Sunday, October 18, 2009

Parents and The Education Gap

I was checking out The Washington Post when I came across this article aboout the impact of parents on the education gap between blacks and whites. This story has relevance for what is happening in Chicago's schools. I don't believe that the situation described at T.C. Williams H.S in Alexandria, Va. (a fairly well off suburb of D.C.) is unique to them.

Notice as you read the article that it is the students who pinpoint the reason for their lack of academic achievement: the presence, or lack of same, of their fathers. We try so hard to be supportive of single parents, especially single mothers, yet we fail to insist that young men step up and be more than sperm donors or part time interlopers in their children's lives. What are the odds that some part of the violence in Chicago's schools can be prevented if fathers are actively involved in their children's lives?

I have long said that being poor does not mean you will grow up to be a criminal. I can remember one night when I was 5 or 6 and having water mixed with Nestle's instant chocolate and sandwiches of grated parmesan cheese and ground mustard. The money had run out, there was not enough food, and Dad was at work. He was getting paid that day but in those days we didn't have direct deposit and ATMs. We waited for the check to be cashed. It would be the next day before more food was in the house. Life was hard but we weren't cut any slack by our parents in terms of our behavior or our schoolwork.

I, and my siblings, survived poverty. In fact a couple of them probably are considered poor based on the current criteria for income. They aren't criminals and their children aren't criminals. Their experience is very different from that of the author's students in the Post article. For my nieces and nephews both parents were present and active in their children's lives, even in the face of divorce. My nieces and nephews aren't geniuses, but they aren't failures and they are all working on achieving their dreams.

Read that article to its end. Consider carefully what the author has to say. T.C. Williams has state of the art everything right now, yet violence and lack of achievement is still prevalent. You may not turn the Titanic on a dime, but it is evident that acadmic achievement requires more than a laptop in every student's hands and new school buildings. In my own view, it seems to me that if we are to close the education gap between blacks and whites there is only way to do it: both parents have to be involved and that means the fathers must step up to the challenge. The students in the article are missing their fathers and it shows. Are Chicago's students really any different?

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