Let’s clear up any confusion, misconceptions, or lingering doubts about whether or not there are certain groups of children who can or cannot learn. The fact that so very many children do not learn has nothing to do with whether or not they can. What we have seen in public schools all over the U.S., as well as in private, parochial, and charter schools, as well as in experimental schools, is that kids from every racial, ethnic and cultural heritage can learn, irrespective of their economic circumstances.
The question is, what do we as a society do to insure that all children do learn; each and every one of them to the full extent of their unique genetic capability? Notice that I did not say what “can” we do. The use of the world “can” suggests that something may or may not be possible.
We have the power, individually and collectively, to create a reality in which every child learns to the fullest extent of their capability. Given that we have such power, it is absolutely intolerable that we allow the existence of a reality in which so many children are allowed to fail.
Please ask yourself what you can do, whether you are in a position to reach out to a single child or to an entire generation. And then, make a commitment to do it.
In my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (REHAD). I wrote:
“. . . the mathematical and scientific laws of the universe care nothing about the color of a man or a woman’s skin. The only reason children of any racial or ethnic group are not masters of the sciences and mathematics is that their fathers and mothers do not insist that they learn these things. The only reason girls and boys, whatever their lineage, do not read and write proficiently is because their mothers and fathers do not insist that they become proficient.
The only time children of any cultural heritage do not become loving partners in the process of rearing their own children and teaching them these values is when we, as parents, do not teach them by our example. The only time any child grows up with an unhealthy self-esteem is when we do not teach him or her, each and every day of their lives, how very special they are; because we do not demand that they learn responsibility and self-discipline.”
Conveying this message as part of a coordinated plan of action is, I am convinced, the most important thing any American can do for our country at this point in our history. In REHAD, I outlined a blueprint for action that involves two components.
The first component is to fix an educational process that is more than a century old and that no longer meets the needs of children of the Twenty-first Century. It was a system that sets children up for failure and humiliation and that has left full generations of American men and women not only bitter and resentful but also hopeless and powerless that they can effect the outcomes in their lives. These men and women no longer believe in the American dream and no longer teach their kids that an education is important and offers them a pathway to a better life. As a result, the children of these men and women show up for their first day of school poorly prepared and with precious little motivation to learn.
The performance gap that we refer to so often is simply an illustration of that fact. That the most disparate performance gap is between white and black students is not proof that African-American children are less able to learn rather it is proof that the culture of much of the African-American community is one in which this disdain for education is most pervasive. In fact, this disdain for education transcends culture and is growing more pervasive each and every day that we stand by and do nothing.
The real performance gap exists between children reared in an environment where belief in the American dream is real and abiding and where families are hopeful and believe they possess the power to create a better life for their children, if not for themselves; and between children raised under a shroud of hopelessness and powerlessness.
Fixing the educational process is just the first step.
The second component of my blueprint for transformation is that we must come together as one people, in all of our diversity, united by a common purpose. That purpose is to repackage and resell the American dream and then take that message to the people. It requires that we ask every American who is hopeful and powerful to reach out into every nook and cranny of our community and engage the hopeless and the powerless.
We want all of our neighbors to believe that they can create a better life for their children and that they need not do this alone. We want them to understand that their entire community, across the full cultural panorama, is available to help them.
We want them to understand that the most important thing they can do is to partner with the teachers of their sons and daughters; teachers that offer a new educational process that is focused on helping each and every one of our children learn how to be successful and acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to control the outcomes in their lives. Knowledge and skills that will enable them to create their own future.
This is a plea to each and every one of you who is reading these words to make a commitment to action. That action begins by sharing these ideas and your commitment with everyone in your sphere of influence.
What are you waiting for?