April 16, 2014

Hate Bill Gates’ Plans for Education? Got a Better Idea?

About a week ago our illustrious founder, Kristina Daniele, posted an article by Huffington Post reporter Gary Stager entitled, “Who Elected Bill Gates?” Normally I would just read an article such as and go on about my day. But something about this piece got me a bit intrigued, especially with all the recent discussions about failing education in our country, so I decided to share my views here at We of Hue.

From the start Mr. Stager starts off on the wrong foot by categorizing Bill Gates as solely a “philanthropist” with nothing better to do with his time and money. That and he also believes Mr. Gates’ plans are “demonic” as he is also likened to Charlie Sheen as they both need an “intervention.” Let’s be frank, calling Bill Gates “just” a philanthropist is like calling Michael Jordan “just” a basketball player. Yes, if you want to nit-pick, in every sense of the word Bill Gates has been VERY philanthropic with his billions of dollars over the years. But have we forgotten that he is not one who inherited his money? If my memory serves me correctly (insert a large dose of sarcasm here), isn’t he  the man who kinda-sorta, maybe, a little bit, in a round-about sort of way revolutionized the ENTIRE WORLDWIDE COMPUTER AND SOFTWARE INDUSTRY WITH A LITTLE COMPANY CALLED MICROSOFT!!?  If there’s a person who we should listen to and who is probably capable of offering up a plan on how to best ensure our children eventually compete on a global scale it’s “philanthropist” Bill Gates. There aren’t many people in this world who have a good idea what type of workforce and leaders we will need in the coming years to keep our country competitive, while at the same time who have the $$$ to make those ideas come to life; one of those men is you guessed it, Bill Gates.

Love him or hate him (and truth be told, I’m a Mac guy), but the man puts his VERY large bank account where his mouth is in reference to education and many other causes such as AIDS research, agricultural development, and global health. From millions of dollars in scholarship money; to the KIPP Prep Academies in which he is a major contributor; to numerous speeches and presentations on the subject; to financing the movie “Waiting for Superman”, Mr. Gates seems to get it. We all know what needs to be done, but when you have billions to spend you can actually get it done. One thing money allows you to do is to cut through all the bureaucratic nonsense, do it yourself, and put forth an initiative YOU believe in regardless of what the status quo has to say about it. No need to go through mounds of paperwork and countless telephone calls to get something done. As a teacher, you have a good idea on how to teach a group of student’s physics? Go for it! You have a plan to get your students more involved in literature? Do it! It’s as if we have sucked the creativity from our teachers and refuse to let them do what they do best…TEACH! Mr. Gates fully understands it’s about getting back to educating and developing critical thinking skills and not just focusing on standardized test taking, which is what education has become in recent years. And don’t get me started on decaying schools, high dropout rates, the U.S. lagging behind many third world countries in math, science, and even English! Please, I’d jump on the chance to have my child in KIPP Prep! And don’t think I didn’t try! Just way too far away and., wait for it….there is a HUGE waiting list!

But what perplexes me to no end is why so many folks are afraid of change (I know, I know, probably because it’s change stupid, Duh!)? But seriously, I continue to hear the arguments on how privatization of education is so wrong. Is it really? I doubt that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and members of the Walton Family (Wal-Mart) sit around a big table wringing their hands (insert evil laugh here) as they try to figure out the best way to dupe the public, while they take over the countries educational system and make money doing it.  I mean are there still some of you out there who believe that the “public” in public education still means anything?

Our public schools have been in the hands of “private” industry for years. If it’s not the multi-billion companies such as McGraw-Hill and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt who determine what our children learn (or don’t learn) by selling text books by the bulk, it’s the way they “help” shape lessons plans as well as standardized testing at the state level in order to ensure it’s their company’s books that are used and not the competition. And less we forget companies such as Sysco who provide much of the most non nutritious, yet cheap food to our cafeterias. Our schools haven’t been “public”, or for that matter locally run for DECADES!  Think about it, when was the last time planning, funding, testing, or a major policy was decided SOLELY at the local level?

I’ll wait………(cue Jeopardy theme music)………………… EXACTLY! It doesn’t happen anymore!

Teachers and school districts across the nation are forced on a daily basis to be “reactive” instead of “proactive” due to the various cuts to their budgets. Instead of pushing the envelope and pushing their students to succeed they are busy trying to keep the ship from sinking. You CAN’T teach or educate in that type of environment! In my humble opinion, this is also one of the reasons that not only has the discussion for privatization risen in recent years, but so has the clamor for “non-traditional” methods of education. Charter schools, Montessori education, and yes, even homeschooling have all had a boon recently due to the fact that government officials and so-called education professionals have been trying to “fix” this system FOREVER and parents can’t afford to wait any longer. This is also why prep schools have been around for so long. People with “means” don’t worry about the public education debate because they send their children to prep schools; yep, just like the fictional Bel Air Academy on Fresh Prince. But all joking aside, one of the statements that troubled me from Mr. Stager is how he accused Mr. Gates of not sending his own children to the KIPP Academy’s because obviously they aren’t “good enough”.  Really? The man sets up some of the most technologically advanced and forward thinking schools in the nation (which by the way rival even some of the best prep schools in the country) and you want to kick a gift horse in the mouth!?!? These academies are the closest thing to a prep school that most regular everyday folks without “means” will see. I’m not going to get into unions, teacher tenure, etc… BUT by spending his billions to open his own schools, Mr. Gates can EASILY bypass much of the red tape drama that far too many school districts are drowning in. His money, his ideas, his way!

And just to take this discussion one step further, I’d like you to think about something for a moment. You know what doesn’t get talked about too much? It’s that the “establishment” is counting on a little thing called time. They have plenty of it, and we as parents do not. Our children continue to get older in a lackluster system because they know all too well that one day our children will be old enough and OUT of “public” education (K-12). Usually by the time many of our children have (hopefully) moved onto college we have lost the want, need, or desire to concern ourselves with how K-12 public education continues to decline. It’s as if, “Whew…I’m done, let the next group of parents deal with this nonsense!” Many of us are too tired, busy, stressed, and pulled every which way on Monday-Friday to focus on fighting the good fight, AND THEY ARE COUNTING ON THAT!

We all want what is best for our children, but let’s face it do any of us really have the means or the where-with-all to fight a system which has been playing this game since at least the 1950’s? NOPE! The status quo is counting on us not getting involved. One of the ways they achieve this is making it damn near impossible for us to find, or even enroll, our children in some of the best public schools in our own communities. And trust me I know of what it is I speak as I’m currently fighting the good fight with our local school district to get what I believe is best for my family. But In the end, they are counting on our eventual and continued APATHY to it all. If they put up enough stumbling blocks, sooner or later we will go away and they will continue to chug along.

Like Bill Gates? Hate Bill gates? Agree with him, don’t agree with him? But the facts are pretty clear if not for him, and others like him who are tired of the way our children are being educated we would not be having a serious discussion today on the future of education in America. Movies such as Waiting for Superman, The Lottery, etc… and program’s such as The Harlem Children’s Zone all have brought to light what many have been trying real hard to keep in the dark. I, for one, applaud the efforts of folks like Bill Gates and Gary Stager who are doing what they believe to be right on behalf of our children.

I think we all can agree that we want the best education for our children and that (for many) the education they are receiving is sub-standard at best. I also think we all can agree that some major changes need to be made, that none of the problems are going away anytime soon, and an open, honest dialogue where all views are respected is paramount. So if I were Mr. Stager, instead of insulting the man (I’m still trying to figure out the Charlie Sheen analogy) I’d get in line to see if I too could get a bit of the Gates Foundation money and find away to work together (yep, didn’t I mention that Mr. Stager has his own education based organization called The Constructivist Consortium!?). Because just like this problem, the money and clout of Bill Gates isn’t going away anytime soon either.

Just my two cents, what say you?

James Higgins

James Higgins

Nothing special about me at all, I'm a happily married, college educated (Go Bison!), stay-at-home father of two wonderful children. Just trying to keep myself, my wife, my children, and my cats sane as we navigate through this journey called family life.

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Waiting on the world to change

This post was originally published on Then Came Isaiah in February 2010.  In light of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s recent remarks and similar questionable celebrity behavior I found myself reminiscent of this emotion.

When I was in the fourth grade my mom took me out of the school I was going to in my neighborhood and put me in a school about forty-five minutes across town. She said I came home one day bragging about the 100% I had gotten on a test and when she looked it over, she realized it was full of errors. After examining my school for a few weeks thereafter, she realized it was not a mistake… the teachers weren’t grading my papers properly. So, she put me in one of the top private schools in a wealthy neighborhood where I was one of three brown faces in the whole school (the other two were twins).

I was nervous because up until that point I had gone to predominately black schools but my mom put me at ease assuring me that I always made friends quickly and everyone liked me. She even reminded me that my best friend from summer camp, Sarah, was white… and we weren’t all that different. Sarah even got me a black Ken doll for my birthday – which in the eighties, was impossible to find. So, with my stylish new hairdo and cute new uniform I started my new school.

And she was right…

… at first.

I made fast friends with two girls in the class, Lisa and Clara. I remember my first slumber party at Clara’s house. We danced to Material Girls by Madonna and painted each other’s nails. I loveddd Madonna but in my neighborhood, it was all about hip hop and my brother’s wouldn’t have me blasting a Madonna record. But hey – I taught them the running man, all about my curls and cornrows and my adoration of LL Cool J and it was great. I stayed me – but became a better me, because I didn’t have to just be one side of me – I could listen to my Madonna and my Salt N Pepper.

Anyway, Lisa’s mom used to pick a number of us kids up from school in the afternoon. She would take most of the kids home but because I didn’t live in the area, she would take me back to her house and my mom would come get me after work. It was a great set up because Lisa and I were great friends. One afternoon, I was running to get in her mom’s van and I squeezed into the last seat in the front row. I must have pushed passed another one of my classmates, Gaby, on her way to the van because when she got in the car she was maadddd. She wanted the seat and I took it.

Not one to be intimidated I said, “What’s your problem?”

“You’re in my seat.” She snorted.

“It doesn’t have your name on it.” I responded.

She stared at me for a minute. Keep in my mind – back then, “not having your name on it” was a pretty awesome comeback.

I could see her struggling to say something.  If I close my eyes, I can still see her face as she struggled to say something.

And then she said…

“BLACK.”

She spat it – like it was a dirty word. Like I needed to be reminded that I was different, less than, a transplant into her world.  I was quiet. No one ever said that to me before. No one ever told me I was black and made me feel bad about it.

A few months later, I had a crush on a boy named Jon, who was also my classmate. I wrote him a note.

“Do you like me? Yes or No.”

He called me a Nigger.

I never cried so hard in my life.

I will always remember my kind music teacher who stood with me in the cubby closet until I stopped crying.

Funny thing was, I found out years later that Jon was biracial.

I bounced back but I was guarded. For awhile, I was scared to feel too accepted, sing my Madonna songs too loudly, for fear that everyone was just waiting… waiting for me to cross that invisible line and be reminded.

For the most part, I can look back on my days at that school fondly. I still keep in touch with many of my friends and afterwards, I continued to go to schools were I was in the vast minority and that was okay… I knew who I was… but I was guarded still – just a little.

 I am an adult now and I move in many circles. I love everything that defines me and being a women of color is just the icing on the cake for me. I feel like so many things define me that I will never fill anyone’s stereotype. I want my son to feel the same way. I am 6’1, my husband is 6’4… my son will be a tall, beautiful black man. For many – he will be scary, built for athletics… etc. I want him to always know that I love him completely – he can be whoever he wants and I will love him – he can be a clog dancing gay man and that’s okay – I just expect him to be who he is.

 Last week, I read about John Mayer’s statements in Playboy and it brought me back.. If you haven’t heard about it and don’t feel like reading it – aside from some insane things about his ex girlfriends, he said that the fact that he has a large black audience gives him an “hood pass” or a “nigger pass.” He also compared his penis to a white supremacist because he doesn’t date black women. Sadly, I have always loved John Mayer’s music. The first time I heard Your Body Is A Wonderland, I was in college and I heard him sing it acoustic on The Late Show. I thought… wowowow. I felt all tingly and I wanted to be in love. Apparently, I wasn’t actually relating to the music when I bought his album… I was handing him a Nigger Pass.

 I remembered that little girl again.

The one shocked in the carpool van.

Crying in the cubby closet.

I was just reminded that no matter how dynamic of a human being I am, no matter how complex and multi-faceted… for some people, my skin color will be all they see. Believe it or not, I forgot for a second – so caught it in my own class-ism… elitism… my belief that somewhere along the line, I crossed the line and no one cared anymore.

Hey – Barack Obama is President.

I thought everyone saw me.

It made me sad last week… because it hasn’t changed and although I can handle it, I am painfully aware that I will have to feel the reality all over again through my children’s eyes and I am pretty sure that will hurt worse.

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara is native of New York City and reluctant resident of the DC Metro Area. She is a writer in her heart but a lawyer by profession. She is a wife and also a mom to two boys. She is a self proclaimed and self loving oddball. She is determined to find both spirituality and happiness and like any true totalitarian matriarch, impose both on her family. She is wise enough to know that this may not happen simultaneously.

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Are educators failing our young black men?

For those of you that follow my personal blog, you know that on July 30, I welcomed my second son into the world. While I am honored, overjoyed, head-over-heels and feeling super charmed at being charged with the task of raising another young black male, I, ever the forward-thinking-worry-wart (so aptly named by my Mama), have also been somewhat filled with apprehension at the task.  Now, I have discussed my concerns before as they relate to pressures within our own community.  Recently, however, I came across a video on CNN revealing some startling new facts about black male performance in our national schools.

In the video, CNN correspondents revealed that the national graduate rate for black males is 47%.  Even more appalling, in my hometown of New York City, the graduation rate for black males is just 28%.  While I prepared to watch a video about biased standardized tests and socio-economic disadvantages, I was surprised when CNN Educational Correspondent and author, Steve Perry, pointed the finger directly at the prejudice of educators.  When asked specifically what he thought accounted for the discrepancy, Perry repeated “expectations, expectations, expectations.”  In sum, Perry noted that black males are more likely to be suspended as their behavior is often unfairly categorized as dangerous as opposed to mischievous –   due to educators reacting more adversely to black male behaviors than white children.  He noted that educators often expect our black boys to fail as opposed to expecting them to perform well.  Perry went on to discuss successful charter and private schools whose focus is more on the children as opposed to the educators.  As the Principal and Founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School, he used his own school as an example of children-focused environments where changing expectations produced better results.

While I am generally skeptical of statistics, this one and the conversation that followed was particularly intriguing to me.  First, while I like to consider myself a true libertarian, I realized as a professional, I have found myself feeling somewhat insulated by own socio-economic status.  Frankly, I just assume graduating high school, college and so forth will not be an issue for my children.  Therefore, it was easy for me to point to socio-economic disadvantages as the root cause of underperformance in our communities.  However, taking a closer look at this conversation and how it has applied to my own upbringing has cast a very bright light on just how true Perry’s commentary is.  I recalled a recent conversation I had with my older brother about an experience he had in high school with a teacher who made him sit in the front of the classroom because he “looked” like he would be trouble.   Knowing my brother and knowing how he was raised, I can confidently say his only offense was being a 6’5” black man.  My brother and I laughed about it but I can tell the incident still left a bitter taste in his mouth and although he graduated, I wondered if the incident contributed to his decision not to pursue higher education.  I know my mother had high expectations of all of her children but were they overshadowed by the low expectations of the school system?  How do we even begin to call educators out on such an innate and institutionalized bias?  Is it even realistic to think that you can change an individual’s expectations of an entire race or is a total overhaul of the education system the only solution? What are your thoughts MOH?

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara is native of New York City and reluctant resident of the DC Metro Area. She is a writer in her heart but a lawyer by profession. She is a wife and also a mom to two boys. She is a self proclaimed and self loving oddball. She is determined to find both spirituality and happiness and like any true totalitarian matriarch, impose both on her family. She is wise enough to know that this may not happen simultaneously.

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Seeing Color

Channeling my last Moms of Hue post, I think an appropriate place to start here is to admit I may have made a mistake.

When I was a child, my mother put me in this amazing daycare.  Since we will be discussing race, I will start by saying it was predominately Black.  It was in a middle class neighborhood in Queens and run by a bi-racial ex-hippie, the focus of the school was not only on educating the “gifted” child, but it was also on enforcing a sense of identity in its young population.  For instance, every morning, after our pledge of allegiance, we turned to the African American flag and chanted the following:

Red is for the blood of my people.

Green is for the land of my people.

Black is for the skin of my people.

Red, Black and Green.

I can not tell you how much this start did for my sense of identity as child.  Admittedly, it made me a little defensive and militant in my first all white school in the fifth grade, BUT acknowledging that the skin I was bathed in came with a unique set of strength, community and characteristics, made me incredibly proud.  I can confidently say, even in the face of the most egregious stereotypes and ignorant people, I never doubted my worth as a Black woman.

Then, somewhere between the start of my higher education and motherhood, the definition stopped being as important.  In fact, it began to irritate me.  I adopted a new outlook that being Black was a smaller part of me.  It came with a long list of definitions.  First, I was a daughter, sister, student, writer, etc., etc.  I resented the fact that I spent seven years educating myself only to be seen in my first professional experience as a Black lawyer.  Black first, lawyer second.  Relegated to “specific” organizations for mentorship and guidance.   As if I studied only the Black people law books and passed the Black people bar.   I felt like holding up a sign like Ossie Davis in Do The Right Thing and screaming, “I’m a man, I’M A MAN.”  Well, a woman….

As a mom, I unintentionally imposed this new sense of identity on my son.  Yes, he is my beautiful, golden brown, black child BUT he is also funny, intelligent, energetic and kind.  I did not want people to look at my husband and me, both over six feet tall, and see our son and think future athlete.  I wanted them to see his two educated parents and think: this child can be whoever he wants to be. 

When I was looking into a new daycare in preparation for our move last summer, I was looking for the best.  While the concept of diversity was not completely lost on me, it certainly did not measure as high on the list.  In fact, like my own racial identity, I placed it last on the list.  I wanted to find an environment that was clean, safe, valued education, was nurturing, family friendly and yes, somewhere down the line, I wanted it to be diverse.  Maybe this came from my own rearing.  After my wonderful daycare experience, my mother worked hard to find the best school for me.  In our neighborhood in Queens, that meant sending me a predominantly white area where I was only one of three.  So, with only a scintilla of reluctance, last fall, I placed my two year old son in a daycare where he was the only child of my new found least important definition.

Like I said, I may have made a mistake.  Shortly after my precocious, fun loving, intelligent child started the day care, we received a progress report from his school describing a child completely different from our own.  According to his teachers, our son was quiet, un-imaginative, and generally withdrawn from the other children.  Our son, who sings Bob Marley songs at restaurants, serenades house guests with his favorite toy microphone, counted to thirty at two, knows all of his colors, playfully encourages the younger children at the playground and challenges me with a “Why?” or negotiation at every request was none of the above at his new school.

Now, I am not going to point my finger and say we had a racist experience.  Racism is a strong word and I do not believe anyone intentionally treated my son differently because of his race.  In fact, I think our experience begs the answer to a much deeper question.  Is it possible that at two years old, he noticed the difference?  Is it possible he looked into a sea of faces and seeing none like his own he felt uncomfortable?  I consider the alternatives, he may be shy, he may feel intimidated by the other children because at home he is the center of our universe or….

Well, consider this.  When I was sixteen, I was a camp counselor at a YMCA Nursery Camp in New York.  The camp was the most diverse representation of races I have ever encountered.  Although it was predominantly Black, in each class there was at least one member of each race.  I remember coloring with two little children in the three year old room, one black and one white.  “Charlie”, the black child looked at my arms and then his and then back to mine and proudly announced, “Me and Ms. Tiara are both brown.”  I smiled at him, thinking his little observation was harmless and continued to color. 

“That’s right, Charlie.”  I encouraged. 

“Sam”, the little white child stopped coloring and looked at her own skin.  Her brows furrowed in worry and she looked at Charlie and I observing our skin and she started to cry.  I was her favorite teacher and she did not want us to be different.  I hugged her tight and convinced little blonde hair, blue eyed Sam that her fair skin was equally as beautiful (that was probably the first and last time someone had to do that). 

So there it is, children see color.  Why wouldn’t they?  It is the most apparent characteristic when we enter a room and the first on the list of descriptors when we leave it.  No matter how hard we try to highlight our other definitions.

So, how important is race in your child rearing?  When and how did you decide to discuss race with your child?  Do you think it’s possible for a toddler to notice the difference? 

Oh and I should note, I am looking for a new daycare.

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara is native of New York City and reluctant resident of the DC Metro Area. She is a writer in her heart but a lawyer by profession. She is a wife and also a mom to two boys. She is a self proclaimed and self loving oddball. She is determined to find both spirituality and happiness and like any true totalitarian matriarch, impose both on her family. She is wise enough to know that this may not happen simultaneously.

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Boy… Oh, Boy: Raising a Black Man

So, a couple of weeks ago, I found out that the little half-pint taking up residence in my body is… drum roll, please… another beautiful baby boy.  This will be my second child and second boy.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some moments envisioning what it would be like to actually shop in the pink section of the kid’s clothing store but as the only girl with two older brothers and countless male friends growing up… being a Mom to another boy just feels right.

Upon finding out I was having another boy, family, friends and strangers alike all had something to offer.  Mostly words of encouragement.  Mothers of teen girls tended to tell me that I should quit while I was ahead, because boys make much better teenagers.  One mother of an older son who had just gotten married warned me cautiously, “Have a girl, have her for life; have a boy, have him until he finds a wife.”

Deep, I know.  Still not quite sure what to do with that information.

While I am sure, one day, I may feel a tinge of loss when my son goes off to be someone’s husband or partner, “losing him to a wife” is really the least of my concerns.  What am I actually concerned about?

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Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara is native of New York City and reluctant resident of the DC Metro Area. She is a writer in her heart but a lawyer by profession. She is a wife and also a mom to two boys. She is a self proclaimed and self loving oddball. She is determined to find both spirituality and happiness and like any true totalitarian matriarch, impose both on her family. She is wise enough to know that this may not happen simultaneously.

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Our babies are dying

I choose the title of this post not to create drama or fanfare but to speak to reality. Did you know that African – Americans have the highest infant mortality rate in the Western world? You may be thinking it has to do with socio-economics but this statistic crosses all economic and educational lines. I could dedicate an entire blog post to infant mortality and theories behind it but that is not the purpose of this post.

This post is about our little brown boys that are dying in the city streets. I was perusing facebook this morning and saw this video posted. It think it speaks volumes to the issue at hand. And these young men say it far better and with more power than I ever could.

Lost Count: A Love Story

The young men in the video are from Chicago where teens killing teens is still a reality. According to an article on The Black Star Project, 39 teenage boys have been killed in Chicago this year and the CDC predicts 6000 young people will lose their life to violence. The Black Star Project is based in Chicago and places an emphasis on the importance of improving the quality of life in the Black and Latino communities in Chicago by eliminating the racial academic achievement gap. This organization is working to diminish the numbers of teens that turn to violence and crime because they have no other options. I am sure that there are similar organizations across the country but the young men in the video are a product of The Black Star Project.

I wish we lived in a world where children could just be children. Unfortunately for many young people they have to battle daily just to survive. I know that I have been blessed with an excellent education and opportunities and will share this with my son. But when he is older and walks out the door on a daily basis I will always be fearful because he will be seen as just another brown boy. And the potential for danger is very real.

image credit: Brenda Starr

Renee Ross

Renee Ross

Renée is a woman, a mother and an advocate of healthy living and social responsibility.

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