December 9 — 2:25 pm, 2011

Shhh … they can hear you!

Recently, I witnessed a group of young African-American male onlookers discuss a crime scene in Kensington with a White police officer. I overheard some of the discussion. They were freely discussing the quality and accessibility of the officers’ weapons, as several elementary-age children walked by.

I thought of the students I teach and wondered, how would I react if my students witnessed this interaction, and they began to accept it as a societal norm?

Without making too many judgments, what has caused a shift in our priorities that weapons are a topic for casual conversation, and how can we turn the tide?

Despite the countless research reports released by the Council for Great City Schools, the Schott Foundation, EducationTrust, and others, many educators and school administrators are baffled by what people call the "Black male" problem.

Big city mayors and superintendents such as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Baltimore Schools CEO Andres Alonso have announced major initiatives aimed at addressing this problem. In Philly, the School Reform Commission convened the African American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce.

I plan to look at the efforts in New York City and other cities in-depth in future posts, but first I want to have a different conversation.

I challenge all leaders, in and outside the classroom to think — at what point does our target population begin to internalize this perceived helplessness? We spout out achievement gap facts that focus on graduation, literacy, and proficiency rates, but here is a newsflash — they can hear you!

Lack of job opportunity, dilapidated and dysfunctional schools, mounting incarceration rates, drug-infested streets, education nation tirades, insufficient parental support, and increased awareness of an achievement gap are all topics of regular discussion. But guess what? They can hear you! 

But let’s look at this from the eyes of a student. If you perceive I have a “problem” and my trusted sources confirm this suspicion, then I must deem it as truth and accept my inability to change it, although the exact “problem” is never truly identified in the first place.

Perhaps it is time we change our perception.

Simple, right? Of course not. As I teach my students, occasionally some get frustrated and simply say, "I don’t care." My response: "That is exactly what they are betting on…you giving up." To those onlookers – how are you contributing to our own demise? Let’s have a real conversation.

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