By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
What is the fallacy when someone says, “I don’t see color?” Immediately, when someone says this to me, a woman of color, two thoughts cross my mind. The first one is, “Is there some congenital abnormality that negates the ability to perceive colors?” The second, if more visceral: “If you don’t see color, does that render me invisible, unimportant, or not worthy to be seen?”
This statement prickles the hairs on the back of my neck. For, too often, these words are spoken by a white person to someone black or brown.
It almost fits into the trite utterance of “I have some (or a) black (or brown) friends,” or, another, “You are not like them.” So, if you do not see color, how do you know you have some friends of color or that I am not like the illusive “them,” presumably others of color?
Many of us have prejudices and/or stereotypes of those we view as “other” or ones different from ourselves in some way. It might be that culture, religious belief, ethnicity, gender, class, marital status, socio-economic status, or one or more of the –isms influence our perceptions. Some biases are so inculcated that, from infancy, we are programmed to have fears, stereotypes, and negative views of those unlike ourselves.
One part of this kind of fallacious thinking may hinge on the fact that in order for some groups to feel righteous and superior, other groups must have to be viewed as dangerous and/or inferior.
Our perceptions of the value of ourselves and others often determine our treatment of and reactions toward those we view as less than or not as valued. Wars are fought over cultural and religious differences. Regardless of the injury, all people’s blood is red and all of us can hurt or grieve, regardless of color.
In the classrooms across the United States, many children of color—and we all have a color—are castigated, segregated, and under-educated by least-qualified teachers who are sent in to work with children most needy.
As our schools become more multicultural, many of their teachers are becoming more monocultural and unprepared to acknowledge cultural differences, different styles of learning, or ways of showing respect and tolerance. The resulting revolving door of teachers who hone their craft on these children not like themselves often exacerbates the underachievement of students and the continual decline of the public-school system as we know it.
Until all of us are willing to forego our color and cultural blindness, we perpetuate students being placed on an assembly line to mediocrity, frustration, and wasted, unacknowledged potential. This, in no way applies to all teachers, for many teachers are diligent, dedicated, and hard-working people who care and who have students, many of whom, succeed in spite of the odds against them.
However, to “not see color “is, to a person of a different color, the height of insult from an arrogant, insecure, ignorant, condescending—even if unintentional—racist person!
By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
When cultures clash in the classroom, students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large all suffer. Education, or lack, thereof, can have a ripple effect on every facet of society. Not only are communities of color affected but also areas not considered “minority.” PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is an equal possibility.
Children whose culture and realities are devalued are often, as Gloria Ladson Billings so aptly expressed, “considered as deficient white children.” (1999) The children she described may become drop-outs, push-outs, or disaffected trouble makers. These disaffected students often feel disrespected, misunderstood, and devoid of hope. Some of them are test-weary and content lacking.
When they are continually designated at “below basic” on standardized tests and their culture not understood by teachers and test makers, their behaviors are almost self-fulfilling prophesies. Often these students suffer from PTSD as painful and as debilitating as any combat soldier.
They encounter the vagaries of the results of having little affluence and no influence, of physical and/or emotional abuse, and poor educational opportunities offered by a revolving door of new, career-change, or culturally unaware teachers getting their OJT (on the job training), student loans abated, masters degrees, and housing allowances before moving on to the suburbs or to becoming the next national “expert” authors and speakers on educating the urban, rural, or culturally different child.
These are the children whose apparent apathy and less than “perfect” behaviors encourage a revolving door of teachers who have the inability to relate to students of different socio-economic or racial differences. In these cases, no one is the winner, even though neophyte teachers may gain some financial benefits, for these teachers, too suffer the PTSD resulting from not knowing how to teach diverse students and the daily chaos of classroom disorder, disrespect, and disaffectedness.
Lowered expectations may cause challenges for administrators also, for they face scrutiny about how their schools function on many levels, from standardized test results to efficient use of budget to how many expulsions and suspensions their students receive.
They must also contend with trying to find substitutes or replacements for teachers who are absent for whatever reason. Their teachers often are faced with coverage, which saps the enthusiasm and energy of those forced to babysit some other teacher’s class. In addition, many states are trying to meet the dictates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Common Core Curriculum standards with inadequate funding and training for teachers and administrators in how to implement these mandated legislative programs. In the last few years, there has also been an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) schools.
Parents suffer when their children are disaffected and under-educated. Their children who are suspended or expelled are left to get into difficulties with the law and court systems. Further, drop-outs and push-outs often cannot get jobs and become economic drains on not only their families but also on the community at large.
So, in answer to the question when cultures clash in the classroom, who suffers, we all do! Poorly educated students make for a society that alienates its young, one that is unable to retain skilled and experienced teachers, and a country frustrated with unemployment, under-employment, and an ever-growing culture of violence, fear, and intolerance. Court systems and privatized prisons, along with mortuaries, result when the classrooms act as prep schools for these expensive alternatives.
The Black Power movement of the late 1960s helped to redefine African American identity and establish a new racial consciousness. As influential as this period was in the study and enhancement of the African Diaspora, this movement spawned the academic discipline known as Black Studies on our college and university campuses.
While there are more than 100 Black Studies degree programs nationwide, it can be confirmed that the beginning of this curriculum evolved from a student strike at San Francisco State University in 1968. Young people there forced the establishment of the Division of Ethnic Studies and departments of Black, Asian, Chicano and Native studies, all accomplished despite the discouragement of then university president and future United States Sen. S.I. Hayakawya.
The Black Student Union
The Black Student Union on campus drafted a political statement, “The Justification for African American Studies,” that would become the main document for the development of the academic departments at more than 60 universities by the early 1970s. Shortly thereafter, Black Studies programs were implemented with inherent reservations from the various campus administrations at UCLA, Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State Long Beach and at Cal State Northridge.
Black students demanded an end to the so-called “liberal-fascist” ideology that was rampant on campus, as well as calling for the immediate preparation of African American youth including secondary school students to have direct participation in the struggles of the Black community and to define themselves as responsible to and for the future successes of that community. Black Studies departments were created in a confrontational environment in a forceful rejection of traditional curricula content.
It was a novel idea that was met with early opposition from the entrenched White faculty and administration already reeling from the Free Speech movement, opposition to the Vietnam War and a general uprising from young adults of all races, religions and creeds. Black students, specifically, wanted to reinforce the position that African Americans must possess the rights to self-determination, liberation and voice opposition to the dominant ideology of “White capitalism” (e.g. world imperialism, White supremacy) that for centuries had excluded persons of color.
The Atlanta University Conferences
Black Studies can be traced back as far back as the Atlanta University Conferences held from 1898 to 1914. This early formulation was under the auspices of W.E.B. DuBois in marking the inauguration of the first scientific study of the conditions of Black people that covered important aspects of life (e.g., health homes, the question of organization, economic development, higher education, voting).
By 1915, Carter G. Woodson had founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in marking a brave new era for Black curriculum. The group was founded to promote historical research, publish books on Black life and history, promote the study of Black history through clubs and schools and, in a noble effort, to foster harmony between the races by interpreting one history to the other. It was during this period that the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) began to respond to scholarly activities in history and social science.
It had become abundantly clear more than 100 years ago that Black education should conform to the social conditions of Black people. Black colleges began to add courses in Black history to their curricula. This effort corresponded with a call by Black college students for a culturally relevant curriculum, the same theme that occurred some 50 years later when mainstream support for Black Studies grew, particularly when more African American students were admitted into predominantly White institutions.
For the past 50 years, Black Studies has been evolving as a result of the social movement that opposed institutional racism in higher education. As more Black families were moving into the middle class, young people in many sectors either saw education as oppressive or liberating. Many African Americans began to consider Black Studies and Black education as having a “special assignment” to challenge and call out White mainstream knowledge for its deficiencies and racial corruption.
Pan Africa movement
Black Studies in large part grew out of Pan Africanism, which had its origins as a movement of intellectual protest against ill-treatment of Blacks all over the world. This movement was initiated by Black persons in the America and in the West Indies whose ancestors came from Africa. There are similarities between Black Studies and Pan Africanism in that the latter movement was created because Black people all over the world were tired of being mired with the “slave mentality” that had been connected with them from their African ancestors.
The advent of Pan Africanism was the result of Black people deciding that they were better than how they were treated, and if they banded together in a practical standpoint, they could possibly change the world. Far more than an “en vogue” application of the Civil Rights Movement, Pan Africanism and the resulting Black Studies was an emotional, cultural, psychological and ideological movement that would allow African Americans to feel secure while striving for long-sought political, economic and psychological power vis a vis other races or world regions.
At its origin, Black Studies offered a clear and precise application of the African American experience, because many of the traditional history books for decades presented Black people as a hapless, helpless lot always mired in despair. It was only then that African Americans would study in detail persons like Anthony Johnson one of the original 20 Africans who arrived in Jamestown in 1619 and would later become a successful entrepreneur, or Denmark Vessey, who fought to liberate his people from slavery by organizing 9,000 slaves and freemen to revolt in Charleston, S.C. In 1822. there was also Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler who in 1864 became the first Black woman to earn a medical degree. This area of study helped to forge a pathway for each succeeding generation to learn that African Americans have always been innovators, fighters and intelligent persons well capable of succeeding in any endeavor.
Development of Black scholars
Black Studies is not exclusively reserved for Black scholars. There are a number of scholars from a variety of backgrounds who have done important work looking at the Black Diaspora. From the African American point of view, however, a primary reason for the implementation of Black Studies was to develop a critical mass of Black scholars. The significant presence today of African American academicians is due in large part to the existence of a longstanding tradition within Black Studies that offers a route into academia for an untold number of Black scholars.
The subject of Black Studies is interdisciplinary in nature. The subject draws in academics from a range of disciplines, including history, literature, education studies, sociology, theology, health studies, and some subjects as unexpected as sexuality and criminology. A strong tenant within Black Studies is the exposure to a range of ideas and discussions that can forge meaningful connections that can be built on the future. Had it not been for the Black Studies agenda, there are historic figures and contemporary individuals who may have never been encountered and whose work was and is relevant to contemporary dynamics within the Black community.
Women’s studies, as well, are an important aspect of Black Studies. In “Out Of The Revolution: The Development of Africana Studies” (2000), authors Delores P. Aldridge and Carlene Young attest that while the emergence of Black feminism was an offshoot of White feminism, the two groups are far apart in terms of battling sexism and striving for equality in a White-male-dominated world.
“During American slavery, Africana women were as harshly treated physically and mentally as were their male counterparts, thereby invalidating the alignment of Africana women and White women as equals in the struggle. The endless chores of the Africana woman awaited her both in and outside the home. Africana men and women have been equal partners in the struggle against oppression from early on. Thus, they could not afford division based on sex. In the African American slave experience, Africana men and women were viewed the same by the slave owners, thereby negating traditional (African and European) notions of male or female roles.”
Valuable study for both genders
Such study has proved valuable to African American students of both genders. Aldridge and Young state that Black Studies has empowered the Black student in noting that this academic challenge was a direct response to the mandate for change at all levels that characterized the Civil Rights Movement and the social rebellions of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.
At the modern HCBU campuses, most have established courses in Black Studies, but few have departments dedicated to the field. Only Howard and Clark Atlanta universities offer a Master of Arts in Black Studies. Howard is the only HBCU to offer a doctoral program in African Studies; eight traditionally White institutions (including Princeton and Yale) also offer a Ph. D in African Studies.
Why don’t more HBCUs offer a diploma in Black Studies? The problem is money.
“A program in African American Studies is very difficult to sustain in good times, and it’s near impossible in tough times,” said Dr. Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “However, some of the majority institutions have been able to get someone to underwrite less popular programs.”
The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in Black Studies, much to the disappointment of Dr. Mayibuye Monanabela who is among the founders of the Africana Studies department at Tennessee State University. He said getting students to major in Black Studies is often difficult primarily because, outside of teaching, there are not many well-paying trades that would require such professional acumen.
“We (HBCUs) should be doing better,” Monanabela said. “When students are ready to sign-up for a major, they ask ‘What can I do with a degree in Africana Studies?’“
Dr. David H. Jackson Jr., chair of the department of history and political science (which includes Black Studies) at Florida A&M University, believes the current attitude toward Black Studies among African American students could be an obstacle in the field’s development.
“If I looked at FAMU and the country in general from the 1980s and early ’90s in terms of an aggressive attitude toward embracing Black culture, I don’t see that as much now,” he said. As well, some Black students at predominantly White institutions may have the assumption that students at an HBCU tend to be “Africa-centered” or “radical,” and that belief could contribute to an apathy about the subject, which is in direct contrast with the roots of Black Studies programs.
Looking toward the future
HCBUs faced internal challenges in developing these programs as an older generation of administrators may have been reluctant to establish such a curriculum, because of the association with “militancy” and for fear of losing support from outside communities. Also, some HBCUs felt that because they were Black institutions, they were not obligated to dedicate a department to the subject because “just being a Black school was sufficient.”
At Princeton, Black Studies has proven to be a popular and successful program. Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., chair of the Center for African American Studies at the New Jersey campus, believes the burgeoning interest in Black Studies may provide ground for a degree program.
“I think we’re seeing a new phase in the presence of Black Studies in higher education,” Glaude said. “We need to find an institutional configuration that reflects the complexity and nuance of the field. We haven’t changed our name to ‘Diaspora studies,’ and we have insisted that in order to mark that, as a field, Black Studies should be thought of more broadly.”
People of African ancestry have a long history and tradition in practically every region of the world. This history has been hallmarked by a number of struggles for recognition and against discrimination. In the present context of global uncertainty and the political reshaping of nation states Black Studies can play an essential role in the examination of the world’s Black population and the challenges that lie ahead.
This article originally appeared in Our Weekly News.
During a wide-ranging hearing held by the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified on a wide range of Education Department priorities.
Federal Flash covers the controversial exchanges during the hearing, including one question that DeVos struggled to answer.
The House Education and Labor Committee hearing this week examined the policies and priorities of the U.S. Department of Education. It was the first oversight hearing for Secretary DeVos to testify before the Committee since Democrats regained control of the House. While members asked questions on a variety of topics ranging from student loan debt to affirmative action to the rights of transgender students, many focused on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
In one heated exchange, Representative Jahana Hayes from Connecticut pressed Secretary DeVos about an Education Department memo she obtained citing that the Secretary does have sufficient authority to block states from using ESSA Title IV funds to buy guns for schools. Our viewers may recall that funding for Title IV, or the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, was hotly debated last year when Secretary DeVos said she did not have the power to block states from using Title IV funds to purchase firearms. The memo Representative Hayes presented, however, stated exactly the opposite.
While the exchange between Representative Gregorio Sablan from the Northern Mariana Islands and Secretary DeVos may not have received as much attention, Representative Sablan raised a very important issue regarding the Department’s approval of state ESSA plans that do not consider the performance of historically underserved students…
There has been a lot of talk about whether or not there is a crisis on the border. I will leave that debate to the politicians. However, there is no debate about whether or not America has a crisis hitting all 50 states and over 40 million people. This crisis is impacting millions of students pursuing their dreams of earning a college degree. The crisis is impacting millions of young people coming out of college, wanting to be fiscally responsible and save, and buy their first home. What is the crisis? It is America’s $1.56 trillion student loan debt.
Today, student loan debt is the second greatest source of individual debt, only behind mortgages, according to the Federal Reserve. Something must be done about the ever-rising student debt, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is taking the issue of financial literacy with HBCU students head-on. Exposing the nearly 300,000 students we represent to the host of scholarship offerings is one of our main strategies for decreasing student loan dependence. TMCF understands that student loans disproportionately impact minority students – with the greatest negative impact on African-American students. We have to put just as much early attention on student loan debt by providing student scholarships, grants and wraparound services, so HBCU students can persist in their studies without dropping out because of finances. The more scholarships we can award, the fewer loans students are forced to take, so they graduate without the strain of insurmountable student loan debt.
As the wealth gap continues to grow we know that by 2053, the Net Worth of African-American families is projected to hit $0, so there is a clear urgency to educate and support organizations that have direct connections to young African American students that will be entering the workforce. TMCF is committed to empowering students attending HBCUs on how to secure and keep a good paying job and build a career into the C-Suite, or become entrepreneurs, save money and build wealth for the future in the hopes of being great global leaders that give back to future generations.
Additionally, we are teaching HBCU students to be better college consumers, moving career-focused programming to Freshmen and Sophomores, so they can choose college course strategically, in order to graduate in four years, while entering the talent pipeline earlier.
More than 80% of all HBCU students attend TMCF member-schools and 97% of those students rely on financial aid in their pursuit of a degree. Through our partnerships with many companies such as Wells Fargo, Boeing, Ally, and Apple we are providing scholarships, internships, corporate immersions, and innovation programs as well as good paying jobs.
For example, over the course of our partnership with Wells Fargo, they have provided more than $7.2 million in support of TMCF student scholarships and financial literacy curriculum development and announced a $1.1 million for the 2019-2020 academic year. In 2018, TMCF provided close to $10 million in direct aid for student scholarships, stipends, awards, wrap-around services, and institutional grants. Those are real dollars and for the majority of the students we serve, the dollars are transformational. This is important because according to aLendEDU study nearly three in 10 college students in America are solely responsible for paying for all of their higher education costs.
Finances should never be a barrier to graduation, nor should the financial impact of earning a college degree be a barrier for buying a home, saving money, starting a family, and having a good credit score. TMCF prides itself on building pipelines into good paying jobs but we also have to work to ensure that those students are able to truly reap the financial benefits of their achievements without having to pay off years of student loan debt.
Yes, the student loan situation is a crisis that must be addressed early and often with students, parents, family members, and guidance counselors. We need to make this an issue on the campaign trail on both sides of the aisle in every election, not just the 2020 presidential one. Roll Call recently reported that there are 66 members of Congress who are currently paying off their own personal student loans or debts for dependents. “Collectively, the 44 Democrats and 24 Republicans have higher education liabilities of $2.5 million, according to recent financial disclosures. The median student loan debt is $15,000, while average debt is $37,000.”
This is not a partisan issue and we will continue advocating for bipartisan solutions and effective student financial aid literacy opportunities especially for the Black College Community because we know they work. The student loan debt crisis can be corrected if we all work together to make sure our future innovators, government and corporate leaders can lead without the crippling burden of student loans. The time is now.
Wiley College President Herman Felton (UNCF photo)
Tuesday, April 9, Herman Felton, Ph.D., president and CEO of Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, provided testimony before the House panel that decides the funding levels for all federal education programs. The House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee received public witness testimony from only 24 individuals to inform their crafting of the upcoming bill to fund the government for fiscal year 2020. The remarks provided by Dr. Felton focused on the funding and national benefits of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
A Marine Corps veteran and lifelong educator, Dr. Felton’s testimony was the first of the afternoon to receive bi-partisan support from both Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) and Ranking Member Tom J. Cole (R-OK). The funding leaders commended Wiley College (a UNCF-member institution) and similar HBCUs, for their work with first-generation college students, specifically for being an integral part of the American higher education fabric for decades. Chairwoman DeLauro added, concerning the $39 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH), “We will be sure that the center of our discussion and debate will be that we strengthen HBCUs.” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) who introduced Dr. Felton to the Subcommittee prior to his testimony, noted that funding recommendations in Dr. Felton’s testimony “just make sense.”
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) worked with Congress to garner the opportunity for HBCUs to be represented in today’s proceedings. Dr. Felton echoed the priorities laid out by UNCF’s president and CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax during the organization’s inaugural “State of the HBCUs Address” on March 5, including:
Increase funding for the discretionary “Strengthening HBCUs” Program to $375 million ($93 million increase over FY 2019);
Reauthorize the mandatory “Strengthening HBCUs” Program this year;
Fund the HBCU Capital Finance Program, including support for the deferment authority;
Double the Pell Grant award and support Second Chance Pell; and
Support funding to produce more African American health professionals and researchers, including at NIH.
“What we witnessed today was history,” commented Lodriguez V. Murray, UNCF’s vice president for public policy and government affairs. “One of our HBCU member presidents delivered remarks about the needs of all HBCUs and their students, weaving in the history of Wiley College. The goals are clear: increase resources necessary for the Pell-eligible and first-generation college students who have found an HBCU education to be a necessity; and allot the funding necessary for HBCUs to continue to remain competitive and thrive.”
Murray concluded, “The reception Dr. Felton received at the hearing showed, once again, that when we take a positive proactive agenda to Capitol Hill, bipartisanship is the response.”
By Sharonica Nelson, Ed.D.
Professor, Professional Education Consultant, Author
Once students reach middle school,
parents often become less engaged with their child’s academic environment. They
don’t walk them in the school’s doors anymore, they don’t communicate as often
with teachers, and they are less like to visit the school unless there is a special
program or sporting event after hours. This is especially true for African
As a former classroom teacher in
an urban, predominantly Black school, I have first-hand knowledge of this.
During middle school, school becomes more or less a mystery to parents. However,
under Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a push for parents to be more
involved with academic environment of their child.
Studies show that when parents are
more actively involved in their child’s schools, the child tends to perform
better academically. Therefore, parental engagement is an important concept of
discussion in terms of African American children’s performance.
Although parental engagement has a
strong correlation to student academic performance and achievement, why is it that
African American parents appear disproportionately less engaged than parents of
Studies have shown that there are
many factors that may hinder Black parents from being active in their child’s
schooling. Factors include lacking confidence when speaking to education
professionals or fear of seeming incompetent, being the sole provider in the
household with work hours that conflict with school hours, and not knowing how
to approach school officials with proper questions specific to individual child
These and many other nuisances
keep Black parents from approaching schools to be more active in their child’s
academic career. Nevertheless, for the sake of maximum student success and
potential, it is important that parents are actively engaged in their child’s
It is imperative that Black
parents are not only involved but also engaged in their child’s schools. Parents
must not only be involved through participating in school-planned functions,
but they must also create their own spaces and opportunities for active
engagement to demystify student performance. There are many ways to do so,
Use school system provided platforms to keep up with grades. The school system may provide
this service for free, and it may be associated with a special code or password
for log in. Parents should check with the school secretary for information on
this. Frequently checking student grades and holding them accountable for their
grades can send strong messages to students in terms of performance.
Know when reports cards are due. School systems may send home a calendar with this
information, they may provide automated calls as a reminder, and the dates may
be readily accessible on the school system website. It is ultimately up to the
parents to stay abreast of report cards and not wait until the last grading
quarter to show concern over grades. It’s too late then.
Email teachers. Email is a quick form of communication that most people use directly
from their phones. Most teachers use emails frequently. Make use of this to
maintain constant contact and communication with your child’s teacher. Most
teachers prefer to hear from parents with concerns of student progress and would
happily engage to inform parents concerning their children.
Check teacher webpages. Many teachers have webpages that they frequently update
with pertinent information pertaining to their classroom. This information may
include due dates, skills and concepts to be covered, and materials needed for
upcoming projects and assignments.
Create a parent network. Many parents may not have the time or resources to be
involved with the formal PTA (Parent Teacher Association). They may decide to
create social media groups that keep all parents abreast of current happenings
within the school. This could be a simple, easy way to connect to other parents
of students within same educational setting for accurate, current information
concerning the child’s school.
Regardless, of the age or grade of
a parent’s child, parents have a right to know about the current happenings of
the classroom and school. However, the school and parent relationship shouldn’t
be one-sided with school doing all of the work in terms of providing the
opportunities for parents to become engaged. Parents must understand the
importance of their involvement in their child’s educational trajectory, take
the reins, and create their opportunities for being actively involved.
Although, middle school is the
time when most parents become less engaged in the child’s school, it should be
a time when parents maintain engagement. To demystify further, parent
involvement weighs heavily on children’s performance. And simply put, children
need to see parents in their academic spaces for better performance, even in
middle school and beyond.
Young Adult (YA) authors, Paula Chase and Varian Johnson had never met in person. One lived in Maryland and the other in Texas. One was a spokesperson for small city government while the other designed bridges. But, they shared two things in common: they wrote YA fiction and were tired of watching quality work go unnoticed.
Chase explained that she was tired of “hearing people say that there was no YA literature for African American teen readers,” when, “At the time, there were at least five YA series featuring Black characters, but parents, teachers, and even librarians didn’t know about them.” Chase and Johnson knew that if they “wanted more books about us to be available, we had to do a better job of supporting Black YA literature authors and illustrators.”
Determined to launch an initiative that would shine a spotlight on the many African American authors writing for young readers, Chase and Johnson collaborated with author Kelly Starling Lyons and award-winning illustrator, Don Tate. The Brown Bookshelf was born.
Today, nearly 12 years later, the Brown Bookshelf is a collaboration of ten authors and illustrators including: Crystal Allen, Tracey Baptiste, Tameka Fryer Brown, Jerry Craft, Gwendolyn Hooks, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.
Now, their 28 Days Later initiative takes their original goal to highlight Black authors a step further. The initiative is designed to highlight Black authors with recently released books or books that have “gone unnoticed.” During Black History Month, every day, a different book and author will be featured. We hope that “by us showcasing the twenty-eight best voices in African American children’s literature, parents, teachers and librarians will walk away with a full arsenal of recommendations for young readers. To date, we have featured 308 authors and illustrators.”
The Brown Book Shelf believes that every book has a reader and every child can be a reader. The trick is in helping the readers find the books that speak to them. Thanks to the sheer volume of books produced annually, it can be especially difficult for young readers to find books by Black authors and/or that feature Black characters. 28 Days Later is a beacon for those seeking both classic children’s books by Black authors as well as the latest in Black kid literature.
They believe spreading a love of literacy beyond February is essential to nurturing a generation of avid readers. They work to ensure that Black voices in children’s literature are not just heard, but also included across the spectrum for all children. The Brown Bookshelf is made up of authors and illustrators with a body of work spanning picture books to young adult fiction and we’re pleased to introduce parents to our work. Check out a list of culturally relevant books below:
One More Dino on the Floor by: Kelly Starling Lyons (Author)
Parby:Tay: Dance of the Veggies by: Don Tate (Illustrator), Eloise Greenfield (Author)
Historical fiction Picture Books
Hope’s Gift by: Kelly Starling Lyons (Author)
Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band by: Don Tate (Illustrator), Michael Mahin (Author)
Non-Fiction/Biographical Picture Books
Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by: Gwendolyn Hooks (Author)
If You Were A Kid During the Civil Rights Movement by: Gwendolyn Hooks (Author)
Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma Sit-ins by: Olugbemisola Rhudayby:Perkovich (Author)
No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by: Don Tate (Illustrator), Tonya Bolden (Author)
Block Party by: Gwendolyn Hooks
Jada Jones: Class Act by: Kelly Starling Lyons
Contemporary Middle Grade
So Done by: Paula Chase
The Parker Inheritance by: Varian Johnson
The Great Green Heist by: Varian Johnson
Two Naomis by: Olugbemisola Rhudayby:Perkovich
Middle Grade Fantasy
The Jumbies by: Tracey Baptiste
Rise of the Jumbies by: Tracey Baptiste
Minecraft: The Crash by: Tracey Baptiste
Humorous Middle Grade
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs by: Spirit Week Showdown by: Crystal Allen
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs by: The Wall of Fame Game by: Crystal Allen
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs by: Mya In The Middle by: Crystal Allen
Middle Grade Graphic Novel
Mama’s Boyz: In Living Color by: Jerry Craft
The Offenders by: Jerry Craft
Middle Grade Nonfiction
Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow by: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Contemporary Young Adult
So Not The Drama by: Paula Chase
Don’t Get It Twisted by: Paula Chase
Saving Maddie by: Varian Johnson
For a full listing of books recommended during the Brown Bookshelf’s panel at the 2018 National Council of Teachers of English conference, Using Black Children’s Literature to Amplify All Student Voices, visit: thebrownbookshelf.com
Teacher concerns transformed into organized protests when, in early 2018, the West Virginia teacher’s strike made headlines, lasting over 2 weeks. Local education activists and teacher advocates forced the state legislature to address many of their concerns through the statewide strike. Afterwards, teachers returned to their classrooms with a 5 percent pay raise.
The strike lead to similar actions in several other school districts across the country including Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Teacher grievances in Los Angeles echo the concerns of teachers in many school districts nationwide. Among their demands are smaller class sizes, an increase in support staff and higher pay.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is overwhelmingly comprised of low-income students, with over 80% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.
Within this immense school system of 900 schools and roughly 30,000 teachers, classroom sizes can often exceed 32 students per teacher at the elementary level and up to 39 students per teacher for middle and high school. This student-to-teacher ratio greatly exceeds the 16 to 28 students per teacher national averages in urban school districts, according to the National Teacher and Principal Survey of 2015-16.
One of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) primary mandates involves building systems of support for educators through the use of additional funding and initiatives provided in Title II.
Title II funds purpose to support class size reduction, encourage performance-based pay for effective educators and develop opportunities to improve overall school conditions. In addition to funding, ESSA will enable school systems to attempt to address the shortage in classroom instructors by shifting the emphasis for teacher evaluations away from student standardized test performance — a point of stress for many educators.
Thus far, the Los Angeles Unified School District has offered a 6% pay increase as well as a classroom cap size of 35 for elementary schools and 39 for high school English and Math courses. However, in a school district as massive as Los Angeles, support staff is also vital.
Teachers in Los Angeles are also demanding that something is done to address the current state of affairs, which allows a workload of over 500 students per guidance counselor and over 2,000 students per nurse in the county. The school district has promised to address these concerns by offering one additional academic counselor per high school in the district and ensuring that each elementary school has daily nursing services.
If you are in Los Angeles or a similarly affected school district, learn more about ESSA’s impact on Title II and find out how your State Education Agency (SEA) and Local Education Agency (LEA) can support the extremely important work our educators are doing to advance our students’ success.
Akil Wilson is a Washington, DC-based podcaster and parent. He is a contributing writer for the Washington Informer in addition to providing broadcast commentary for a variety of media outlets.
As a seemingly twisted way to ring in 2019, the Trump administration has sent a loud and clear message that it’s okay for educators and school leaders to keep Black children out of school buildings and exclude them from opportunities to learn. It may sound extreme, but that’s exactly what it means to rescind school discipline guidance that was put in place explicitly to ensure that Black children were not treated this way and discriminated against.
The current administration, however, wants us to believe that discrimination against Black children is a myth. It is not. It is the lived experience of too many, if not all Black children. In the 2015-16 school year, Black boys made up 8 percent of public school enrollment, but they were 25 percent of the boys suspended out of school. Black girls were 8 percent of enrollment, but 14 percent of the girls suspended out of school. While Black children are overrepresented in practices that exclude or remove students from school, White children are underrepresented. Such data are clear evidence that racism and bias often drive exclusionary practices. To ignore this is to preserve the status quo.
If the numbers aren’t enough to show that discrimination exists in American classrooms, studies have shown that Black children do not misbehave more than their White peers, rather they are punished more. In fact, Black students are more likely than their White peers to receive a disciplinary action for a discretionary offense like talking back, violating a dress code, or being defiant. Black children are also more likely to be suspended out of school for their first offense. Clear, appropriate, and consistent consequences and educator training — as the guidance calls for — helps to eliminate the discrimination and bias that fuel the disproportionate punishment of Black children.
This administration would also have us believe that discipline disparities are a result of poverty, arguing that experiencing childhood trauma and living in distressed communities are to blame. But poverty cannot explain away the discipline disparities: Studies have shown that when taking a student’s economic background into account, Black children are still more likely to be suspended than students of other races. And let’s not forget that poverty, too, is a result of deliberate policy choices that leave Black children isolated in neighborhoods with little resources — including the longstanding impact of discriminatory housing policies such as redlining. These are choices that this administration has done nothing to address.
What many (including this administration) fail to realize is that there is a difference between discipline and punishment. Suspensions and expulsions don’t teach. They punish. And far too often, adults decide that Black children are not worthy of teaching and second chances. Excluding students from classrooms does not help them to correct the mistakes that children inevitably make. It also has negative long-term consequences. These negative outcomes include poor academic performance, lower levels of engagement, leaving school, and increased likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system.
Unfortunately, attempts to exclude Black children from educational opportunities are not new. America has a rich history of locking Black children out of the classroom. This list includes anti-literacy laws, past and current resistance to school desegregation, lack of access to well-resourced schools, school based arrests, poor course access, enormous higher education costs, and unjust exclusionary policies. Every barrier and trick in the book has been used to limit the education of Black children. The removal of the discipline guidance is just the latest.
Rescinding the guidance is a reminder to those fighting for educational equity: For Black children, simply attending school is an act of protest, and learning and excelling while there is an act of racial justice. Every time a Black child is sent home for a minor offense, they are sent the message that they are unwanted or don’t belong. But Black children do belong, and they deserve to be safe, included, and to have access to a quality education. Despite the current administration’s actions, this is the message that advocates must make clear at the beginning of 2019 — and every year hereafter.
It’s up to us as advocates for educational justice to ensure that schools do not illegally discriminate against Black children. Encourage school leaders to commit to ongoing racial bias training; require culturally sustaining classroom management strategies; examine their school and district data to help determine if race and bias are driving who gets punished; adopt clear, fair, and transparent consequences; and eliminate school exclusion for discretionary non-violent offenses.
For more, watch John B. King Jr. break down how we can break the school-to-prison pipeline.