by George R. Williams, Ph.D.
Challenges in Education
Few would argue that education is one of our children’s supporting pillars of success. Yet many of our public school systems across this nation are in need of help. This was a key issue in last year’s presidential campaign for both candidates and materialized as the President’s “No child left behind” education campaign.
In a bi-partisan show of support this week Sen. Edward Kennedy accompanied President Bush to sign the new education bill into law at Hamilton High School. Among other things the new education law requires annual math and reading tests to measure a schools’ performance. School districts get greater flexibility in spending federal aid, and parents get the right to transfer their children out of poor performing schools. It also allows churches or other religious groups to provide tutoring and after-school programs.
This is welcomed news but the challenges of public school for the African American have been great and will take more than a new law to overcome. Nearly 50 years ago Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka formalized the legal desegregation of public schools. Over this past half century many of our children and youth have found their way despite hardships and increases in high school completion, grade point averages, college enrollment, degree completion and professional careers are felt in our communities. Unfortunately the number of children who do not succeed remains notably high.
There are stills signs of the struggle that exists. How many schools use teaching methods that match our children’s individual learning styles? How many teachers share the same cultural background which aids in their understanding specific needs? How many of our children finish school without the ability to read at a functional level? How many have dropped out before they even finish high school? How many go on to college? The answer to these questions remains “not enough.”
There are other factors that compound the problem. First, there is a rising need for educators to earn a livable wage. Second there are problems inherent within the system of administration, facilities, and those qualified to work within those systems. Thirdly, an understanding of the foundation factors allows for “real” solutions instead of symptomatic or surface solutions, which often prove to be temporary.
These inequalities did not begin in 1954. Nor did they in 1896 when the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Plessy Vs. Ferguson, that allowed for separate but “equal” facilities for blacks. The “root” of the problem goes as far back to August 1619 when the first blacks landed in Jamestown to be sold as non-indentured slaves.
The Kansas City School District has had its share of challenges over the years. Our children and our community have been impacted by those challenges. If anyone has an investment in the success of this school district it is we as parents and members of the village community, inclusive of all who serve, work, live or do business in Kansas City.
Fathers in Education
As we look at the recovery of accreditation and the preparation for our children for life, we must not overlook an important resource: our parents. Many people share this responsibility for the education of our children, but who is primarily responsible? When primary responsibility and ownership is taken from those it appropriately belongs to, it weakens the system of accountability and healthy dependency.
When you look at the percentage of male teachers in the elementary school environment that number is a dismal 1.2%, request the percentage of African-American male teachers and the number drops even further.
Why should this alarm us or interest us to change this? In 1997 the department of education found that when fathers or father-figures are involved in education, children do better. Our own 1999 study revealed that 40% of fathers have never read to their child. We further found that 40% of fathers did not know the name of their child’s teacher and finally that 32% had never been to their child’s school.
The point is not to blame our community of men or our fathers, but to ask and answer the question, “If it is known they can make such a difference why are not more of our men involved?
The research is in, but it does not tell half the story. It does not communicate the benefit and pleasure our children experience when their dad or father-figure show up for events, to eat lunch with them, to volunteer in the classroom, to go on a field trip to participate in SAC and the PTA. Our program has documented personal stories of those benefits in the READ to kids program.
R.E.A.D. to Kids (Reconnecting Education and Dads to Kids)
Last fall over 80 fathers and about 150 children from four Kansas City, Missouri elementary schools participated in the Read to Kids program. The goal of the Read to Kids program is to reconnect education and dads to kids. The program was funded by the Jewish Heritage Foundation.
James, Ladd, Blenheim and Crispus Attucks Elementary participated in that program. The program was co-sponsored by LINC Caring Communities under the direction of Rick Bell, Greg Valodvino, Ray Thomas, Stacy Young, Janice Bankston and Melvin Pearsall.
Many Dads made the sacrifice and braved their way to the schools to make a difference. One such father whom after a first Read to Kids session asked the instructor where he could go to buy some books for his child. Another father who had his vehicle stolen the afternoon of a meeting still chose to come out to support his son. They may never receive praise from the media but they are making a difference in the lives of their children.
Read to kids is five week program that meets in the school library for one hour a week. During that time the fathers/father-figures and their children spend time doing a craft activity together, reading together, learning about reading, school, meeting their teachers and having a meal together. Fathers can practice with their children during the one-hour the same things they will continue to do to reconnect with their child’s education. The next step is to form a monthly fathering group that continues the involvement. This can be done through a security program for men called Watch DOGS.
The current administration says, “Leave No Child Behind” in America’s schools. Teachers and administrators are important, and so are mothers. But as a father, you too can make an immense difference for your children right wherever you are. You can be a positive presence in your children’s school. You can help your child with his or her homework; you can promote good parent-teacher relations. You can volunteer in the classroom; you can create a favorable learning environment in the home. You can reinforce the importance of education by simply reading with your kids.
If you are not a father you can be involved by learning more about READ to Kids or Watch DOGS. Please support programs like these at your school. It is not about just looking after our own individual children. We must look after the interest of the children of the whole village.