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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Positive Brothers Are Making a Difference in Schools- Guest Blog by Lawrence Cherry

I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me, but I had to come back with some positivity in light of recent events. We know about the tragedies that evolve from the racism in our country. I do not want to spend more time railing on recent injustices. This does not mean that I don’t think we should lift up our voices and let our discontent be heard. We know what we have to do already: we have to continue to speak out, and protest. In the meantime, those of us who are on the ground working for our benefit have to keep working and pressing forward with the “little things” we do everyday that will make a big difference down the line. That way, when the season changes, we’ll be ready to walk into what God has for us.  So I want to talk about the good things that are going on that will give us hope for the future. I’m hoping that if and when people read about these developments they will be encouraged to emulate and spread the love. Right now, I want to give a shout out to some brothers that work in the education field. I can’t really be specific with names because you know how it is on the net – even if there’s something positive posted about you it can come back to haunt you. But I have to let people know that there are ‘good brothers’ out there despite what you see in the media.

I just want to let you know that there are brothers who are working in education and are having a positive influence on our children, especially our boys (who for the most part are being neglected). Where I work, there are several African-American males that are working with underprivileged children helping them to overcome academically and emotionally.  These guys are some of the most popular instructors in the school and every student has a genuine respect for them. They are not ‘soft’ guys. In fact, they are very strict and demanding educators, but students respond to them because they know that any demands these teachers make comes from a place of love. They care about the students and their future and are not afraid to show that. I’m not talking about hugs and kisses either. I’m talking about encouraging them to persevere on a task they think is impossible and helping them to see that they can do it. These teachers use student interest to get them interested in learning. They give our boys a chance to take a break and move around when they get frustrated (because boys need to be active) which helps them to continue to work on a challenging task.  They model positive ways to express and regulate their emotions. Finally, they are always positive and respectful to students. They don’t bully, belittle, or embarrass like I’ve seen some teachers do. They know how to take a young brother aside and talk privately about behavior issues. They connect with the students on a personal level. Believe me, their presence in our school is making a difference.

 I see boys whose self-esteem is flourishing because they have positive attention from an older male that they look up to. I see many of the behavior problems being resolved. I see boys who are beginning to think it’s cool to be smart like Mr. X. They are starting to like and respect school. They like school because they finally have a teacher who looks like them, who knows where they are coming from, believes in their potential, and best of all shows them how to achieve in an environment where the cards are stacked against them from day one. I just love it when one of the kids runs up to Mr. Z to show him a good grade they got on a quiz from another teacher. I smile because I know that there’s something even deeper going on that will help them for years to come.

Each boy that interacts with these positive African-American men is getting an alternative vision of what ‘manhood’ is that is different from what the ‘hood’ and the media have put out there for them. Their father is absent, their mother’s boyfriend may not be the most positive person around, but now, by just having seen these professional black men operate competently in the real world, the young men in our school are beginning to develop alternative plan for how to construct their manhood. They don’t have to surrender to the inevitability of being a thug, or a drug dealer, or a welfare recipient, or becoming incarcerated. In this school, there are some boys who can now see themselves as an architect of learning, and as a nurturer. For them, being a law-abiding citizen seems like a positive possibility. These positive African-American roles models are giving our boys something  they have never had before: the idea that they have a choice – that they can be what they want to be instead of what someone else (the media/the ‘hood’/circumstances) says they have to.

Now is this every male student? No. Unfortunately, there are some boys whose situations are so troubled that only God has the power to turn them around, and so far He is not using our male teachers for the benefit of these particular few at the moment. But there are still a good number of boys who are looking and following. Boys who now know they don’t have to wear the hip-hop “uniform” all the time or at all if they so choose. They can wear a tie, they can wear khakis, or an oxford cloth shirt. They can dress differently for different occasions or based on their mood.  They also influence our girls as well. They show them that an African-American male can be strong without being disrespectful, and he can be nurturing without being a push-over. Their interaction with the female staff of the school, shows our girls how they should be treated by men.

I had to write about this because I wanted to let you all know that not every African-American male is abusive, a criminal, incarcerated, or some aloof celebrity that cares nothing for their own. There are African-American males that are making a difference and having an impact, but we need more of you to step up. Our children, particularly our boys are in crisis in our schools. There is a more than 50% drop-out rate among African-American males. Do you know why? Because from their very first days of school, they are alienated from the very institution they need the most because of the antiquated nature of the learning environment.

Most schools, especially at the elementary level are predominately female run and a feminine ethos pervades the school. The majority of children don’t ever see a male teacher come into play until they are in at least junior high school. As such, the schools work and operate are around feminine values. Good students sit still in the seat, and do their work quietly. Good students contribute to conversations and are articulate. In fact, a premium is placed on verbal expression and whether or not children use “learning prompts” in their “accountable talk.” Most of the work is ‘seat work’ in which the majority of time is spent sitting down to read or write a story. There is nothing more than pencil and paper tasks most of the time. Such an environment benefits girls because they tend to mature faster and develop language skills faster. None of this is conducive to how boys learn.

Boys need to have physical activity in between sedentary paper and pencil tasks. Boys develop their language skills at a slower pace than girls and need more time to become articulate talkers. Boys need to use their hands and eyes to learn. They need to explore, to build, and to create things.  While many female teachers try to include such activities in their classrooms, they have a hard time differentiating instruction for male students because they just don’t have that particular perspective.  Now add to this the fact that not only are our boys excluded from participation in school because of gender issues, they are also excluded on a cultural level. Ever since Wall Street broke apart, there have been very few teachers of color in the schools. When I was younger it was about 50-50 African-American to “other” cultures in the schools. Now you are hard pressed to even find an African-American teacher let alone an African-American male teacher. If you don’t know the impact this is having on our schools, I will tell you – unless the school is located in a predominantly African-American area, Black history month is not celebrated and Martin Luther King, Jr. may be given slight notice only on the Friday before the holiday in his honor (In K-8 he’s just a nice man who had a dream that everyone should be treated fairly and spoke out against bullying – this is all the DOE will allow you to say because “children won’t understand racism”). As such, the school environment totally makes our boys feel unwelcome. School is a place where our boys have few male role models or cultural connections. This causes them to lose interest in school and reject ownership of their learning. Then they begin to act out and you know the rest of the story. In order to change things for our boys we have to change this negative view of education they have.  Part of this starts with getting more brothers into education.

So guys, listen. If three or so guys are having this kind of an impact in one school, what do you think ten or twenty brothers in one place can do? We need more brothers to get out there and be seen in a positive way. I’m telling you – you don’t have to be some ball player with a lot of money, or an R&B artist, or a rapper or other such entertainer. Most (not all) of these entertainers aren’t doing anything for anyone except their ego. These kids just want someone who is willing to care. That’s it. If you don’t have your degree, you don’t have to be a teacher- per se. You can sign up and become a paraprofessional. Don’t let other people con you with the idea that teaching is “women’s work,” because if it were, the women would have been doing a better job at keeping our boys in school, but statistics say otherwise. Our boys (and our girls, too) need you to be like the old griots, teaching them about where they come from, and where they should be going. Don’t let the establishment get in the way either. There are all kinds of ways to get your teaching credentials and certifications. Once you’re in you don’t have to stay in public education. You can branch out and become a tutor, start a charter school, after school program, or anything you want. Please, brothers, we need you. Our children need you

Lawrence Cherry is the author of Commencement and School of Hard Knocks. You can find his books  on Amazon and Smashwords.

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