Last night, I became engulfed in PBS’ telecast of American Promise, the 13 year journey of two black middle class families raising sons. I saw my own son in both young men depicted in the documentary. I also saw myself as a parent and as an educator and I’m not yet decided on how that feels. The telecast was timely as this is Black Male Achievement Week, or #BMAweek.
As a parent, it has been tough raising my own son in a community with very little choice. We have one high school, one junior high and very few paths to opportunities above what we can personally provide. Black males are more than likely to fill the chairs of DAEP or ISS than an AP course. My son’s school is traditional in every sense of the word and we have had our share of academic ups and downs.
For him, the lowest year was 5th grade when one of his teachers told him that he would end up in prison by 16 and treated him as such. That was the year that he begged not to go to school. As a parent, the lowest moments happened in the years that followed. It seemed that an overwhelming majority of my son’s teachers did not “get” my son and nor did they care.
For me, the lowest moment happened in 7th grade when my son was pegged as “the kid that did not belong in pre-ap” because of his lack of being able to fit the mold as established. I listened on the other end of the phone as his pre-ap english teacher told me that I only wanted my son in a “high performance” class because he was black and not because he was capable. He had a C at the time in her class and I’m convinced that she was more worried about him making her “numbers drop” than about teaching him. I fought like crazy for him that year and eventually gave in to changing his schedule because leaving him in those classes would have surely qualified as abuse.
This was also the year that I knew that I would leave my school district because I could not fully advocate for my son and work in the same place.
Last night, while watching American Promise, I found myself zoning in and out of my own life. I watched as both sets of parents prepared their sons in their own ways and I wonder if I am doing enough with my own. I know in my heart that his current school situation is not enough. There is no challenge for him other than to turn his worksheets in on time, which he struggles with. There is no opportunity for him beyond athletics or auto-mechanics, which I’m sure he won’t be doing. He doesn’t get to think aloud, formulate ideas or share beyond the pieces of paper that are typically found folded in his pocket. There are no opportunities for him to develop as a leader. It hurt to type that sentence.
I train teachers daily to transform their lessons in ways that my own son won’t experience. I struggle with this often.
Like any of the parents of children that I have taught, I want my son to have a chance in life beyond the factories of our town and the city limits that seem to keep everyone home. I know that he wants more for himself and his reality is that he can’t achieve his best without the full support of the adults in his life. By support, I mean we have to help him set the bar high for himself and encourage him at all cost to exceed it.
Step one…Set the bar
What can a student achieve if he sees nothing worth achieving?