It's Hard to Teach Kids to Read if They Only Want to Burn Down the School

Categories: Schutze

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Somewhere somehow we just got on the wrong track, folks. All these issues like the public schools, crime, unemployment: We're still trying to rearrange the furniture when the house is already on fire.

For example, as I said here yesterday, that bright shiny new superintendent of schools we just hired is about to self-implode over a bunch of stupid salary and expense account crap. I can't believe we're even talking about that stuff. Another one up, another one down, and 'round and 'round we go.

I'm still trying to scrape myself up off the ground after a deeply distressing interview last week ago with a minister in southern Dallas who described a heart-rending river of kids in his neighborhood who for decades have been coming out of the schools unable to read or write and going straight to prison.

For one second, suspend judgment. Just tell me this. If you send large numbers of adolescents into this world unable to read or write, what do you think is going to happen to them? What on earth can happen?

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Look, I'm not telling you to look the other way or ignore the All-Night Education Burlesque Show at school headquarters. How can you? You're paying for that show. But what is that show even about?

Over time we all sit here and watch while a succession of pretty damned smart determined leaders run at these same walls and invariably fall back stunned and defeated having accomplished nothing beyond bloodying their own heads. When do we start wondering if it's not about the leaders but the wall?

You can't get a kid a job if he can't read or write. But you can't teach him to read or write if he doesn't want to read your books or write your words.

A significant body of research has grown up around a theory called "oppositional culture" pioneered in the late 1970s by the late Nigerian-American cultural anthropologist John U. Ogbu. Ogbu worked out a kind of simple classification system for minorities in all societies -- autonomous, voluntary and involuntary.

In our society autonomous minorities would include Mormons, the Amish and Jews. Got their own deal going, got their reasons, got their hats, perfectly happy for other people to just leave them be.

Voluntary minorities would include immigrants like Mexicans or refugees like the Haitians. Came here with a purpose, determined to dig in and get a piece of the pie.

In this country the third classification, involuntary, would be African-Americans, brought here against their will, treated badly, given no reason to embrace, trust or admire the values of their oppressors, every reason to reject the values and even the laws of mainstream society.

Ogbu found that education was viewed entirely differently within these different classifications of minority, as a leg up by the autonomous minorities, a kind of foreign cultural mystery by the voluntaries and by the involuntary minority as an insulting con game and just another form of oppression.

Listen, I'm the last guy to claim expertise or any but the most superficial familiarity with these theories. I offer them here more as an example of the magnitude of factor that can be considered way beyond mere instructional strategy. The best instructional strategy in the world is shit if the kids would really rather just burn your school down and maybe you, too.

It's not easy to bring this stuff up, because even the mention of it invites all sorts of accusations of racism. Why is Schutze talking all about black kids being oppositional? Didn't he have enough white meth-heads to worry about first?

OK, fine. Point taken. But here is what sticks with me after my interview last week with the Reverend Eddie Lane at Bibleway Bible Church. This man has been at his church for 47 years. He's an emeritus professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He's a serious man. I was there to talk to him about another crazy deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic story -- the fancy new golf course the city wants to build to spur economic development in an area where upwards of 70 percent of the populace does not work.

The last thing he said to me before I left was that somebody needs to come in and develop a kind of super-rehab center, an institution rooted in Southern Dallas so that it comes from within the culture. Something is needed, he said, to teach young people returning from prison how to want to have a good life, how to hope, how to know what a good life even is when you see it. And, oh yeah, literacy.

He didn't say this, so I will: The approach he's talking about must come from within the culture so that it will have the legitimacy and cred it needs to do battle with that culture. You can't overcome oppositional culture if you're the opposition. It can only be overcome from within.

How? Oh, sorry, that's above my pay grade. Can't tell you that one. All I see now is that we're beating our heads against the wall, and the wall keeps winning. I'm just asking: When do we get a step ladder and peek over?


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22 comments
ItsSoSad
ItsSoSad

Ah yes, the liberal solution to everything. Our government paying for everything has worked so well in the past, we need a NEW government program to fix these NEW problems!

Government is not the solution. Government is the problem!

Same as in DISD: administration is not the solution, it is the problem! How many teachers make 6-figures, or just got a nice district contract for paper products, computers, or INTERNET CONNECTIVITY? Teachers are still teaching despite the idiocracy!

Btw, does anyone know why we now have wireless routers every 50 feet in the school buildings? I thought a wireless router had a range of 1000 feet.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Whoooa.  What those kids need is a golf course.  Would fix em right up.

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

Gee Jim you sound almost "Libertarian"?

"somebody needs to come in and develop a kind of super-rehab center, an institution rooted in Southern Dallas so that it comes from within the culture"; where is JWP, where is EBJ? Rehab is after the fact and too late.

I'd like to point out the ESPN commentator (a black man) who questioned RGIII's "blackness" because he apparently wasn't "keeping it real". Why hasn't he been called out by the so-called leaders of the black community?

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/blog/eye-on-football/21392746/rob-parker-calls-rg3-a-cornball-brother-says-hes-not-one-of-us

roo_ster
roo_ster

The F Douglass quote is the place to start.  End all social welfare spending and the subsequent generations will be better prepared to fend for themselves.  Hunger and seeing single moms struggle to feed themselves & their kids is a powerful object lesson to those who have not yet made the mistake of unwed pregnancy.


Then, a 100% moratorium on third world immigration to help boost un/semi-skilled labor rates, so those on the bottom can better support themselves with dignity.


Black, white, oppositional or aspirational: all respond to hunger and a bigger paycheck.

DOCensors
DOCensors

I'd love to see a white guilt liberal like shutze spend a week or a month teaching in a DISD school and write this column after. 

markzero
markzero

I dunno, Jim. That theoretical institution to fix adults who are broken won't fix in the near term the oppositional culture that encourages African-American kids in the working class to ridicule their peers as 'trying to be white' for doing their homework, asking questions in class, and achieving in school. This same culture also sets up cults of personality around athletes and other performers, who themselves may be marginally literate, for the purposes of selling sneakers and other products. Kids are buying into this aspirational culture, and some are dying from it, but very few ever benefit. 

Ask one of these kids who his or her favorite athlete is, and he or she'll have at least one -- and can probably tell you an affiliated line of merchandise. Now ask that kid who his or her favorite scientist is, or favorite author, or favorite person in any industry that doesn't revolve around selling tickets, and see what kind of response you get. It's not because minorities don't succeed in those fields -- try watching science or news programs on PBS and not seeing successful minorities of all kinds -- it's because these kids are mostly told to look elsewhere.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Compulsory education -- the idea that people can be imprisoned "for thier own good" and somehow come out the other end better than if they wanted to be there.

lemonaioli
lemonaioli

So maybe people from Africa were brought over here as slaves and their ancestors still resent that. How many generations does it take to figure out that education is the basis for success in most cases and the bare minimum someone should be able to attain especially because it's free through high school. Why have other minorities who were also put upon when they arrived in the US figured this out? And why have any number of African Americans (see Barack and Michelle Obama for two) figured this out? Knock it off with the excuses! My grandparents came to America and were poor for quite a while. They didn't blame, they did what they had to do to succeed. Geez!

mcdallas
mcdallas

Can we look to Paul Quinn College as a beacon of hope?  Can we extend it's realm beyond the traditional mindset of "college"?  

PQC is doing such terrific things from within.  Can we further equip them to do what they do?  

Just a thought...

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Let's brag:

The “raw graduation rate" is the percentage of the full original 9th grade enrollment represented in the final number of diplomas given out four years later in a high school. With the graduation class of 2011, for the first time in over 20 years, this “raw graduation rate” number for DISD went over 50%. It was 52.4%. For every 1,000 students enrolled in the DISD 9th grade class of 2007/2008, there were 524 diplomas given out to that same group as the DISD Class of 2011! 

lisa.dawn
lisa.dawn

The first step in addressing these issues, in my opinion, might be looking at two important factors to success in any culture--family values and a government system that supports a healthy moral society.

 Sorry, but I must bring up the Sandy Hook school tragedy--Again, has anyone looked deeply into the shooter Adam Lanza's family foundation? Where was his father and what kind of person was he?? Isn't a good father figure important in a young boys life?? How about his mother? It was known that her son was mentally disturbed and medicated. What in the world was Adam Lanza's mother doing taking her disturbed son to a shooting range to learn to use high powered weapons?

Is our family system currently parallel to our dysfunctional governmental system? If so, where do we put our focus for change?

First things first--let's find out what's going on behind the scenes in our families and government.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

The Good Jim writing today. Do you two alternate or something?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

"What shall we do with the Negro?" by Frederick Douglass, a freed slave and prominent statesmen before, during, and after the Civil War. "What shall we do with the Negro?" I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature's plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!

a hideous concept.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

I'm not sure rehab would be the right word Jim, though I'm not sure what is. That said, if a person reaches adulthood never learning to read, then is incarcerated and doesn't learn there, do you really think they'll have much interest in doing so after? It's the old leading a horse to water adage.

bill.holston1
bill.holston1

@mcdallas Mike Sorrels and his team are doing fantastic things there. Really encouraging to watch what they are doing. 

Michael.MacNaughton
Michael.MacNaughton

@holmantx  

Graduation rates are the most unreliable of statistics as they are figured in many different ways by many different entities.  They really have no meaning.  Districts cannot track a kid that leaves and may graduate someplace else, or gets a GED, and so on.  But let's say the number has some meaning.  What makes you believe the student is functionally literate when they graduate? Even the kids that make it into community colleges have to take remedial courses to get them up to speed.  The failure to educate the "involuntary" as described above is indeed societal and cultural and no amount of "reform" will solve the problem. Concentrate on letting teachers teach; improving curriculum; and reducing state mandated testing and we'll be headed back in the right direction. Meanwhile let's help the neighborhoods and communities rebuild and rejoice.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@lisa.dawn Then of course there's that whole business you brought up earlier about the mother being a CIA agent and all.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@lisa.dawn About 80% of first children born to black women were outside of marriage.  It is Liberalism's true legacy, and it is a stain on America itself.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

50% of marriages end in divorce.  Is that also a part of the "Liberal" legacy?

lisa.dawn
lisa.dawn

The idea brought forth in your comment  is part of the problem. Our issues are much deeper.

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