By Tyra Seldon, Ph.D.
Two of the fastest growing industries in America are the prison industry and the educational industry. Yes, education is an industry. There is a consumer and a product. In the intricate nuances of educational policy and legislation too often we forget that many of our young people are, frankly, commodities. With a per pupil expenditure attached to each head, there is a profit to be made on the backs of young Black children.
Every day some new group proclaims to have uncovered a tool, instrument, methodology, technique or taxonomy that will somehow educate young Black children in ways that traditional methods have failed. Between textbooks, technology, training and professional development alone, it is a multi-million dollar industry.
On a daily basis, teachers are positioned to make indelible imprints on the minds and souls of countless Black youth. Even more frequently, parents are absent from critical conversations that will determine their child’s likelihood to be retained, expelled or placed in Special Education. In other words, Carter G. Woodson’s prophetic cry in his seminal text Mis-Education of the Negro is perhaps even more palpable today than it was when he published it eighty years ago: “If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do.”
Young Black youth are in an educational system that is driven by conformity, compliance and constriction. Very little, if any curricular and instructional attention is given to the various modes in which some Black kids learn best: through creativity, kinesthetic movement, visual displays and spatial approximation. The even sadder reality is that we are moving towards an even more systematized way of assessing and measuring the intellectual aptitude of today’s youth: Common Core State Standards (CCSS). CCSS will be implemented in 48 states beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. It is already being launched and piloted in states across the country like Kentucky where recent math and English scores dropped by one third compared to previous years’ results.
High stakes standardized tests are nothing new. They are already used across the country to measure student aptitude, determine teacher effectiveness, rank schools, and award lucrative school improvement grants and consulting contracts. CCSS focuses on students’ reading and responding to challenging, rigorous texts, being able to illustrate an understanding of elevated, sophisticated vocabulary, and analyzing, evaluating and synthesizing information in a multitude of disciplines including English, math and science. Students then have to demonstrate proficiency and mastery on a universal exam called the PARCC assessment. Measured against the success of other students nationwide, these tests are gate openers or closers for many of our youth.
As an educator, I recognize that many of our youth are neither equipped for college or careers beyond high school. As such, CCSS’ moniker: College and Career Readiness is laudable. As a fierce advocate of literacy education and eradicating educational disparities, I am also strongly concerned that our community is unprepared and unaware of the drastic and immediate impact that CCSS will have on our young people’s educational outcomes.
Much like WEB DuBois’ color line, in the twenty-first century, education is a line of demarcation. As school districts across the country are scrambling to prepare teachers and their constituents to teach CCSS standards, textbook companies are hosting elaborate and expensive textbook adaptation dinners; school curriculum is being rewritten and new educational software aligned to CCSS is being developed. The one body of stakeholders who are eerily silent and absent from the table are parents, especially Black parents.
So why should we care? We cannot afford NOT to care. The full implementation of CCSS nationwide is inevitable. A better question is what infrastructures and safety nets can we create in our homes, communities, churches and mosques to ensure that our students land softly and safely upon its implementation? The time to start preparing our children is now.
We don’t need to be reactionary; instead, we need to be proactive. Go to your state’s Department of Education website. Review the standards for your child’s grade level. Start spending 15 to 20 minutes a day engaging your child in silent, sustained reading either at home or at the library. Like our Jewish brothers and sisters, we need to have Saturday schools. Implore your pastor or imam to host community lectures, read-a-thons and book drives. Take your child to the campus of a local college or university; if you don’t do anything else, just walk around the campus and let them daydream and journal. And perhaps most importantly, put the remote down, turn off the TV, shut down the computer and power down the cell phone. Our youth need us to be alert, to be aware, to advocate and to be incubators for their educational success. Are your eyes open?
Dr. Seldon is an independent scholar and CEO of Seldon Writing Group, LLC which strives to bring grassroots literacy and writing programming to parents, schools and community groups.