the dropout

i'm not a michael baisden fan, but i happened to tune in yesterday evening and he was talking about the astronomical drop out rate of black students.

in baltimore, there's a general feeling that one of the best things about reaching the age of 16 is that the truant officers can't make you go to school anymore.

so what's happening here?

many folks who can remember segregation and the civil rights era are quick to frame this as "laziness" or "ingratitude", but i reject that analysis.

for generations, high school was enough. you could graduate, get a good factory or government job, and go from there. the bottom fell out with the exodus of industry, but many folks' mentalities stayed the same.*

and there are other factors. the first crack babies are reaching their 20s**. for some, teen pregnancy is in its 2nd or 3rd generation--meaning mothers in their teens, grandmothers in their 30s and great grandmothers in their 40s-50s. granny and big mama's wisdom has succumbed to stroke, breast cancer, diabetes and stress. many of us do not have the access to our histories--familial and cultural--that our elders did.

other cultural institutions have eroded, too. the activist preachers of 30 plus years ago have given way to today's megachurch pimpin' preachers. not that we didn't have them in the pulpit long before now, but pushing for the revolution--in spirit and/or deed--is the exception, not the rule.

black children today are immersed in a culture of apathy, disconnected from themselves, their families (due to stressful work schedules, financial hardship...) and their spirits.

they see the real world early and up close. abstract notions of what will be "good for them later" do not make sense; they know tomorrow isn't promised.

they know education is not a guaranteed way out because they see their mothers and fathers struggling to hold on to the jobs their college degrees guaranteed them 20 years ago. they may not know the name horatio alger, but they know his stories are lies.

they know college is a far off dream, even for some of the best and brightest of them. for those that do get that far, retention is an issue.

to keep these kids in school, a few things will probably have to happen:

  • real world relevance. it might be time to do away with textbooks as much as humanly possible. use real world situations. discover teachable moments in their neighborhoods, with people who look like them--and get them out of those neighborhoods, too. highlight various careers and map clear, concrete strategies on how to achieve those goals--from artistic endeavors to engineering and computer science.

  • emphasize financial literacy/economics. urban kids are well aware of how money works and how the lack of it affects them. there is plenty of business acumen in the 'hood. tap into it. every elementary school should have that project where they get interest-bearing checking accounts and balance their checkbooks. teach them about credit cards so they're not bamboozled when they get to college and see all those fancy giveaway tables. use articles like this and this to explode myths about money in the entertainment/sporting industries.

  • community schools. if you're saying, "this is the parents' job...", consider this: the u.s. runs on a system whereby only the most privileged of parents can take time out from their job(s) to fully raise their children in the ways that would mold them into the productive citizens everyone claims to want***, and they hire nannies and boarding schools to do it for them. so, we can either (a) have all childbearing stop immediately except in, say, the top earning 10-15% of households, (b) give parents liberal family leave and adequate vacation/sick time, or (c) put it in the schools. readily available social workers, psychologists/psychiatrists, community leaders, and (multi)culturally competent teachers are essential. thankfully, these schools are popping up everywhere--and they include help and resources for parents.
not that i know shit. but, as a 31 year old raised by parents nearly 30 years older, i understand the sacrifices they and others made while also sympathizing with the struggles of my peers and those who are teenagers now.

we were not lazy or ungrateful, and neither are these kids. they probably just don't see how school makes sense. in the midst of a crumbling economy, skyrocketing debt, and mind-numbing, cube farm jobs that are killing their parents, i can't say i blame them.

the old school lines don't hold weight. it's time for a new paradigm.

*although you can argue the differences between the values of bourgeois black folks and their unsophisticated country (or urban hoodlum) cousins.

**admittedly, there are some nature/nurture issues here, but talk to any black teacher in an urban school and they'll tell you the signs. in addition, lead poisoning and other environmental racism issues that disproportionately affect blk folks and other poor people of color can also lead to educational difficulties.

***while ignoring this and this plus all the labor it takes to run both. that's not coming outta harvard. it's coming out of the streets.


Anonymous said...

I personally feel that Western Society's idea of the teenager is very harming to Black people. I believe highschool should be done by 10th grade. Then it should be on to college, trade school, or a job. Highsshool is simply a daycare.

I honestly had to learn math in College, remedial courses. In highschool I could not grasp it. It was a waste staying until 18 years of age. I am gonna write a blog about this.

ms. bliss honeycomb said...

interesting perspective...

i was kind of the opposite--because of the enrichment i got in my K-12 years, college was basically boring. i feel like it stunted my growth rather than helped it.

i don't have a problem educating until age 18, but i do think you're right in that it should *change* in a way that helps adolescents grow, not just turn out "big babies".

Anonymous said...

I was not in a high school mentality at all, sooo much stress. Many high school teachers also sucked at teaching. I was not learning much. I was excellent in all other subjects and was on the honor society. But that came from my elementary school education. But in college I was able to understand math. Black male children today are not in a high school mentality either. They are not boys in the streets or at home. They will not be boys in school. Little boy’s spirits are broken by the 4th grade from many young female white teachers. They are they placed in special education. 18 years is too much in my opinion, in 2009.

My friend works at an elementary school. One white kid stabbed another with scissors. No expulsion or remedial placement.

Anonymous said...

My post was cut off.

In that same school a Black girl stabbed a white boy in the arm. She was removed from school.

ms. bliss honeycomb said...

wow...that's crazy re: the two different kids. seems there's always the assumption that a black child is unworthy of being helped/saved, but they'll overlook or assist white ones who act up...

i also agree re: black boys. there's too much pressure to make money--to feed their own child, younger siblings, or help out a single parent. that's why i mentioned that parents need to be fully supported so the kids are free to be interested/engaged in schooling. either that, or start making "school" about real life.

my mom has been in the education system for over 30 years. she's a principal now and always talking about being tired of seeing "messed up" children--not to mention people in positions like hers being more worried about their careers than the kids. so that's another level.

as with many other things, there's going to have to be a generational shift as some of these folks in their 50s-60s finally retire and "newer blood" comes in.

i'd hope that the schools turning out the next generation of teachers are actually addressing these issues, but i know that's a lot to ask considering it's all part of the same shitstem.