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Friday, January 28, 2011

Failing schools, an assist from the African American Community

In Jacksonville four predominantly African American schools, Ribault, Raines, and Jackson high schools and NorthShore middle stand on the edge of disaster. Year after year they haven’t shown enough growth and are now in danger of being closed or taken over and neither option should be acceptable to the citizens of Jacksonville. The reasons we find ourselves at this point are many as are the culprits, those parties who must share responsibility and at the forefront of them I believe is the African American community itself.

Every time somebody like Betty Burney, Tony Hill, or Corine Brown, and organizations like the NAACP questioned why so many African American children failed, or were suspended and implied the reason was based on race (not behavior or performance) and called for more African American teachers and administrators to be put in predominantly African American schools (as “role models”) it was like they were shoveling dirt on the children that went to the above schools and to a lesser degree the entire Duval County Public School system.

Why are those three high schools struggling so? Well sadly it’s partly because so many of the students that those schools serve were passed along without the skills they need to be successful and once the kids got to them, there was nowhere else for them to go to, well no where but the street that is.

About 8-10 years ago Duval County with a wink and a nod told its teachers not to fail kids anymore and a big reason for that was they were getting blow back from the African American community because some felt that too many of their kids were being unfairly held back. They must have thought, bussing hadn’t worked, and magnet schools hadn’t worked what else could it be but race and that the district was conspiring to keep black kids in substandard environments. They then began to point out but then later complain that a seemingly disproportionate amount of black kids were being failed.

Now to appease the black community the district didn’t come out and directly say to teachers, you can’t fail kids. No instead they said things like if you fail to many kids then your evaluations, potential bonuses and even your jobs could be in jeopardy, because if you fail to many students you must not be very good teacher. Then at the same time they started to implement so many hoops that had to be in place to fail a child that many teachers just passed them along. It’s not just African American kids either; we now pass just about anybody, regardless of effort.

Furthermore who doesn’t remember all the reports about how if a kid fails before the sixth grade he or she is more likely to drop out, well you know what happens to a kid who should have failed the sixth grade and didn’t, well he or she ends up in high school hopelessly behind and the city ends up in a place where it might lose four of it’s schools.

The same situation applies to discipline as teachers were given the same veiled threats about evaluations, performance pay and their jobs. Because of this, now wandering the halls of our schools are more than a few kids who think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. These kids have never received a true consequence for their behavior and because of this they routinely prevent teachers from teaching and steal education time from the kids that want to be there.

I am not saying we don’t have thugs of all races in many of our schools, sadly we do. I am saying when one race or one group just looks at the numbers not the individual situation it belittles and tears down the whole education process. Kids should pass or fail or be punished based on their individual merits not to satisfy some groups opinion of how many is to many.

Joe and Judy public might not like to hear it but when we started looking at kids as demographics rather than children is when we started setting education back. We shouldn’t care if a kids is white, black, red, blue or green, if they act up they should get consequences for their behavior, if they don’t do the work or don’t do it well enough they should fail. Now a decade later we barely fail or discipline anybody.

Then when it comes to teachers and administrators, what should we be worried about, race, or about getting our most capable leaders and teachers in our schools regardless of which side of town the schools are in? We might live in pockets according to race but isn’t that one of the biggest problems both our city and society is facing. I don’t get how further limiting groups exposures to one another is going to help the problem; on the contrary it seems like it would exacerbate it. This year at my school an African American administrator told a group of teachers it was a cultural thing when explaining away an outrageous and suggestive dance number that a group of African American students did at a pep rally and another African American administrator told a white teacher she was the wrong color to calm a black student down. Regardless of race I hope you are outraged by these two stories. Imagine managing the floor of a manufacturing plant but not being able to direct workers who were of a different race or being forced to allow a group to behave in an inappropriate fashion?

We should be making every effort to come together instead of deciding it’s okay to further split farther apart and I remind you it should be, right is right, respect is respect and wrong is wrong regardless of race. Isn’t that the type of school you want to send your children to? To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr. arguably the greatest American of the last century, do you want your kid treated a certain way because of the color of their skin or because the content of their character? Well if you answered the way he would have then that should include areas such as behavior and academic performance too.

Ability not race should determine who works at a school and unless people are going to start walling themselves off into certain parts of the city where the only people they ever interact with are people of their own race, then young people regardless of color are going to have to learn to operate in civilized society with all the colors. Children should follow my directions because I am a teacher not because I am a teacher of the same color and administrators regardless of color should insist that they do so, not give them an out or excuse for their bad behavior. Furthermore you know who I want teaching my children and leading my schools? The best person available, that’s who! I don’t want somebody there because their race is the same as mine and I question the motives of anybody that would.

A parent may ask, why is my kid failing, and I guarantee the answer will never be, because your child is black, nor will that be the answer for, why is my child suspended, either. It will always be because they didn’t pass or they were misbehaving and we should be okay with that and if we would have been okay with that for the last decade then now we might not find ourselves in danger of losing some of our schools.

There are many culprits to the dilemma we find ourselves in and I use the word culprit deliberately because so many children have had their futures stolen and the city has had its potential eroded too. The school board and the administration for knuckling under to the squeaky wheel; parents regardless of race and teachers for allowing their children’s schools to be transformed into unruly places where learning and passing are two vastly different things. Then there are the members of the white community who thought to themselves, they are black schools and it doesn’t matter, after all the dads are in jail, the mothers are on crack and the kids can’t learn, even though nothing could be farther from the truth and because when one child is left behind all our children and our society suffer. These people should also be careful about what they ignore or take for granted because while the city was slumbering, Lee, Forrest and Ed White became predominantly African American schools as well. Then right there with all of them, with all of us, are the leaders of the black community who demanded something be done when in their opinion to many kids failed or were suspended and they made race not ability the factor they believed most important for working with children of color. When these leaders ask, who is responsible and why we find ourselves where we are at, all they have to do is look in a mirror.

Education should not be about race and politics and that's all it has
become and because of that the two most impotant lessons a kid can
learn, that working hard is important and there will be consequences
for behavior are no longer being taught.


  1. I've spent almost 10 years in the public schools as a substitute teacher, and I can objectively say that schools don't fail black children as much as their parents do.

  2. I hear what you are saying but i think we have to start judging, parents, kids and teachers based on what they do not the color of their skin... and in education we have to discipline and make sure they have the skills they need even if that takes longer...

  3. Mucho grande cojones Senor.


  4. I agree and disagree with at the same time. I teach about 3 miles away from you at the middle school level so I know the demographic that youre describing. There is a palpable sense of descrimination and unequal access present in Jacksonville, practicularly on the westside of town which has changed from the worst as far as economics are concerned. Black kids need more, but they need to earn their way through system based upon effort, disclipline and self-confidence. I am a broken hearted sixth year teacher. Every day, I see young black men falling further and further behind academically and socially. I have positioned myself to move on to the JC level by earning my masters, in the hopes of securing better working conditions, pay and the hope that I can rekindle the love of teaching/learning that lead me into the classroom.

    From the prespective of a black male born and raised in Jacksonville (Ed White '97), these so called local black leaders really need to sit down and shut up. The lot of them and $1 will afford you a movie rental out of the local redbox.

    Thanks Chris. Following your blog from 32210.

  5. write your story, I want to hear why you are broken hearted and others may too..

    I have no doubt racism is alive and well, but for six hours a day at least, we have to show the kids how the world "should work". Hard work is rewarded, bad behavior is punished and what you do, not your family, race or neighborhood define you...