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This Isn’t a Fairytale

I remember the day that the taste for war first appeared in my mouth. My building leaders had traveled to Washington D.C. in protest to the bias of standardized testing and the unfair distribution of funds/ aid to the inner city. With the lack of resources to keep black inner city youth on track, the lack of availability of highly qualified teachers, and the overwhelming biases saturated with white privilege reeking from the standardized tests, it did not seem possible to close the widening achievement gap.

When presented with these arguments, congressmen (women), including the ones that we in the state of Michigan elected made a statement that nearly a decade later still gives me pause….. “ We do not expect all of “them” to pass the standardized tests.” Our leaders were rendered speechless. When we were at the staff meeting and this information was presented, all I could feel is rage.

With all of the propaganda, and everything riding on schools meeting Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), which disregarded student growth in any other area aside from the unfair standardized tests. Tests in which the qualitative sections would not even be scored by educators. Tests in which the point of view of students who lived below the poverty line did not represent. This was an assault on schools within Detroit, both public and charter alike.

The decision withdraw a huge amount of funds from the budgets of all of the schools, cut our staff, and remedial programs made the fact that our students… my people were going to be the casualties of these decisions. My purpose in creating this particular blog, is to highlight my personal experiences and struggles while engaged within this war over the years.

It is my hope that it will educate you and inspire you…. To fight as well.

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#ROBBED:The Exploitation of School-Aged Black Youth in Detroit

Charter Management Companies have been popping up everywhere in Metro Detroit.

Education has finally become for-profit and a business now.

 

Charter Management Companies are hired by the school board of directors to manage and oversee the school. They hire the HR company, they have their own payroll personnel and they make the decisions as it pertains to school leaders.  In the world of Charter Management Companies, it is all about WHO you know. You don’t have to have one tenth of a clue if you know they right person.

 

To emphasize, many charter management companies are led by individuals who have NEVER set foot inside of the classroom to teach. They do not make any of the decisions that matter, they hire someone else who can. Oftentimes, these are individuals that they know or have heard of, and they “hope” the person can do the job with fidelity.

 

One thing that Charter Management Companies DO NOT care about is stability, or high teacher AND administrator turnover rates. They also tend to seek out teachers who will fill the role for cheap, offer excellent professional development opportunities and then hold the purse strings so tight, that there is no money for things like” textbooks, buses for field tripsEd, substitute teachers or professional development.

 

The average CEO or Superintendent of a charter management company makes $250,000 -$350,000 per year. I have worked under CEO’s that have made their spouses, siblings, cousins and parents integral members of the staff with salaries that pay over $100,000 a year without doing the work to substantiate that amount of pay. Meanwhile, the students do not receive what they need in order to be successful. Programs are cut, and if you make a fuss about it, the management will fire you.

 

Did I mention all employees are “At Will”? This means that they can fire you, without giving you a reason, and not give you the pay that you have ALREADY earned.

 

Educators who want to serve the children of Detroit have two options.

 

  1. Work for Detroit Public Schools and place yourself at the mercy of a fickle budget, with little to no job security, with salary cuts every few years.
  2. Work for a Charter School and place yourself at the mercy of individuals who could care less about the education of students, but want to make money off of them.

 

To distract us, they try to put Charter and Public Schools against each other. Everyone is scrambling to get students to enroll at their schools. Glitzy commercials and catchy billboards of the kids with the million dollar smiles with pristine uniforms.

 

More students= More Money… at least $7K a head.

 

If your school has 500 students.. that is 3.5M. This does not count the donations that Charter Schools get from wealthy benefactors, or Organizations like the Skillman Foundation, or the money from the casinos and alumni that Detroit Public Schools receives….

 

But our students, who range 2-3 grade levels behind, cannot get a textbook to take home or a lunch that does not have mold on the bread?

 

AS A RESULT

 

Parents lower, middle, and upper middle-class families have vacated. That’s Right! They have either moved to the suburbs or left Michigan altogether. Those parents who could afford to give their children a better opportunity are gone.

 

The population in Detroit has decreased from 1.8M to 700,000.

 

So What Is The Solution?

 

The power does not lie with the educators who remain. All of the power resides with the PARENTS.

 

DAMN RIGHT.

 

Things will not change until the Parents say ENOUGH of this Bullshit. All of the power is with the parents. If 50% of the parents showed up to a meeting at the school, or threatened to dis-enroll their child… watch how quickly the “powers that be” would move to accommodate the parents. Without the children, the school cannot run, it cannot function.

 

There is no loyalty amongst schools either. Any charter school will happily overstuff their classrooms to take students. After all, this is how administrators receive bonuses.

 

Parents you have ALL the POWER. No school official is going to tell you this. However, I am letting you in on the secret. School Administration, whether it be public or charter FEAR the parents.  It is time to stop talking. Demand a better education for your child. Fight for their education! Trust me, the $$$ is there to make it happen right here in Detroit!

If you do not believe me, ask your child’s school… or ANY school for a copy of their budget. By law, they have to comply… they will do anything you ask to not have to do so.

Share this with a Parent.

#Blacklivesmatter and Educating Detroit Youth

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Ever since Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012, I have made it my business to educate black youth about what exactly went wrong in the situation. It was then that I learned that our youth are sponges as it pertains to the media, and they actually tried to rationalize what Fox News was telling them. Since this time, it appears that an all-out war has been declared on young black men and women in this country. The most common occurrence happens as it pertains to dealings with the police. The exposure of so many killings at the hands of police officers caused alarm within me. The fact that in most of these cases, there was no justifiable reason for the death of anyone. Yet these officers keep their jobs, they are not convicted of any crimes. There are police officers sending threatening messages to black civilians regarding the safety of their children. A former white congressman had the au-damn-dacity to declare war against Black Lives Matter protesters and President Obama after the shooting of police officers in Dallas.  I could have sworn that threatening the President was against the law, but all he received was his twitter account privileges revoked and a segment on television shows. He recanted of course. Yet, let that have been a black man threatening a white president and all hell would break lose. The damage has already been done.

This past school year, my team mate (who is white) and I decided to educate our students as to what the Black Lives Matter Movement is about, and how it is similar and different from the Civil Right Movement. To emphasize my point, I had all of the black boys in my classroom stand at the front of the room, and I started listing all of the things that would get them killed by the hands of the police just because of their skin. I had to give my students, who are preparing to begin their driver education training instructions as to how to make sure they come home at night after dealing with the police!

I also had to talk to them about their behavior and how they choose to be selectively defiant of authority at times. (uniform, tardiness, disruptive behavior) I had to lecture them about choosing their battles and fighting back in a manner that would ensure that they live to fight another day. I taught them about the different ways the media teaches black people to fear one another. They learned what ethos, pathos, and logos are and how the three logical vehicles for persuasion are used within written and visual media. Every newspaper or broadcast that we read will want us to walk away after reading or watching with a certain viewpoint. A viewpoint that will bring us back to publication or show for ratings. I had to teach them about bias and the sad fact that almost everyone has an agenda and they have to research for themselves.

I had to tell my students, that in 3 years when they graduate they will have to go out into the world that hates them, had prejudged them, and has stacked all of the odds against them because of the color of their skin. I had to let them know that they do not even have the freedom that I did to just be a “kid” and knock my head against the wall sometimes. I had to tell them, that while there were mandates in place such as Affirmative Action that assured that Black people and women received equal treatment and opportunities for college and employment when I graduated from high school, that this is no longer the case. I had to tell them that although any school that you venture into in the city of Detroit is lacking the curriculums to keep up with the demand of today’s education reforms, and the technology to be competitive, that they are still expected to stand toe to toe with their white counterparts across 8 mile who have access to it all.

There is no room for failure. There is no room for black children to go through the growing pains of learning to love themselves and embracing success. There is no time for childish squabbles over who said what on twitter or snap chat. They have to make it happen and work three times as hard. They have to debunk what the media has defined them as. They have to stand strong  and define themselves. They are the next leaders of our community. They are invaluable. Every person reading this right now who shares the hue of my skin needs them to survive. My students understood, they “get it” and they internalized it. For that, I am thankful… but it nagging question in the back of my mind still bothers me….

 

WHY WAS IT THAT ALL THAT I MENTIONED ABOVE….

WHY DID THEY HEAR IT FIRST FROM ME?

#wakeup

Acknowledging the Problem is NOT Enough: Mental Illness and Detroit Teens

It was a normal Monday morning, traffic was horrible, and when I came into work I found it necessary to put out several fires prior to even getting to my classroom. Classes unattended, explosive parents, and neurotic administrators. Calls from teachers because students are acting out of order, 1:1 conferences with students who had to be set straight so that they can correct their actions and continue on the road to success.

It is not even 9 am and I am tired. I am irritated. I think about things that I have to do. The fact that my students did not even try to perform on an multiple choice, open book test that I had administered the Friday before. I am thinking about my personal life and how things seem to be in disarray.  Requests for me to plan an end of the year trip for the students come from 3 different teachers.

I make my way up the stairs finally. That is when I see him. One of my former students from last year. A young man who was confident within his studies, achieved well, and had a wonderful personality. We have not conversed a lot this school year. I just figured he was busy living that upper classman life.

He was sitting at the table outside of my classroom.  I call his name as I am walking towards him and he does not answer. I wave my hands and he does not see me. As I get closer, I notice that he has earbuds in his ear, and his eyes are closed. I touch him, he does not respond. His eyes remain closed. I remove one of the buds from his ear, and I ask what is wrong. He does not respond. Instead, a single tear drops from his closed eye and lands on his arm.

What I saw, will forever be ingrained into my heart and mind.

He had cuts all over his exposed arm.  They were healing marks on top of scars of past instances where he made the decision to mutilate himself. My hands lightly touch his arm, and he opens his eyes. A look of sadness, a look of loss, eyes that I looked into every day for nine months, were no longer familiar to me. His spirit had dulled, his ability to speak lost.

After a few minutes of him not speaking to me, I go inside and alert his classroom teacher to what was happening. I briefly asked… What is going on? She stated that a few months ago he had a breakdown. I asked “Have you seen his arm?” Sadness swept over her face in acknowledgement of what I had said. She asked me to cover her classroom so that she could take him to an administrator to get  immediate help. I happily obliged.

When the teacher returned, I sat at my desk for a while and reflected. I anxiously tried to think of way to help this child. My mind flashed back to all of the times he smiled in my classroom, our laughs, our celebrations of his achievements, the hug he gave me every day. Here and now…. In the course of some months, he was a totally different young man.

I rose from my desk to find out what happened to the young man. I bounded down the stairs, and searched the hallways and classrooms to look for him. I found him in the hallway standing outside of his next class although he was more than 15 minutes early. I asked him what was going on and had he talked to someone. He told me that the Principal had him call his mother and then left him by himself.

The disappointment I felt was overwhelming. I asked him if he wanted to talk. He shook his head. I reached for his arm and placed my hand on the scars and looked him in his eyes and said Why? He shook his head, and then said he was dealing with a lot. I wrapped my arms around him and he hugged me back. I told him that if he wanted to talk to anyone to please come and find me. He told me he would. I told him that I love him very much, and he told me he loved me too.

In our building there is one social worker assigned to a building with close to 900 students. We do not have any psychological services available to our students in-house. What is supposed to happen in the event that a person to attend to students with emotional needs is not on staff, is that we are supposed to have someone come in on a contractual basis to service the students.

We Have Failed… and We Continue to Do So

Today, was an eye opener for me. While I know that I cannot take all of the problems of our youth upon my shoulders, I know that I will fight for this child. I have made the decision to make an inquiry with our administration as to why this child was just released when we have concrete evidence that he is hurting himself. My Principal is a white male who has worked in predominantly black schools. He is not ignorant to what is going on within the lives of our students who come from impoverished communities. So, how was it so easy for him to just turn his back? To not even attempt to take the child up to the social worker, or even yet, report the fresh cuts on the arms of this child?

Across the city of Detroit, services for students who have or are experiencing related circumstances and issues are not readily available. The protocol oftentimes is to require that the parent take the child in for mandatory therapy before they can return to school. However, in the event that the parent does not have health insurance, they cannot afford treatment. Oftentimes, parents will sign the child up for treatment, provide the school with documentation, and then remove the child from therapy because they cannot afford it and so that their child can return to school. 

If you venture into ANY of the schools within the suburbs of Detroit, you will find that they have a school nurse, multiple social workers, speech therapists, guidance counselors, a counselor and other staff as needed for their diverse student populations. At my school and many schools within the city of Detroit, there is no school nurse or health professional on campus, there is only one social worker and at my school in particular, there is no guidance counselor. How in good faith can we say that we are educating and nurturing the whole child?

Change only happens when we refuse to fall silent or have our voices muted. Tomorrow is a new day… However, the emails regarding what happened today will go out tonight. Passing the buck when a student’s life is in inherent danger, is not acceptable. Anywhere. We have to do what is right for our children. Simply because Black Children Matter too.

 

 

 

 

Dear White Teachers: Why Your Students Think You Are a Racist…..

Our Youth, especially on a high school level are very intuitive. You may think that just because you are aware of the achievement gap that there is a lack of this among inner city black youth. The very first thing a students is looking to determine from an educator no matter their ethnicity is your “WHY”. Why are you there? (I will go into detail about this particular ideology within another entry).

If a student, especially a student that derives from one of the toughest cities in the country, does not detect your sincerity, guess what? You have lost them. You will not be able to connect with them.  You will not be able to educate them. What our student’s process and internalize are loyalty, and genuine care and concern.

The next thing you know, your classroom management is shot. They do not defer to you, they do not acknowledge you. They watch you as your get into your feelings. They enjoy the show when you face turns red. They listen to the empty threats, and placate the visiting administrators who come to the classroom to assist you with your class. Finally… one of them does it… and trust me this is inevitable, you correct them and they will loudly declare that you are a racist.

And guess what…….

 

You probably are.

I could have been a little nicer… I could have said prejudiced, but you see prejudice is the act of making the assumption about a particular person, place, thing, or demographic before actually engaging it. Let’s face it, everyone has some level of prejudice within them. Nevertheless, when you are working within a culture/ population in which your ethnicity is not reflected, you must engage it reflectively.

As we delve into the realm of racism I have realized in numerous discussions that many white teachers do not realize the impact of what comes out of their mouths, their actions, and their lack of action.

So I have composed this, so that you will know and understand some fundamental elements that will aid you in your understanding as to why your students think you are racist and/or prejudiced (P.S. it is all the same to them).

  1. You avoid topics that are culturally integral to them. You skirt around it, avoid chapters, and discussions about current and local events.
  2. You make funny faces or laugh at the spelling or pronunciation of their names. Or ask the dumbest insensitive questions surrounding it.
  3. You automatically address their mother’s as Ms. Instead of Mrs. Because you assume they come from single parent homes.
  4. You lower your academic expectations because they are from the “hood”
  5. You seem to have a lower tolerance for their misbehavior vs. white children.
  6. You haven’t thoroughly acknowledged or checked your white privilege.
  7. You curse them, you yell at them like they are animals.
  8. When you refer to them as “those kids”, or pointedly make statements of how you have never had problems with black kids before.
  9. When you set limitations on them as far as what they can be and do in life just because of where they come from socioeconomically.
  10. Your coursework places more emphasis on the culture of white people than their own. Even when 90% of the students within your classroom are Black.
  11. You believe the American Dream is saturated in “whiteness”.
  12. You make the assumption that all melanated students derive from the same origin. Get to know them, “Black” people did not just derive from Africa. There is a difference between a Mexican student, and Puerto Rican student, Jamaican student, a student who immigrated from Africa etc.
  13. You punish the Black students in harsher fashion that non-Black students.
  14. You are inconsistent with your disciplinary policies based on gender.
  15. You don’t even bother to check their prior knowledge of a topic etc. because you make the assumption that they could not have learned it prior to you swooping in to save the day.
  16. You have never attempted to make a connection to understand that the world they live in, and that it is their reality. You make assumptions that “they just do not care”, vs. finding out if there is a barrier at home to success.
  17. You visibly display a lack of enthusiasm and/ or irritation when you see something that derives from black culture in your presence. (rap, beat making, dance etc.)
  18. You work in a school that is predominantly black and you do not want to take part in any activities outside of your classroom. For example, that pep rally that went on in the afternoon in which you were to be present, but lied and said you had too much of a headache to deal with all that rap music. Yes… they notice that you are not there.
  19. You remind them that you could be teaching somewhere in the suburbs (with the white kids) like you are doing them a favor. You came to “save” them.
  20. You make statements such as “I don’t see color”. What exactly does that mean I challenge you? If you did see them a Black Students what would you see exactly? Guess what, your students are reminded that they are black every day in negative and condescending ways, they need to know that you see them in a positive light. They need encouragement. Empowerment. How can you respect who they are, and their world if you are not trying to to see them.

 

Our students are sponges and when they release what they have learned amongst their peers and they come to a consensus of whether to be for or against you.

In the spirit of fairness, I have worked with and collaborated with several white educators who have demonstrated excellent classroom management, lesson delivery, and built relationships with their students. Their secret is not really all that much of a secret. They simply started off with treating our students with common courtesy, respect, and like human beings. It all started off with a simple, but sincere question that sowed a seed in the spirit of every black child they set out to educate. A question that gives them pause when they hear it from an adult that is not related to them, because it is a question only those who love them think to ask.  One that many of you do not ever think to ask, but wonder why your students think you do not care.

 

Hi ______________ How are you today?