Oct 31, 2012
Today was one of those days…one of those days that make what I do very difficult.
We were administering the state high school exit exam. A 2 part test that ever student in the state must pass in order to be eligible for graduation.
There was this young brother in the class. I could see he was a bit agitated and anxious prior to the test beginning. Then once the test started I watched him get more and more upset. He was whispering “this is too hard” and “I can’t do this ish”… he grew so up set that he gave up and was ready to walk out and quit.
Once he was out side the door. I stopped him and asked him what was wrong. He explained that he was not good at math and felt like a failure because he would not be able to graduate.
I gave him my pep talk. Told him I could relate but that he had 2 choices… he could quit and give himself reason to feel the way he did or he could soldier up and even though he may fail give it his best… which pass or fail was all he could ask of himself and something to be proud of.
I also let him know that he would have another opportunity in the spring and that he should do the best he could in order to gauge where he was and how far he needed to go to earn a passing score. That we could set him up with a math tutor to get his skills up before the next exam.
After our talk he pulled his head up. Put his chest out and went back in and took the test.
Once I got back to the office I did some research and found out that even though he should be a senior… his lack of math skills relegated him to freshman status and that there was no way he would graduate.
Man that hurt! I feel like I set this young man up for failure. Like I gave him false hope which would inevitably end in let-down. Even though I know my intentions were good and that my school has excellent and caring teachers and staff… the truth is that our system has failed this young man… like so many others.
The reality is that in my state, like many others, by the time our young black boys reach 8th grade over 90% are not doing math on basic grade level. How can we expect 9 out of 10 young men who are not working at even basic grade level to make up that deficit, to make up 6 or 8 years of skills and understanding, in the next 4 years? How can students who have never been taught the basic fundamentals succeed. The truth is that they many of them can’t, at least not with out the proper resources, so they get down on themselves. Their self esteem is crushed further and further by the day and they eventually begin to just give up. Even if they find a way to get past 4 years of math and pass the test and graduate… they are still left so un-prepared for the next level.
In this case it was math… but the same is true in English and Science. It just troubles me as I feel so helpless. Education has become a business and our system is based on tests so districts and school can secure much needed funding (its a catch 22 and the student are the ones who suffer)… meanwhile the real needs and welfare of the student become just secondary as school are too busy fighting for mere survival and do not have the time or resources to do much more that that.
It’s a broken system! Our children are the victims! We have money for wars by the trillions but can’t spend even 1/10 of that to educate our most precious resources! While schools in predominantly white and affluent districts have more resources than they can use or know what to do with… while every other school can barely keep the doors open! I see it everyday… Educational Neglect… Educational Inequality.. Educational Racism…Educational Classism… but you don’t have to take my word for it. (As I know some of my more conservative friend are thinking to themselves right now… here he goes again)… like I said don’t take my word for it look up what is going on in Texas right now where 2/3 of the school districts in the state have filed suit based on these same very issues I am raising.
I say Educational Equality is the civil right issue of our generation… yet no one even speaks on it!
Like I said today was one of those days where it’s hard to be in the field of education! But tomorrow is a new day… let us see what tomorrow may bring! I feel better now just getting that off my chest…
[editor's note: Ayende Alcala is one of VLTP's Facebook members]