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 many 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.

Donald Trump: The Antithesis of Positive Leadership

As an American who has spent his entire career as a student, advocate, and practitioner of the principles of positive leadership, it is staggering to think that not only is a presidential candidate spreading a message of prejudice and hatred but also that he is garnering the support of a significant percentage of Republican voters. The man behaves like a bully and a name-caller of the same ilk as a rising political leader in Germany, eighty-five years ago. If you do not agree with someone, call them names, threaten to do harm to them, persecute an entire religious group, or deport millions of others.

Over the last couple of decades we have seen the emergence of bitter enmity on the part of Americans who are so full of hatred and prejudice that they will believe even the most outrageous accusations against President Obama, a man whom they despise. No doubt, someone recently spouted that “Obama probably paid protesters at a recent political rally for Trump” and now those accusations are sweeping across the internet, taken as gospel. Equally ridiculous are the accusations that “Obama arranged and paid for the assassination” of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

How can people be so full of hate that they are willing to believe such unsubstantiated nonsense about the President of the United States?

The sad thing about Donald Trump is that the man is correct about some of the things that need to happen to keep our nation healthy and “return it to greatness.” Support of Trump on these few issues becomes impossible, however, when the man preys on the ignorance and prejudices of millions of Americans and when his political strategy poses the biggest threat to democracy in my lifetime.

We do need to put the restoration of the U.S. infrastructure at the top of our nation’s priority list. We do need to take control of immigration. We do need to put people back to work. We do need to replace politicians who have become little more than puppets of some of our nation’s richest and most powerful political action committees. We do need leadership that is beholden to no one other than the American people.

We desperately need positive leaders who recognize that the issues with which we struggle, today, did not just happen rather that they are the consequence of 65-years-worth of ineffectual policies, whether liberal or conservative, republican or democrat.

What we need most of all is a positive leader with a vision for the future. A leader who recognizes that poverty is a consequence of an obsolete educational process that has set generations of American children up for failure and that makes it almost impossible for even our best teachers to do what they dreamt of doing when they chose their profession. It is an educational process that can only be further damaged by reforms focused on privatization and standardized testing.

We yearn for a positive leader who understands that the strongest economy during the latter third of the 21st Century will be the one that has ended its reliance on fossil fuels and has mastered the production of renewable sources of clean energy. It will also be an economy that is committed to responsible stewardship of the environment.

We hunger for a positive leader who believes that all Americans are entitled to comprehensive healthcare and prescription drugs as a right of citizenship and who understands that we can provide such healthcare without socialized medicine if only we open are hearts and minds to a new way of thinking.

And, finally, we need a positive leader who can help us renew our faith in democracy and in each other; a leader who can show the American people that our greatest strength as a nation is, has always been, and will always be our diversity. We seek a leader who can rebuild a nation in which the American dream is an achievable reality for all of its citizens; not just a privileged few.

My novel, Light and Transient Causes, is about one way things could go horribly wrong if a man like Donald Trump was elected President. https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/light-and-transient-causes-a-novel/ The reader is invited to take a look.

Donald Trump: Illusion of Bold Leadership

The willingness of so many Americans to embrace Donald Trump as a legitimate candidate for President is evidence of just how frustrated Americans are with the leadership in Washington, whether President Obama, whom so many demonize, or a dysfunctional Congress.

Trump’s immediate popularity is also a function of a desire for quick and easy answers to the seemingly overwhelming cascade of challenges facing our nation, its people, and the world community.

We do need bold, new leadership with fresh insight into the unprecedented number of issues of the Twenty-first Century but Donald Trump provides only the illusion of bold and fresh thinking; the kind one would expect to find on any of the inane reality shows on television.

The more frustrated we become with the challenges facing our society the more tempted the masses are to abandon good judgment and also the core principles of democracy. The truth is, the more complicated and critical the issues become the more important it is to cling to our democratic principles. Relinquishing those principles, however briefly we might envision doing so, is the single-most dangerous strategy a free people can contemplate.

The problem is heightened by the fact that we often confuse our democratic principles with over-simplified political dogma, catch phrases, and clichéd solutions. I love, for example, the assertion that we can turn our country around if we just cut spending or balance the budget. How could the logic be any simpler? Is it not common sense? The answer, of course, is only if we ignore the realities of society.

The reality is that a full third to nearly half of the American people depend upon their government for their economic survival. The underlying theme of conservative ideology is to cut off the poor, the infirm, the disenfranchised, and illegal immigrants because we can no longer afford to support their dependency. We quietly include the growing population of the elderly in this sweeping agenda but we are careful not to mention them too loudly. Neither do we draw attention to the fact that so many of the poor are minorities.

It would be one thing if the proponents of such radical spending cuts offered up alternative solutions to the problems facing the unfortunate members of our society but, of course, they do not. Rather they offer up the metaphoric equivalent of “Let them eat cake!” And, we have not addressed the enormous cost of protecting our environment and rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Sadly, this burgeoning population of Americans, many of whom have lost all faith and hope in the American dream, are the product of 65 years’ worth of dysfunctional policy making; both democrat and republican and both liberal and conservative.

If we cut them off, where do our leaders think these people will go? Will they quietly disappear and let the rest of us go on with our lives?

The growth of this population of vulnerable Americans will accelerate in the aftermath of our nonsensical policies regarding public education, poverty, healthcare, aging, employment, immigration, and Social Security. The greater their number the louder will be their clamor and the more reactionary will be the response of “middle Americans” and the government representing them.

The greater the enmity between the “haves” and the “have nots” the more incendiary our society. The social wildfire that will burst forth as a result of an inevitable spark will rage more furiously than anything we have experienced to date. How can a nation survive leadership that so egregiously neglects the needs and interests of such an enormous segment of its population while claiming to represent and serve the American people?

If we do not find meaningful solutions to these challenges the future will not be pretty and the more vulnerable we become as a nation the bolder will be the response of the nations that compete with the U.S. for economic, political, and military supremacy.

If we are to have any hope of sustaining the great American democracy throughout the balance of the Twenty-first Century we must find a way to bring our entire population on board as productive members of a fully participatory democracy. Not an easy task, to be sure, but it is impossible only if we fail to pull our heads out of the landfill of the past century’s failed policies and outworn platitudes.

Our future can be secured only if we reach beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom for real solutions to public education, healthcare, poverty, immigration, discrimination, and the environment using all of our imagination and ingenuity. Only when we learn to think exponentially will new and innovative solutions be discovered that can meet the challenges of the Twenty-first Century and beyond.

In addition to this blog, Mel Hawkins is the author of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, a nonfiction book offering a blueprint to fix public education and transform American Society; and a novel, Light and Transient Causes, about what happens if we don’t.

What can one teacher do to stop the dismantling of public education in America?

During a recent visit with my daughter and her family, I had an opportunity to talk with the husband of a public school teacher from the Cincinnati area. I was disappointed to learn that this young woman was working hard to prepare herself for a new career outside the field of education.

Like so many public school teachers, today, this husband explained his wife’s frustration with the changes that are taking place in public education in Ohio, changes that are making it difficult for her to teach children.

Her husband shared with me that his wife is one of seven or eight teachers at her school who are actively pursuing a career change once the current school year has ended. He also said that his wife’s principal is aware of the fact that she and several of her colleagues are planning to leave and this principal has been pleading with them to reconsider. “You are my best teachers,” he tells them. No doubt this principal is one of many who dread the prospect of leading their schools into an uncertain future without their best teachers.

Can we blame teachers for leaving their profession? Do they not have the right to pursue the best opportunities for which they are qualified? Public school corporations are no different than any other employer. An employer can expect the loyalty of its employees for only as long as that employer can sell them on the importance of the organization’s mission; meet their need for professional and financial fulfillment; and, give them reason to hope for successful outcomes.

Given the degree to which public education is under attack, the school corporations that serve our nation’s most vulnerable communities are being stripped of the power to make any assurances to their faculties, which begs the question of how such corporations, in the absence of a capable faculty, can offer any assurances to their students and their community.

The unpleasant truth with which the American people must come to terms is that our nation’s leaders have created a scenario in which the control over the education of our nation’s children has been placed in the hands of people who have no understanding of the realities of educating children; corporate executives and government officials who function within a logical realm that is corrupted by special interests and who have only their arrogance to guide them.

What kind of future can we have as a democratic society when we have lost our ability to prepare all of our children for the responsibilities of citizenship? What kind of future do the American people want for their children?

The dilemma for the American people is that they do not trust the bill of goods being pushed by corporate and government reformers and, also, that they have lost faith in traditional public education.

Teachers, principals, and superintendents and other educational professionals are the only ones who possess sufficient knowledge to save public education and to offer the American people what they want and need. The American people desperately need professional educators to stand and fight rather than stand by with our hands in our pockets and do nothing or, worse, leave the profession to the reformers.

If professional educators choose to stand and fight rather than flee, we can work together to offer the American people an alternative to the policies of the corporate and government reformers. We can offer them a new reality that is focused on learning and the special relationship that exists between teachers, students and parents. We can offer them a reality in which every child is important and in which no student will be permitted to fail.

It is understandable that individual teachers feel lost and alone and it is natural to feel like there is nothing one person can do. But teachers need not feel alone. They are part of a population of as many as three million professional educators who can come together to create this new reality.

In addition to existing unions and associations at both the state and national level, there is a new group of players in the game: the Bad Ass Teachers Association with a membership of 53,000 professionals and counting. Teachers can become BATS and still be active in their unions and associations, in fact they are encouraged to do so. Get active and demand action!

Teachers are not the only professionals at risk in these challenging times. The future of public school principals and administrators and also the superintendents and other administrative professionals of every public school corporation in the nation are also at risk, particularly those who serve populations in our nation’s most challenging communities.

The leaderships of each of these representative entities must recognize that they are at war for the very survival of public education and mounting a challenge to the corporate and government reformers must become their over-riding priority.

When faced with a common adversary the best strategy is always to unite all those who share a common interest. It is time for the leaders of each and every organization that is committed to public education to step up and find ways to work together to provide the American people with a reason to hope. If we can give them something in which they can believe the people will stand with their children’s teachers. Together, we can reject the forces that are striving to usurp the will of the American people to the great disadvantage of our children.

The future of teachers, public education, and the American people are at stake and the consequences for our failure to stem the tide will be tragic beyond description. In my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, I offer a blueprint of a plan to create a new reality in education.