In the Charlotte Observer article “Students: Rising CMS grad rates mask grim future for many blacks” of February 15, 2019, Alyana Jenkins, a West Mecklenberg High School senior speaks truth: “I’m asking for you [CMS school board] to raise expectations for the school system across the board.” She is speaking not only against the credit recovery program, which is a farce, but also pleading for educational principles of quality scholarship, which often cannot be measured by a machine graded multiple-quess test.
However, I hope Jenkins and everyone else involved, realize the consequences of raised expectations. In his book, Study is Hard Work, William Armstrong writes, “The secret of how to study is locked up in the desire to learn….good students are made by constant and deliberate practice of good study habits, and for this there is absolutely no substitute.” As a teacher for forty years, I know that the harder I worked my students, the harder I had to work. No modern pretentious language will mask what is required. Work for the classroom means showing up on time, being eager to learn, being prepared by having done self-study (homework), and open to hearing. That is for teachers and students. Scholarship is rewarded, but it requires discipline and dedication. We have a high school senior begging for this, and we must honor her plea.
In 1963 James Baldwin wrote that if he were teaching in “any Negro school, and I was dealing with Negro children, …I would try to make them know-that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal. I would try to make each child know that these things are the result of a criminal conspiracy to destroy him.” Programs such as the credit recovery one are conspiracies to destroy marginalized students.
Having worked in a computer-based, “self-learning” recovery program in high school, I know that the programs offer nothing but a “criminal conspiracy” to marginalize students. In the Observer article, state board member Ms. Becky Taylor is quoted as saying in 2017 “Sometimes it makes you wonder if there’s a little bit of a numbers game going on.” Now, two years later, we have our students confirming her words. Hear the truth: graduation rates prove little or nothing. How we prepare our children for productive lives does, but that cannot be a line on a chart.
Armstrong’s book that I cited above was written in 1956. Baldwin spoke his words in 1963 to New York City teachers. Bear with me as I cite one more scholar. In 1960, educator Claude M. Fuess writes: “In a majority of secondary schools, the emphasis is not primarily on scholastic attainment; the vacations are too long, the standards are too low, and too much emphasis is placed on games.” Sounds like what Ms. Jenkins rails against in her West Mecklenberg High School.
Readers may call me a backward person, but I believe that we have taken the easy way out in educating our children. We stick them in front of computer screens for them to silently learn. Guess what? Learning is, or should be, a social experience involving a teacher and peers. For instance, can any child learn to pitch a curve ball, dribble a basketball or throw a football, excellently, without instruction from a master teacher? That won’t happen; in the process of learning one of those skills the pupil athlete will be instructed, critiqued, but not criticized. The master teacher will work with the pupil as she or he does repeats and drills. Over and over and over. Oh, and the pupil will be willing, even eager, to hear the words of the master and to do the drills, over and over. That is hard work for both the pupil athlete and the master teacher.
Scholarship requires the same dedication. Pupils and teachers must be eager to learn and to work. But, as only one example, they cannot do it as effectively if classrooms are filled with thirty (or more) pupils. School boards must facilitate an environment for scholarship, not rote and false standards. School boards must be willing to work and learn, then provide the necessary tools without latching onto the latest “innovation” that settles for mediocrity instead of excellence.
As a retired English teacher, (forgive me other disciplines) I hope that teachers of Ms. Jenkins have required her to read, study, discuss, and write about Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Women of Brewster Place and A Gathering of Old Men and Romeo and Juliet and Beowulf and so on. I hope her teachers have “piled” on the reading and writing for such jewels as she. But I fear that is not the case, and her loss is also ours.