Inspirational and thought-provoking messages informed by my faith, ministry in education and community development
Gap vs. Canyon
The title of this WID-WID has nothing to do with the popular band from the 1980s nor is it long related to the St. Philip’s annual 6th grade academic excursion when they visit the Grand Canyon. This WID-WID is intended to insert imagery in the mind of the reader when reflecting on educational disparity.
For decades, I have maintained that America does not have a gap in learning between brown children and white children. Technology and research have been undeniably clear on the disparity. We are not dealing with a gap in academic performance across America. We are confronted with trying to close a canyon.
As we trudge into 2021, the canyon confronting our schools is Expectedly Expanding Exponentially (EEE). There are two major factors that I believe will cause us to come up with a word even more grandiose than canyon. The first is COVID related. We are hearing about it from states across the nation. Screen time is not effective. Kids are not showing up for class. Teachers are burning out. The list of to-dos is lengthy, and the impact is adversely affecting kids of every ethnic background.
The other factor that places us at risk of never being able to close the gap, gorge, or canyon of academic disparity has been brewing for 20 years. The civil unrest and racial tensions that confront us have moved the issue of mediocrity from a state of percolating to brewing. The calls to eliminate testing, academic competitions, grading systems, and graduation requirements are not new. However, there is now a surge which is gaining the listening ears of school boards, legislatures, and even unions in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are on the brink of experiencing a massive buckling in a quest for excellence in our schools. We must not allow further corrosion of our nation’s racial achievement gap to be interpreted, viewed, and analyzed under the veil of attempting to achieve equity for our students. The bar does not need to be lowered. Excellence is hard. Completing engineering, medical, or law school is hard. We must acknowledge that keeping the bar high yields results for even those who abandon the path before reaching the goal.
At St. Philip’s the message to our students is that when they try; even if they don’t hit the target, they will be somewhere close to the top. I call this the “associated rewards of high expectations.” School should be hard; success is often accompanied by discomfort and even pain. School being “hard” is acceptable and should be natural for any educator who is serious about the profession and the best interests of children. As a friend of mine, Jay Wagley, conversed with his child, “life is hard….get a helmet.”
African American success stories are filled with the vestures handed down from generation to generation. Stories with lessons about working twice as hard or going above and beyond leveraging the struggles of ancestors. The St. Philip’s Creed captures the acknowledgement of historical and current day disparity and devastations. Instead of lowering the academic bar, our students are taught as Calvin Hill’s father taught him: “many reasons but no excuses.” We will not allow historical strife and present-day injustice to deter us of our God given rights to succeed. Lowering academic standards is a handout. The hand, however, is on top of your head pushing you down to the depths of destruction.
To Parents: Don’t get drawn in.
To America: We must strive for excellence for all!
For those who are at the forefront of the movement to drop the standards, I have two encouragements. First, I acknowledge the testing system is significantly flawed with bias unfavorable to children of color. Our targets need to be aimed at the content not the complexity to ensure relevance is representative and equitable for all. Second, there is a universe of knowledge surrounding how to teach children who learn differently. Only 1 percent of children of color are enrolled in schools that are specifically set up to meet the needs of students with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia. Energy used towards school reform that meets the needs of students who are nearly absent in these types of schools is desperately needed. More of these services and schools would begin to bring the canyon down to the size of perhaps a creek.
We all need to be on guard. The current movement is not in the best interest of students of color. American education is guilty of much. We have a legacy of riding trends from NEW Math to STEM, STEAM and now STREAM. As we look to do what is best for all of our children there is a truth that still abides, “Reading is still fundamental. We must not diminish our quest for excellence.”