Racism Places our Future at Risk!

The more diverse a population the more important it is that people learn, play, work, and live in an integrated environment. Racism is a horrible and complicated aspect of American society and it threatens the very principles of democracy. One of the great certainties of the 21st Century is that our population will become increasingly more diverse. If we are going to preserve our liberty, we must find a way to set aside our prejudices and work together. Diversity is our nation’s greatest strength. The danger occurs when we do not embrace it as such. The best way to promote diversity and end racism is through public education.

The differences in skin color are there for all to see and when all of the white kids live over here and all of the black kids live over there, it is we versus them. Rarely do the two worlds come together. Simply by changing their physical proximity between us, we create opportunities to get to know one another, up close and personal. The differences still exist and are every bit as problematic, but when we are close enough to see the whites of each other’s eyes (a characteristic that is shared by human beings everywhere) we also begin to see the similarities. This is the great value of integrated public schools.

As important as it is, however, integration in our schools, public or private, is not a magic elixir that will eradicate the performance gap between white students and minority students and bring an end to racism.

Fort Wayne Community Schools provides a perfect example. This school corporation is the largest in the state of Indiana, has a highly respected black superintendent, and three of the other seven senior leadership positions are filled by black men and women. The district’s student population is 53 percent non-white and there are many minority teachers and principals throughout the district. Just as importantly, most of the schools, particularly at the middle school or high school level, have a diverse population of students. They are integrated but in spite of all of the good things this district and its professional educators do, performance gap issues remain one of its great challenges.

If academic parity is our objective, then we must do more than strive for integrated schools and classrooms. We must make accommodations for students with an “academic-preparedness disadvantage” much like we do for those who have physical, visual, hearing or emotional impairments.

We do not, for example, bring students with physical, visual, or hearing impairments into a school and expect them to find their way around like their unimpaired classmates. We find ways to make accommodations so that these children can take full advantage of their opportunity to strive for a quality education.

Why is it, then, that we bring academically disadvantaged children into our schools along with children who have no such disadvantages and hold the former to the same standards of academic performance as the latter?

It is one thing to establish academic standards that outline all of the things we want our students to learn before they graduate from high school. If we want all of our students to learn the same things and we want them all to be successful we must recognize that they are not all beginning at the same point on the academic preparedness continuum.

What we can reasonably hope to accomplish and what our objective must be is that every student arrives at the best possible destination with respect to his or her unique talents and capabilities. This is a realistic goal if we treat all children as unique individuals and place them on an academic path that is right for them and is tailored to their unique strengths and weaknesses. In every other learning environment with which I am familiar, the speed with which learning takes place is the least important factor. What is important is that children do learn.

If given sufficient time and attention, most children who start off from behind will begin to catch up. If, however, we push them along a common path with no accommodation for their “academic preparedness disadvantage,” they will begin to experience failure. Over time, the failures will begin to accumulate and each failure gnaws at a child’s self-esteem. This, we cannot allow.

The biggest problems with current educational reforms and their focus on standardized testing, charter schools, and vouchers is that they are creating more separation between various demographic groups. This may or may not be the intent of the proponents of such reforms but it is clearly the outcomes that flow from such reforms and it can only increase disparity. It is the disparity in opportunities to live the American dream that keeps us separate and apart and that keeps racism alive.

Preserving public schools that bring all components of society together is critical to the future of our democratic way of life but racism will not yield to our will, easily. We must challenge our conventional wisdom at every opportunity, every step along the way. We must also rid ourselves of our obsession with the idea that poverty is the problem. Every time we blame poverty there is a part of our mind that shuts down and we tell ourselves that there is nothing we can do about poverty.

We have spent fifty years blaming poverty and declaring war on it and what has it gotten us? No one disputes that poverty creates tremendous disadvantages for men, women, and children but being poor does not keep human beings from pursuing a dream. What keeps people (parents and their children) from pursuing a dream is the hopelessness and powerlessness that so often accompanies poverty; it is when they have given up and no longer dream of a better life for themselves or for their children.

Individuals may not be able to do anything about poverty but we can attack hopelessness and powerlessness one child, one family, one teacher, one classroom, and one school at a time. To do so we must shake ourselves out of our lethargy and latch onto that which is in our power to do.

One last word about segregated schools. Many of our nation’s most challenged public schools are segregated on the basis of race and each year they perform poorly on state competency exams. We tend to look at these schools and brand both the schools and their teachers as subpar, as failures. This is a gross misjudgement. Many of the teachers at these unfortunate schools are remarkable men and women who are committed to doing the absolute best for the students in their classrooms.

Unlike many of their former colleagues, who ran out of these schools screaming and hollering, these public school teachers return every fall and arrive for work every day to make a difference in the lives of as many of their students as possible, even if it only a handful. These men and women deserve our thanks and appreciation as they are true American heroes. Even more than our thanks and appreciation, these teachers need our help. They need us to stop blaming them for the problems in their classrooms, in their schools, and in the neighborhoods they serve. They need us to support them in what they do rather attacking them and stripping away the limited resources with which they strive to do their important work.

A Taste of Bigotry

The following story shared from a Facebook post by Jeff Pearlman, a friend and well-known sports writer and best-selling author, relates an experience that includes my son-in-law (Brant) and my grandson (Ben), in which two white men got just a taste of the bigotry that black men and women, gays and other minorities face every day of their lives. For me, the most poignant aspect is that incidents of bigotry and prejudice such as this will be a regular occurrence throughout the life of my sweet two-year old grandson; a child whose heart is as pure as his laughter is engaging.

Two men, a black baby, a small town

Me and my pal, Ben.

So we spent the past few days at a chicken farm (long story) in Walton, N.Y., a tiny town far upstate in Delaware County. It was me, the wife, the kids and two couples who we’ve met up with for the past nine or 10 summers. It’s always fun, always funky, always a unique adventure.

Anyhow, one of the couples (Jeanne and Brant) have two children—one of whom is African-American. He’s an adorable 2-year-old boy named Benjamin Avery, and he’s funny and snugly and owns one of the all-time great laughs; a loud “Heh! Heh!” that brings a person to his knees.

Now, Walton is a crazy, crazy, crazy conservative town; one of those places that goes Republican in every election. It’s very white and very rural and v-e-r-y pro-gun. There aren’t many items one can purchase in Walton. But a firearm? No sweat.

So, on one of the days we needed some supplies at the house, and Brant, Benjamin and I took the 12-mile drive from the chicken farm to downtown Walton. The word “downtown” is a helluva stretch—there’s a CVS, a Subway, a crappy supermarket, a tiny ice cream stand, a bank. That’s sorta kinda it. Oh, and two or three restaurants that should probably be avoided.

The first place we stopped was the supermarket, where we needed to purchase some towels and diapers. We got out of the car. And it was—again—me, Brant and Benjamin. Two white males and a black baby. Shopping for diapers. In a supermarket. In Walton. And it hit me. I mean, it just HIT me: I’ll never look more gay.

I don’t mean “gay” as an insult. I mean gay as in gay. Homosexual. It’s me, my husband Brant and our adopted baby, and we’re shopping for diapers. And, as we walked through the aisles, I felt eyes upon us. Even if they weren’t upon us. Even if nobody noticed or cared—I felt it. I sorta kept my head and eyes down and went about our business. Same thing at our next stop—CVS. Was the clerk being rude because she thought we were gay? Because Benjamin is black? Or for no reason at all? Perhaps that’s just who she is. Quiet. Surly. Who knows?

Before returning home, we made one more trip—to Gifford’s Sport Supply, the gun shop (we needed fishing poles). I opened the car door, walked toward the entrance, noticed some sort of anti-Obama sticker on the window. For a second, Brant thought that, perhaps, he should stay outside. But we both went in. And … and … and … nothing. The clerk was helpful, friendly. No problems. I left, and took a deep breath.

But the whole experience got me thinking: It’s a valuable thing, feeling gay. Or black. Or Hispanic. Or whatever you aren’t. The awkwardness is healthy and eye-opening; the feelings of worry palpable. I think of all the racism remaining in this country; all the homophobia; all the xenophobia.

Some of it comes from pure hatred.

But just as much is a product of ignorance.

Of simply not knowing how it feels.”

A Tipping Point with Ominous Implications is Fast Approaching!

Note to the reader: This article is an updated version of one that was posted shortly after my blog “Education, Hope, and the American Dream” was created and at a time when the blog’s readership was minimal.
Because I believe it is even more timely now than it was then, it is being re-posted with modifications.

As you read these words, it is vital that you realize that the United States of America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, is fast approaching a tipping point that will irrevocably alter the reality in which we live.

As a result of decisions we have made as a nation, since the end of World War II, a society of second class citizens has emerged. These Americans are not full participants in the American dream. Many of these men and women have effectively become disenfranchised and why should we be surprised by this.

These are Americans who have not been well-served by our systems of public education; have little or no access to quality healthcare for their families, Obamacare notwithstanding; and, if they are employed at all, they have low paying jobs with no eligibility for healthcare benefits and no opportunities for advancement. These are Americans who have given up on the American Dream for themselves and their families. They have succumbed to a self-perpetuating cycle of powerlessness and hopelessness.

Although the demographics of this group spans the full spectrum of the American population, African-American, Hispanic-American and other minorities are over-represented. For blacks and other minorities, the sense of disenfranchisement is compounded by their lack of faith that the American justice system will treat them justly.

Mainstream Americans resent the dependency of this segment of our population every bit as much as these men, women, and children resent their lack of access to the American Dream. For a huge portion of this population the American Dream is nothing more than a failed promise.

The bitterness and resentment on both sides of the invisible barriers that separate us as a people are enhanced by the racism and discrimination that permeate our society. How ironic is it that the election of our nation’s first African-American president has proven that racism in America is alive and well.

That there is an equally large and fast-growing population of retirees who are checking out of the game at an age from which they are likely to live another quarter of a century, adds greatly to this burden. It does not matter that these retiring men and women have worked hard for their entire lives to earn their Social Security, Medicare and pensions. These facts do not change the economic dynamics that make this population a burden to the Americans in the middle who must work harder to pay the bills.

Fortunately, many of these men and women have invested well and their money is working for us even if they are not. We are only beginning to understand, however, how this aging population will begin to overwhelm an already inadequate healthcare system over the next two decades.

Add the weight of the disenfranchised and the burden is fast approaching a tipping point after which our national misfortune will accelerate and we will all begin to feel both hopeless and powerless.

The Republican Party, driven by the strong conservative dogma of the tea party movement, is choosing to ignore the needs of Mitt Romney’s imfamous “47 percent” and focus only on the needs of the middle class and, even more so, the corporate elite. These political leaders believe they can turn back the clock to a time when the white man ruled the roost and when values seemed clearer.

The Democratic Party continues to pursue its traditional liberal agenda that has become equally ineffectual.

In the meantime, China, Europe, Japan, India, and other developing nations are challenging our supremacy in the international marketplace; Al Qaeda and ISIS are seeking to spread terror to weaken “the evil empire;” and, Mother Nature is meting out the consequences of global warning.

We cannot continue to trudge down the dry and dusty paths of 20th Century political dogma, conventional wisdom, or business as usual. Somehow we must pull the disenfranchised back into the game as full and equal citizens, as believers in the American dream, and as partners in rising to the challenges of this new century. We need to do this not out of altruism, however compelling the argument, rather because we desperately need the committed participation of every single able-bodied American.

We must demand that our elected representatives cease their paralyzing bickering and begin working together in what is a conflict of historical proportions in which the very survival of our nation and way of life are at an unprecedented level risk.

We desperately need new leadership with fresh ideas to respond to these extraordinary challenges of this young Twenty-First Century and we do not have so much as a single nanosecond to spare.

I invite you to follow this blog, “Education, Hope, and the American Dream,” in which I offer innovative solutions to the problems we face as a society.

I also invite you to read my four books.

1. The Difference Is You: Power Through Positive Leadership, in which I offer the reader powerful principles that enable individual men and women to change the world around them;

2. Radical Surgery: Reconstructing the American Health Care System, that offers a way to provide universal healthcare and prescription drugs to the American people without socialized medicine;

3. Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, in which I offer a blueprint for reinventing the educational process to one that focuses on teachers and students working toward success, absent the risk of failure; and

4. Light and Transient Causes, a novel that tells a story of what could happen if we lose faith in the principles of democracy and with one another.

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

This is the 3rd segment of our series of articles on education, racism and the performance gap.

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 three 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, golden brown skin, and a smile that lights up the world. The second is a little boy whose skin is a beautiful, rich brown with eyes to match, who has his sister’s smile, and who came out of his birth mother’s womb with a natural Afro. Our youngest grandchild is the biological child of my youngest daughter and her husband. She is the palest of whites, bordering on pink, and her hair is as red as her father’s beard. She is also beautiful with a smile that is second to none.

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. From the events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere we have become painfully aware of the dangers our sweet and beautiful little boy 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.

We shuddered after reading such powerful articles as “I Never Knew How White I Was Until I Had a Black Child,” which you can find on Rosebelle’s Blog; and more recently, “7 Ways Racism Affects the Lives of Black Children” by Terrell Jermaine Starr on the website Alternet.

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 can produce such hatred and mistrust.

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 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.

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 kids to gather and play, safe from the reaches of the gangs whose territories sandwiched our little oasis. All were African-American. While I was responsible for the 30 to 40 different boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 16 who chose to play in our churchyard and game room, I played with them far more than I supervised.

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. 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.

What I learned 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 love and affection with love and affection; and, suffer egregiously when abused by their parents or when bullied.

They all have the ability to learn; they all are 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. That we give up on them only adds to the tragedy.

They all deserve our respect not only as individual human beings but also as members of their unique cultural traditions all of which add beauty to the world. The only difference, once they arrive at school, is their level of preparation and motivation.

They all deserve the absolute best we have to offer and the very fact that so many of them fail provides irrefutable evidence that they are not getting our best and that what we are doing does not work for everyone.

Whether we are teachers, principals, policy-makers, or deans and professors of schools of education we 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. Such incidence of failure is nothing more than an outcome of a flawed system of human design. The performance gap between white children and their black and other minority classmates is an outcome our traditional educational process is structured to produce.

This flawed system is not the fault of teachers and other professional educators. Rather, the culpability of educators is the result of the fact that they are the people in the best position to identify and remediate 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 succumbed to the belief that they are powerless.

Teachers must be challenged to accept that powerlessness and hopelessness are functions of choice. They are equally free to choose to be both hopeful and powerful.

The over-riding truth, as we move deeper into this exponentially complex 21st Century, is that we need each and every one of these kids 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 us, black, white or any of the colors of the rainbow. We will no longer live in a world where being an American is something of which we can be proud. Neither will it be a world where our children and grandchildren can feel safe and hopeful in rearing their own children.

The final segment of this series will be devoted to showing professional educators one way in which we can irrevocably alter the reality of public education in America.