Monday, April 21, 2008

My Experience In An "Urban Elementary School" - I Am They And They Are Me


I decided to 'simulcast' my recent experience at a local elementary school at which I gave a speech recently. I will run through my experiences twice because I don't want to give the appearance that I am being overly critical, negative or condescending regarding what I saw and felt. I was ready to leave the building and document my strong feelings. I instead decided to be a bit more strategic and diplomatic in my response though. So here I am.

Thus I will use my two distinct blogs to express my varied views.
On "Functional Culture" which is my "Love" site I will limit my commentary to the positive, constructive elements of what I had witnessed.
On my "Within The Black Community" site which is my "Tough Love" sister site I will focus my distinct criticism of what I saw on that blog entry". (

I hope that in reading the entirety of both accounts that anyone who is interested will see the complexity of the matter at hand regarding "Urban Education" and reaching children where they reside.......but also........MOVING THEM FORWARD rather than wading in the dysfunctional culture that is all around them.

Note: I'd prefer to be a bit generic and ambiguous in my account because I'd prefer to keep my personal life and my Blogger life as distinct as possible.)

Today I delivered upon a motivational speech in front of a public elementary school in Dekalb County Georgia. A 'friend of a friend' said that I was 'clean cut' enough to deliver a message to the young people on the verge of taking a big standardized test.

I arrived at the school and was greeted by the principal and taken to the gym where the assembly would take place. I had a good conversation with a substitute teacher who has been working in the Dekalb Public School system while he does some graduate work in psychology. He introduced me to the concept of "North Of Memorial Drive Schools" and "South Of Memorial Drive Schools". This is the divide in Dekalb counties between the schools of the north that are racially diverse and have a greater income position and the schools in the south of the county which are mostly poor, Black and inner city in character (with some exceptions to this rule to be noted). He told me about his thesis on the subject of "how to deal with discipline problems with inner city school children". It appears that he found the reasons why certain children act out in a given way but he needed a bit more of a comprehensive strategy regarding a fix. Indeed he mentioned that the parents must involve themselves in the management of their children's education and that they need external assistance to compensate for any shortcoming that they have in their abilities to do so.

As the students began to file in - I was sitting by the doorway. I couldn't help but to notice that they could all be "my own children". Some had their shoes untied, others has outgoing personalities and asked me what my name was. I replied "I'm Barney" to a 1st grader.

After the audio was setup the A/V technician played a song that was based on Snoop Dogg's "Sexual Attraction". This version said "Addition and Subtraction, you got it". In trying to be open minded - I personally would not play this type of music for elementary schools but clearly these kids had heard the song before and connected with it.

As the program started the principal took control of the room. It was clear that her authority was established. I was the first guest speaker and I told them that everything that they need to pass the test is already inside of them. I tried to keep them laughing but I also realized that the more interactive I was with them the more the opportunity to lose control of the audience as they screamed out to answers. Basically I gave them some key test taking advice and told them that they will never stop taking tests. As an employee and an adult I still take tests as a measure of my understanding. I believe that they "got" what I was saying to them but they had heard it all before.

The next speaker was more on their wave length. He was a local singer/rapper brought to the school as part of some Title 1, Communities In Schools initiative. He claimed to have a college degree and a master's degree. I did not get a chance to query his credentials. None the less he played the part of what they wanted to hear. After hearing that he was a part of "Young Joc's" crew the crowd cheered.

He made a passing reference to doing well on the test. One would argue that as a young, twenty-something Black male who they could relate to he was able to attract their attention most effectively.

After his brief talk he asked for 4 boys and 4 girls from the audience and he held a dance contest where 4 people won some prizes. Where as I would not have personally done this as part of an education forum - it was clear by the student's reactions that this was the proper balance between listening to an important message and fun. "Eductainment" some call it. Any way you cut it - the entire audience was shrieking with an ear piercing amount of yelling and screaming around this entire bit at the end of the session.

The students cleared out. I was thanked for my words and I departed for the day.

Again - these could have been "my kids". They have all of the mental capacity and abilities that my children were born with. I have to assume that a portion of them come from impoverished backgrounds and thus have the associated challenges.

I promised to check up on their school to see how they did on these standardized tests when they are released later this year.

In any event the principal and the Title I resource coach invited me back to assist them with the schools technology.

I am an outsider looking in. Where as I would not have exposed these children to some of the things that I did see - it would be naive of me to assume that they are not bombarded with many of these messages outside of the schools control. The popular theory is to attempt to redirect some of these potentially negative influences into more positive and productive engagements. That the theory at least.

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