Check out my recap of the Teaching with Purpose Conference 2011. If you’re in the Portland area, and an educator, parent, community member or simply a person, try and attend next year. Don’t miss out on the innovations that could revolutionize education.
Archive for education
I like to think I started putting limitations on my dreams when I quit playing basketball before my senior year of high school. Truth be told, I built a ceiling for myself months earlier when I got Ds in both Physics and Pre-Calculus.
I wasn’t necessarily a superstar in math and science but I was a grade ahead in one and got mostly As in the other.
However, when junior year came around I faced an inspiration dilemma.
My Pre-Calculus teacher did everything he could to discourage me but that was no excuse to stop working hard. Likewise, my Physics teacher had a hard time keeping me engaged but that was no reason to think I was above putting effort into his class.
I coasted for the first part of the year and figured it would be a tough phase before I got back to my normal good grades.
After I got Ds, that all changed.
At the time I had no idea how many doors I was closing for myself.
Recently I talked with a professor from Portland Community College and I was surprised to find that specializing in math is one way to get on the fast track to becoming a dean and a six figure salary.
Compared to my prospects as a journalist (especially as one with a soul) that sounded very enticing.
Considering that test scores are going down across the board in the US, there are plenty of openings, especially for people of color who are underrepresented in these areas to begin with, in math and science related fields.
The term “revolution” often evokes thoughts of violence. However, what would be more revolutionary than blacks taking advantage of the gaping holes in math and science.
These fields power everything from health care to energy to war. Mastering them could yield both wealth and significant societal control.
For example, America’s infrastructure is in shambles. We need construction work but if you talk to people in the field, many young, aspiring construction workers aren’t qualified because they aren’t proficient enough in math.
My father always encouraged me to take an interest in construction but I figured my focus on writing was already way more than most expected of me as a black basketball player.
As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” If I had known back in high school what I know now, I would never have succumbed to the limitations I put on myself.
Instead of wallowing in what could’ve been, it’s important people like me ask ourselves what we can do to make sure we don’t lose the next generation as well.
My parents didn’t fail for lack of trying. I was just stubborn, like many young adults.
Part of the solution is connecting math and science to history and a sense of self. After all, this is what elevated my love of reading and writing.
The American education system does a poor job of teaching about the African kingdoms before slavery. This history holds the key to relating technical fields to the lives of our people.
Ancient Greeks used to go to Kemet (Africa) to study under men like the “Father of Medicine” Imhotep, a black man, to learn math and science.
These ancient kingdoms produced many new innovations like the step pyramid, which utilized the Pythagorean Theorem formula that Pythagoras would allegedly “discover” thousands of years later.
The knowledge of math and science gave these kingdoms control over civilization because other ancient kingdoms were dependent on their wisdom.
It is much easier to steer black children away from these subjects when they don’t know this history. However, they’re much more likely to take an interest if they can see the footsteps they’re following in.
Not to mention, having considerable influence and control over society is a much more enticing reason to take interest in a subject versus the prospect of simply getting a stable job.
When I was young I wanted to be an engineer. I never really knew why but the history of my people suggests it was something that was always in me.
We must take all measures to reawaken this spirit in our children as well as continue to encourage our aspiring black scientists, mathematicians, engineers, etc. who don’t get nearly enough support from society.
As black people we can overcome all the odds as soon as we stop putting limitations on ourselves.
Check out my new article in the Skanner on the Teaching with Purpose Conference here.
Check out my piece in The Skanner. We need more people doing this, especially when the system is making painful cuts to education.
If you mention the New World Order people will give you odd stares and might even label you a “conspiracy theorist.” However, it must’ve been important because my AP U.S. History teacher gave us a handout with extracts from President George H.W. Bush’s “New World Order” speech laying out the plans for a multinational approach to global power and obtaining resources in the Middle East.
This speech was one of many treasures I found while cleaning my room and going through old high school papers. Hindsight is a funny thing.
I hated high school but now if someone told me I could take a class where we learned how to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and look over COINTELPRO documents I’d be the first to sign up.
It’s not like I was a bad student. I got As and Bs while taking honors and AP courses but I swear I sleepwalked through those four years of my life (I actually fell asleep as a judge in a Supreme Court simulation). The point of going through old papers was to clear space but soon I realized that my old study guides, essays and handouts would actually be real useful.
There’s something refreshing about role playing as a “Zionist Jew” in Model United Nations. It adds more engaging context to news articles and debates on the Israeli occupation. Although at the time I probably didn’t notice.
So why is everything I studied in high school so much more interesting now that I’ve been through college?
It could be because the University of Oregon allowed me the independent study time to find what really intrigued me about learning. When knowledge became fun outside of the classroom is when I started internalizing what I was learning.
Although I feel like I’m much more informed today, all I have to do is look through old work to see I’ve had political awareness and analysis mixed with sarcasm for years.
Chances are I’ve probably forgot more than I’ve learned since high school.
As nice as it sounds to say that I’m keeping a thick packet of landmark Supreme Court cases for my children’s knowledge, the truth is I need it for myself.
There came a point during junior high when my parents could no longer help me with my math homework and I could never understand why but looking at the amount of information I’ve forgot in a mere four years is frightening.
However, I see it as an opportunity.
It’s never too late to re-learn. There’s a scene in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X where Malcolm sits with a man in prison and reads every word in the dictionary. The man tells him it’s important so he can use the white man’s words against him (If you want to find something interesting look up “black” in the dictionary). What’s even more important than the revolutionary message of the scene is that it teaches you that you can learn from any and everything.
Although I might not have appreciated every lesson in high school, as I get older I realize that there is practical application for everything from the story of Alexander Hamilton to the permeability of rocks.
When I think about how much I didn’t internalize in high school I think it’s because I didn’t see learning as fun or as important as it is. Sometimes it takes outside forces to flip the switch in a kid’s mind. I definitely benefited from seeing rappers and cartoons like The Boondocks as well as slightly older dudes actually apply things like law and current events to life.
At the least, by re-learning some of this essential knowledge, I can provide another outside resource for kids who were sleepwalking like I once was.
*Author’s note: Much love to Mr. Koepping, Mr. Gillespie, Mrs. Paxson, Mrs. Cochran, Mrs. Wirtz, Mr. Matthys, Mr. McNeal, Mr. Peri and everyone else who gave students indispensable knowledge even when we resisted it.
Carla Gary founded the Young Scholars to empower under served students of color, first generation and low-income potential college students. She realized just how much her pupils were learning when students from the program’s law cohort petitioned her for more freedom last year.
“They wanted to travel across campus with no RA (Residence Assistant),” says Gary. “They even outlined the consequences if they were late or not compliant.”
She told the them not to prove her wrong. The next day they showed up 15 minutes early to class to help RAs with younger students.
Gary founded the Young Scholars in the summer of 2005. It is a week long college preparatory program where kids stay in the University of Oregon dorms, attend classes, have a business dinner and conclude the week by displaying what they’ve learned to their parents.
“I was more excited than my daughter,” says Nike Green, whose daughter is an incoming Freshman at Roosevelt.
According to UO Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) General Teaching Fellow (GTF) Divya Bheda, the schedule for the students is the same every day.
They attend morning classes in math and writing before breaking off into cohorts that include Swahili, Journalism, Education, Business, Law, History and Music.
“The cohorts sound fun,” says Cen’tory Christmas, a junior to be at Central Catholic.
He heard about the Young Scholars in 8th grade through his principal at the SEI academy.
Gary has middle school students from the Portland and Eugene area apply through recommendations from people in their schools and communities. They can go through the program from 8th grade to their junior year in high school.
The program began with only 8th graders.
Now some students have siblings and/or cousins in the program.
Tyler Price, who volunteers with the Young Scholars, is one of three members of his family to go through the program.
“My brother was the first and my cousin is currently going through it,” he says.
Gary says she doesn’t do a huge call out for applications because it would be disingenuous to have hordes of students apply for a few spots.
She has gotten inquiries from all over the state and would like to see other Oregon schools emulate the Young Scholars. Gary suggest every Oregon US school host 25-30 students for a week. Her intention is to have kids speaking in terms of college because that will have them prepared to succeed in high school.
“Young people need to become familiar,” she says. “If they don’t see it then it’s not real.”
Gary also believes living in the dorms is a powerful part of the experience because otherwise it’s just like going to class.
In the future she wants to expand the program to two weeks to include co-curricular activities like trips to the coast and the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Gary would also like to give the students some more recreation time to do things like attend a baseball game or go to the roller rink.
In the meantime, Young Scholars makes the most of seven days.
The final day of the program includes students from each cohort demonstrating what they’ve learned for their parents.
The Journalism cohort made a video of the other cohorts and left with the ability to say they’ve created a multimedia production.
The Law cohort did a presentation on freedom of speech while the Swahili students demonstrated their understanding of a different language.
In the Music cohort students did a presentation on the history of gospel and how it was integral to survival, especially when it was utilized for Negro spirituals during slavery.
The Business cohort did a presentation on personal finance, including interest, payday loans and which communities get taken advantage of by banks.
In the education cohort students designed a school in detail including how the institution would interact with communities and accommodate students with disabilities.
Lastly, the History cohort read biographies of other cohort members and explained how they were living history because many were going to be the first to attend college in their families.
Gary was still in awe after the seventh year of the program.
“It’s mind boggling,” she says. “It was a truly humbling experience.”
Check it out. My first piece in The Skanner. Also, be on the lookout for an update following the book giveaway.