Monday, June 25, 2007

Teaching A Little Black Boy How To Read

This summer I have decided to give up a greater amount of my time to prepare my children, particularly my son for school. I am a college educated Black man and I can see first hand how tough it is to translate what you know into bits of information that someone else who is starting off from scratch can figure out. Teaching my second grade daughter fractions as well as subtraction has been a challenge. My daughter is smart and she will eventually pick up on things if I explain concepts to her.

My 5 year old son is a different matter. I keep thinking that I have a new "Theo Huxtable" on my hand. When I asked my son if he wanted to learn how to read he said "No!". I had to tell him "Boy I'll beat you for saying that". With little boys it is more of a combintation of learning and discipline that must be enforced in order for them to effectively learn. I is clear that he seeks his mother out as an escape valve whenever I take away all options from him and he has no choice but to focus on the workbook that is in front of him. Upon telling him that it is time for his daily lesson he will cry and pout. Yesterday after a pouting session momma offered to take him to the store with her. I told her and him "No" he is busy with his lesson and he needs to learn how to complete what he starts. Again the crying started. After she left and he again realized that all of his options for escaping his lesson were gone he stopped crying and focused upon the material at hand.

Elementary education of children is all about instilling patterns for learning into them. I feel sorry for a parent who does not feel that they are one step ahead of the child, sees what they are struggling over and lacks the ability to introduce a different tactic so that they can "get it". It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the foundation of our woeful academic performance in school stems from parents not able to spend the requisite time with nor have the ability to introduce learning tactics for these kids who are in need of mental discipline. I can see from first hand experience that boys are different.

My mother who has 5 boys to her credit told me to take my time. That he would eventually pick up on it. Here I am a product of this wisdom and I was inclined to tell her that "This boy is just undisciplined and too interested in doing his own thing".

I recall the sessions with my father - the authority figure in the house. Momma used to spend the bulk of the time with the reading books and the spelling. Her favorite answer to "mom - how do you spell" so and so was "D.I.C.T.I.O.N.A.R.Y". When it came to mathematics - authoritarian dad took over. I recall many sessions in which I didn't understand the patterns and logic that he was attempting to show me and I began to cry. He wasn't going to slack up on us and thus crying was an outlet to end the session.

Earlier today I responded to a blogger who asked middle class Black people what they were doing to help "poor Blacks" with their education. It is totally clear to me that the model in which "Reponsible Blacks" are asked to leave their homes and enter into another man's home to educate his kids is fatally flawed. Instead we need to enforce DISTRIBUTED LEADERSHIP and mandate that parents and heads of households primilarly take care of their own. We then focus on the EXCEPTIONS. If a parent is not up on a particular advanced subject - fine - the community can work to apply such cover. Unfortunately today we are dealing with the basics. There is simply no way for parents who "put up" their child with anybody and everybody as a means of continuing to conduct their own lives are able to provide for the education of their children. It is hard enough to teach children - add an unstable environment and we get the public schools being dumped upon.

My general opinion is that outside intervention programs should be a safety net but they cannot be had to take the place of parental invovlement as the first line manager of a child's education.


just_a_guy said...

My wife and I met an 8th grade boy this evening while waiting for a bus at the State Fair. In conversation (and in context) I asked "Why don't you like reading except in school?" He said "It's difficult for me, because when I find a word I don't understand, then I find another, and pretty soon, it messes up the story. So I'd rather watch a movie." (Note: I quoted him accurately, so his vocabulary isn't limiting him.)
Now I don't know about you, but his answer really cut me to the bone.

You said his family should step up and teach him and the community should be a safety net. Is this really "a community problem" or "a black community" problem? See, I'm a white guy and feel like my willingness to help is resented. But the young man still doesn't like to read.

T-Cubed said...

Thank you for this piece. As an urban educator and learner, I am amazed that educating Black boys often becomes "someone else's problem." While race matters and I don't believe in "being color-blind", all boys (and girls) are our future and need involved parents/guardians in their lives.

Indeed parent involvement is crucial and indispensable. But so are policies (work, housing, transportation, school, etc.) that foster consistent parent involvement. While parents should be involved to the best of their ability in their children's education, there are obstacles to parents authoring their participation in schools.

Yes, we (parents, teachers, and communities) need to be involved with our own children and nurture their academic, social, and emotional development. But, the reality is that any fertile man and woman can make a baby that they might not want or be able to care for. So, I am a BIG advocate of universal preschool, sex education, over-the-counter birth control for women, and parenting eduction. Its such a complex issue... thanks for bringing it up.

In response to "just a guy": Certainly, this is absolutely NOT "a Black community" problem alone. It is everyone's problem as Black boy are U.S. "Americans" as any other boy in this country. All of our people need to learn to read, write, and think critically!

Readers (regardless of their race) who struggle decoding difficult words and vocabulary need direct reading and word study instruction that will help them with decoding strategies and increasing vocabulary. They also need a teacher, librarian, or parent/adult to help them find books that they are interested in but that are at their appropriate reading level.