school teachers to see that what they are doing is not working as it is obvious that charter schools cannot provide a quality education for our nation’s fifty million children between the ages of 6 and 17 years of age.

I offer an education model that is designed to give our nation’s children what they need so that each and every one of them learns as much as they can as quickly as they are able and in which no level of failure can be tolerated. Our system of public education must not be structured as if it is a competition but rather as a training camp to prepare our children to complete once they leave school and enter society as adults. I urge you to examine my model with an open mind looking for reasons to hope that it might work rather than searching for reasons why it will not.

You will find the model at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

I do not suggest that this the only education model that will work. If you don’t like what you read you are challenged to develop a better education model.

What you must not do is think for a single moment that you can fix that which is broken in our society by protests or by hoping that somehow we can legislate a change in the hearts of humanity. What you must not do is think that we can solve our problems by continuing to do what we have done it the past. Where we are today is a function of all that we have done in the past.

I understand how powerless many of us feel but we are powerless for only as long as we work alone. If we want solutions we must latch on to a positive idea and do everything within our power to put wings on that dream.

The only thing that we can do, unilaterally, is to pray that we will be granted the wisdom to find a path to the future that unites us as a people rather than divide us any further than we are already divided. We can pray that we will all rally around a positive idea. The only way to improve the future is to improve the way we prepare our children.

It’s all about the kids!

Inequality and Education, Part 2 – One of the Two Most Important Questions in Education

Below is the 2nd in my series of videos on “Inequality and Education” in which we answer one of the two most important questions in Public Education: “Why do so many kids fail?” (the text of the video is available below the link)

In my next post we will answer the second of the two most important questions in public education: “How do some students succeed in spite of the tremendous disadvantages that they face?

Hi, I’m Mel Hawkins with Part 2 of my series on inequality and education.

Today we answer one of the two most important questions in public education.

Why do so many kids fail?

Is it because they can’t learn?

It’s sad how many people expect kids to fail, especially children of color. Most of us, however, believe all kids can learn if we give them the time, and attention they need.

This begs the question:

So, why haven’t we given failing students what they need? Do teachers not care? Are teachers not competent?

Visit an underperforming classroom and you will see frustrated teachers, working hard to make a difference; frustrated because they do care and because the education process doesn’t work.

If two teachers exchanged classes, one high performing and the other not, we would see little or no change in outcomes. All are trained in the same universities, some just have more challenging students.

Kids have been failing for generations.

Ironically, testing to high quality academic standards makes it worse.

Don’t get me wrong! Rigorous academic standards are essential and we must never lower the bar!

It’s one thing, however, to outline what must be learned in school and quite another to dictate the pace of learning for students with different abilities.

High stakes testing places teachers under relentless pressure to move kids along, ready or not and this leads to failure.

When recorded in a grade book, failure becomes part of the academic record and teachers begin to view kids as slow learners.

Worse, it colors a child’s perception of themselves and impedes the development their self-esteem.

When teachers complain, leadership blames the testing like we are powerless.

Maybe we can’t stop the testing but we can make giving kids our time and attention our top priority and never something to be compromised under pressure, which is what happens whenever we say it’s time to move on.

Over the years, new methods and approaches have not lived up to expectations.

These new approaches are like new wine stored in old wineskins that sours from within that which we’ve worked so hard to create.

The only thing that matters is that students learn, not how fast they learn.

Why not stop the failure before it begins by creating a process that gives every child what they need to learn from day one?

Please read my model and white paper, at my website, to see how easy it would be to reinvent the process to focus on success and stop the failure.

Please share this video with everyone you know and ask them to join you in a crusade to transform public education!

Millions of kids are waiting for you to do something! Why not this?

Making sure all children learn is the most important thing you can do for the future of our country.

Remember, “It’s all about the kids!!”

Inequality and Education are Interdependent: Can’t fix one without the other!

Check out the video at Inequality and Education – Part 1, the video

Public Education is the civil rights issue of our time. Affirmative action programs are assessed not on the basis of what management says they do rather on the disparate impact it creates. The performance gap between white and black proves that our current education process has been failing for generations.

The time for talk is over. It is time for action. The reader is encouraged to share this video with every one you know and ask them to join us in this crusade to transform public education in America.

It is the single most important thing many of us will be asked to do for our country.

Please help this crusade go viral.

Here is the text of the video message in the event you are unable to pull up the video”

“Hello!

I’m Mel Hawkins, with a word about how inequality and education are affected by each other.

Inequality is ugly fact of life in America and is at the root of all of our nation’s problems.

It divides us as a people and threatens the very principles of democracy.

Is this really who we want to be?

Public schools were intended to be the great equalizer, yet the performance gap between black and white kids proves the education process has failed for generations.

It entraps young people in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness and sets them up for failure.

It, also, weakens our nation from within.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

We can address inequality simply by helping public education keep its promise to America, that everyone gets a quality education.

Reformers say our schools are failing while educators insist those same schools are better than ever.

They can’t both be right, but they can both be wrong.

When given an opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers, I got a glimpse of the truth.

I saw students struggle in spite of the tremendous efforts of dedicated teachers and,

I witnessed an education process that is flawed beyond repair.

When systems like this break down and stop working, we must go back to the drawing board and reinvent it to produce the outcomes we want.

By applying my nearly fifty years of experience working with kids, providing leadership, solving problems for clients, and teaching; I created an innovative new model for education, focused on success.

It’s designed to help teachers give each and every child the unique attention they need to be successful, starting at the moment they arrive at our door.

By teaching to success, not failure, students will walk away with a quality education and the healthy self-esteem they will need to overcome challenges, even discrimination.

Charter schools serving a few kids are not the answer for the masses.

We have schools, everywhere, staffed with teachers and filled with kids.

This is where the challenge exists and where it must be met!

Black kids and other minorities suffer the most.

For that reason public education has become the civil rights issue of our time.

We must rally black America around this cause just like the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s?

It’s time to make the dream come true for everyone.

When we all join in, we will be a powerful force for change.

Our kids are the future and we need every last one of them.

We cannot afford to waste a single child.

Please open your mind and examine my education model and white paper, at melhawkinsandassociates.com.

Share this video with everyone you know and ask them to join our crusade to transform public education.

This may be the most important thing you will ever be asked to do for your country so don’t just sit there!

Millions of kids are counting on you to do something.

Why not help our crusade go viral?

Is there a better gift for America’s kids than an education focused on success?

Remember, “It’s All About the Kids!”

The Performance Gap between white and black students is the Civil Rights Issue of our Time

African-Americans have been fighting discrimination since the Emancipation Proclamation. During the 1950s and 60s, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the legion of heroes of the civil rights movement fought discrimination relentlessly. As simple as I can state it: disadvantaged children, a disproportionate percentage of whom are black and other minorities, are the victims of systemic discrimination and they will continue to suffer until their advocates stand united in their determination to alter this reality. The performance gap between black and white students is the civil rights issue of our time and it demands action on the part of everyone who has a stake in the future of these children.

Public school educators are very much like the US Congress in the 1950’s. If it had not been for the heroes of the civil rights movement, we might still be waiting for meaningful civil rights legislation. Disadvantaged children must not be made to wait. They are counting on us and we must act now. What a tragedy it will be if, in twenty years, our children’s children are still languishing as a result of an obsolete education process because we were reluctant to act; because we believed ourselves to be powerless. This is the antithesis of positive leadership.

Public school educators and their advocates have proclaimed that public education is better than it has ever been. That may be true for some children but it could not be further from the truth with respect to black children, other minorities, and even a large number of white students.

The fact that, for a half century or more, we have been accepting the performance gap as an inevitable outcome of poverty is a gross injustice. The test for discriminatory practices is whether or not an action creates a disparate impact. If the performance gap is not incontrovertible evidence of disparate impact, I don’t know what is. It is an injustice that has sentenced millions of young African-Americans, young men in particular, to a life of failure, poverty, violence, and incarceration. That we have accepted the assertions of public school teachers that they are doing their best strains all semblance of credibility.

It is the job of public school teachers to teach all children not just the ones who come primed and ready to learn. The fact that so many children are failing means that something is terribly wrong; that something is not working. In any other venue we would never accept that there is nothing we can do to improve unacceptable outcomes.

The performance gap between black and white students is not because black kids are incapable of learning. That millions of kids who live in our poor urban and rural communities are disadvantaged in any number of ways does not mean they cannot learn, it just means they need a little extra time, patience, and attention. They need educators to keep testing new approaches until they find one that works.

Whether manufacturing a product, providing a service, or selling something, there is always a solution if the outcomes are not what we want. This is also true with the education process utilized in schools all over the U.S. Finding a solution is not even complicated. It is simply a matter of clarifying purpose; being willing to try something new; learning from our mistakes; applying the principles of organizational management, systems thinking, and positive leadership; and, being committed to relentless improvement.

I have developed a solution that will work but I need the help of black leaders to come together and convince public school superintendents with underperforming elementary schools to test my model. With the right kind of pressure some will be compelled to act.

Please check out my education model, which I will offer for free, and the accompanying white paper that lays out the logical foundation at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ All I ask is the credit of authorship. Right now there are millions of disadvantaged children who are learning how to fail and their lives will be irrevocably damaged unless people like you decide it must stop.

Students must be able to build on success, not failure!

It is incredibly frustrating that public school teachers and administrators have been unwilling and/or unable to take seriously the education model I have developed. It is exasperating because I know teachers want to do what is best for their students. I also know how frustrated so many public school teachers are and that the prospect of burnout is something many of these dedicated men and women fear. That teachers are blamed for the problems in public education must be especially galling.

It is even more frustrating that advocacy groups for black children and other children of color seem totally uninterested in a solution that will end the failure of millions of disadvantaged kids and shut down the schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline that is transporting these kids to a life of poverty, failure, crime, and early violent deaths.

If only all of these dedicated men and women would open their hearts and minds to the possibility of a new way to educate our nation’s most precious assets.

“This will not work in my classroom(s)!” is what public school teachers and administrators say when they first review my model. I hear it all the time.

Of course, they are correct, but this is exactly my point. In the current education process, nothing different will work because the process is flawed. To paraphrase Linda Darling Hammond, “the existing process is structured to produce the outcomes it gets and we will not get better outcomes if all we do is ask teachers to work harder.”

There are many teachers in high-performing schools who feel good about what they do but there are also many teachers in low-performing schools who are frustrated, daily, because they are unable to get through to unmotivated students.

Odd as it may seem, African-American leaders, who jump through the roof in response to symbols of oppression, do not even bother to respond to the possibility of a solution that will attack the roots of that oppression.

I ask public school educators to take a figurative step back and imagine an environment in which they are expected to give each and every student however much time they need to learn each and every lesson. Imagine an environment in which teachers are expected to develop longer term relationships with students and where the process is structured to facilitate the development of such relationships; with both students and parents.

My challenge to public school teachers and administrators is that they consider that the education process can be re-designed and re-configured to produce whatever outcomes we want.

My challenge to advocates for black children and other children of color to consider the possibility that African-American students and other disadvantaged children do not need to fail.

My education model is constructed on the premise that academic success is no different than success in any other venue. Success is a process of trial and error, of learning from one’s mistakes and applying that knowledge to produce better outcomes. Success is built upon success and the more one succeeds the more confident he or she becomes. The more confident he or she is the more successful one becomes. Success is contagious and can become a powerful source of motivation.

The key, of course, is that one cannot master the process of success until he or she begins to experience success, routinely. In school, kids learn and each lesson learned is a success. Very often, success on subsequent lessons requires that one apply what one has learned from previous lessons. When a foundation of success is laid down in school, young boys and girls approach adulthood with a wide menu of choices in terms of the kind of future that can be built on that foundation.

Imagine, however, when there is no success on which to build. When kids fail, or even learn only part of a given lesson, they are less like to learn the next lesson. A pattern also emerges in this scenario but it is a pattern of failure rather than success.

For many of these kids, failure is the only thing they know. It is only a matter of time before they give up, stop trying, and begin acting out in class. Third grade is when many states begin administering competency examinations. Right from the beginning, a significant percentage of third grade students are unable to pass both math and English language components of their state exams. Although African-American students have the lowest passage rates, the poor performance extends to a percentage of students from all demographic groups, including white students.

By the time these students reach middle school the scores are even lower. In many middle schools, as many as eighty percent of black students fail to pass both exams. Middle school teachers throughout the U.S. can attest to the incredibly low level of motivation displayed by their students. Any illusions that high schools are able to turn the performance of these students around in four years are just that, illusions; high graduation rates notwithstanding.

When they leave school, the overwhelming majority of these low-performing students return to their communities, unqualified for jobs or military service. For many, it is the final station on the schoolhouse to jailhouse line. Far too many suffer early, violent deaths. Those who live spawn a whole new generation of children who will start from behind and will never be given a realistic opportunity to catch up. They are entrapped in a maelstrom of poverty and failure.

It is an American tragedy of unprecedented breadth and scope and it is at the core of our nation’s greatest political, economic, cultural and civil rights challenges. The chasm that divides the American people is very much a function of the bitterness on the part of some citizens because of their resentment that they are asked to support our nation’s poor and infirm.

The magnitude of this reality makes public education the civil rights issue of the 21st Century. That it is a crisis that can be prevented so easily, however, is the greatest tragedy at all. The ambivalence of the people who can bring an end to this tragedy is the greatest mystery of all. Do they not care?

We can end the failure simply by making sure every child has however much time they need in order to learn. If there is a reason why we should not do this, I truly wish someone would explain it to me.

Please check out my model at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/