As schools begin the descent into budget cuts, mediocrity will become king. As I write this the high school graduation rate for Black and Brown children is already below 50%. The fact that it is below 50% should be a basis for alarm. Instead, it is an accepted fact of life. The assumption being that they aren't as smart as White and Asian students anyway. Nothing could be farther than the truth.
The problem is simply a lack of exposure to their potential for greatness. The absence of achievement simply means that the unemployment rate and prison population for Blacks and Browns will continue to rise. And so once again what do we do about it on massive scale? Yes there are plans and programs that guarantee that a few will always achieve. There are schools that are set out as examples where Black and Brown students at particular schools will attend college at high rates, like 90%. Besides proving the lie that they can't achieve, they say that if everybody in the mix did better then the success rate could be higher. Here, I suggest five things that parents can do, starting today, to make their child a success.
1. Make them understand that they are somebody with greatness inside them. Older parents from my parent's generation who were still trying to shake off the remnants of slavery did this by teaching us that we could be anything we wanted to be as long as we put our minds to it. Ask your child what they are afraid of? Why aren't they getting better grades? Then assure them that they can do anything they put their minds to even if they need help, as in tutors or mentors.
One writer, Marianne Williamson, responds to the question of what is your greatest fear by writing the following. "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?" Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. "Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make and manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others." This quote is often attributed to Nelson Mandela but written by Ms. Williamson in her book, Return to Love. If it could help Mandela do twenty seven years in prison and come out strong, it might set an attitude that you and your child can succeed too.
2. Provide an opportunity every day for your child to succeed. I was impressed when two of my grandchildren moved to Atlanta and began elementary school there. Joshua was 8 and Kyla was five. On the first day of school they were directed to the library where they picked out an elective. The choices were many. A computer club, Chess club, karate, orchestra, art, band, drama, and so on. A few months later we got notice that Joshua was in a Chess contest where he excelled. He won second place and was determined that he could do better. The result was that he applied himself and learned study, skills, concentration, and discipline. All of these are transferable skills to learning math, English and science. Joshua was featured in the Atlanta Newspaper alongside other chess players with former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. Get your child involved in something while they are in elementary school so they can set up goals of achievement while learning the skills that will allow him/her to achieve academically. I believe the school district should have a list of resources for electives within and without the schools including private music teachers, art teachers, and even Chess teachers. This is more than basketball, and rap, please no! Also schools should require each student to be in a club by the third grade. This is better than being recruited by the local gang.
3. Get them involved in a church of your choice so they can learn a basic moral code. Of course that means that you as a parent need to get involved in church, yourself. It won't be a perfect world but it is better to be in church than being in the crime world.
Don't wait on the schools to do for your kids. You must become involved. If they go to the PTA, the Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs and Church now, they may avoid going to court and jail later. Someone said you can pay me now or pay me later. I say pay the time now and they won't be doing the time later.
4. Check out their friends and change them if you must. Don't believe the hype that kids can make good decisions about their lives. They need direction. All parents are not necessarily imbued with good parenting skills (see the movie "Precious") but the teacher, Sunday school teacher, or somebody can be a good substitute. Rudyard Kipling famous poem "If" tells a boy what it takes to become a man. In part Kipling says, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being, lied about, don't deal in lies, or being hated, don't give way to hating, and yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise; If you can dream and not make dreams your master; if you can think and not make thoughts your aim, If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat these two imposters just the same..., if you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch...Yours is the earth and all that's in it.... And what is more – you'll be a man my son."
5. Expose them to positive images at every opportunity. Take them to the Zoo, the library, the museum. If that isn't your thing then enroll them in organizations that will take them. Insist that your church start a reading club, a science club or a math club. Somebody in the church is dying in the pews. Put them to work. Watch the old "Cosby Show" with them. I know Doctors and Lawyers who watched "The Cosby Show" as kids and believed they could be what the Huxtable's were, and they made it happen.
Remember, "What They See is What They Will Be." Teach them a new version of the old street saying that says "get your money up front." Instead, teach them to get their education up front.