"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Some Tough Honest Words from Mayor Nutter

There is a child whose mother is dead, whose father is in prison on a drug related conviction, who has been taken in by his only findable relative, his aunt. This boy, we'll call him Ellis, is struggling in school. Because early on his attendance at school was spotty at best, he missed many crucial days of learning. He shows indications of having learning disabilities because of his mother's drug use. Now, in middle school, he has at least one person in his corner, his aunt, who is trying to help him catch up and reach whatever his potential is. The teachers at school are trying to do what they can to help Ellis but, in addition to these other strikes against him, they face a large roadblock.

Ellis's father did not sign over his parental rights to the aunt before his incarceration. He has virtually no relationship with either the Aunt or Ellis and therefore has made no effort to complete this important transaction. Why is this transaction so important? Because school officials are not allowed to talk to non-custodial adults about a child's education. The Aunt cannot be given Ellis's grades, she cannot meet with teachers and she cannot access the school's computer system to find out what homework he has due or assignments he is missing. She must rely on his word about such things, and even the best middle school student tends towards less than full disclosure on school work. She cannot demand services for him to work on his learning disability because the courts (and therefore the school system) do not recognize her authority to do so. And since he has a living parent, he cannot even become a ward of the state to move the ball down the field.

His Aunt is trying her best to be a strong influence on him, but his peers in the city are pulling him in other directions. Her hands are tied, and so are those of the school in terms of trying to help him.

The point of this story is not to rail against the system that put these blocks in place. The point is to draw attention to the cultural impacts on education and ask those in charge (i.e. A. Duncan) whether increased assessments or school intervention can really help a child like Ellis. His case may be extreme, but he comes from a community that shares these problems to one extent or another. It is a community of unwed mothers or single parents, where even the place you sleep each night can be random and uncertain. He comes from a place where dads are often missing, both personally and financially. The drug culture and economy flourish so kids have no choice but to turn against the establishment in order to survive. This means both the law and education are rejected.

This past weekend Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia stood in front of the congregation of his church and railed against the real problems children of the inner cities face. His speech came as a result of the flash mobs that have been plaguing his city as of late, but his message had far reaching implications (Go here to hear his entire sermon.)

He spoke at length about the role fathers play in their childrens' lives.

"Fathers have an important role to play, not more important than mothers, but just as important. You’re not a father just because you have a kid, or two, or three. That doesn’t make you a father. A father is a person who's around, participating in a child's life; a teacher who helps to guide and shape and mold that young person; someone for that young person to talk to, to share with, their ups and downs, fears and concerns. A father provides a structure for a young boy on how to become a good man. A good man. A father also has to be a good role model to help a young girl become a strong woman. If you’re not doing those things, you’re just hanging out there or bringing a check or some cash by, that’s not being a father. You’re just a human ATM. And if you’re not providing the guidance and you’re not sending any money, you’re just a sperm donor... That’s not good enough."

He made another critical observation when he said, "That’s part of the problem in the black community… Too many men making too many babies that they don’t want to take care of and we end up dealing with your children. We’re not running a big baby sitting service, we’re running a big government and a great city. Take care of your children. All of them…. You were around for the sex, now be around for the parenting." When was the last time you heard a Democratic leader acknowledge that the government is not there to raise your children?

Nutter campaigned for Hillary Clinton before the primary and then became a vocal supporter of President Barack Obama. His speech makes him wildly out of step with Obama's administration now, but he is part of a growing movement in the black community who is speaking out against the direction of their culture. He advised kids to, "Keep your butt in school. Graduate high school. Go on to college. Make something of yourself and be a good citizen here in this city. And why don’t you work on extending your English vocabulary… beyond the few curse words that you know, some other grunts and grumbles and other things that none of us can understand what you’re saying."

Though Common Core, Agenda 21, RTTT and even NCLB tend to hold government accountable for a child's future and employment, Mayor Nutter believes, "If you go to look for a job, don’t go blame it on the white folks or somebody else. If you walk into somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied, and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you? They don’t hire you ’cause you look like you’re crazy! (wild applause)."

Addressing these cultural problems is an absolutely necessary step if there is to be improvement in education in this country and a narrowing of the achievement gap. Hats off to Mayor Nutter for providing a roadmap on not only how to achieve this, but also pointing a finger where the responsibility for our kids lies.

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