Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
Here we go again. Marching, protesting and complaining against something we claim to abhor: discrimination based on race, ethnicity and disability, this time in the Fairfax County school system. Yet many of us in the black community fail to realize our own complicity in the underachievement of our children.
Monday, the NAACP, along with a local group called Code of Silence, levied a complaint, against the Fairfax County Public School System. The complaint alleges that black and Latino students, as well as students with disabilities, are being shut out of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology or TJ, long before they apply in eighth grade because of Fairfax County Public Schools’ systematic failure to identify them for gifted-education programs that begin in elementary school.
But, the burden for this failure cannot be borne exclusively by the Fairfax County School System. The relatively poor performance of our students rests upon the shoulders of the black community itself and black parents in particular.
Could it be that the school, best known for promoting Science and Math ability, actually expects that entering ninth graders show proficiency in those areas? Is there some diabolical scheme supporting TJ’s admission process?
I was a motivational speaker, living in Columbus, Ohio in the mid 1990’s. I traveled the country widely, speaking at schools and student leadership programs of all kinds. I remember being asked to speak at an end of year academic celebration at Dublin High School, an adjacent, highly regarded and overwhelmingly white suburban Columbus school system.
I was shocked to be enthusiastically greeted at the door by a beaming, dark skinned African America kid, neatly attired, tight, short, low top fade haircut, telling me that he was the class valedictorian.
Momentarily, I was embarrassed by my surprise that he was the best student in the school- because we know that our kids are capable of far greater effort than what we have demanded intellectually. I was a victim of my own low expectations for our children and it’s important that we all strive to raise what we demand of our children.
The goal must be to produce students that even TJ would openly solicit to have among its population. Letting TJ, and others, know that they are not the only option for our bright and talented minority students might compel them to reconsider these alleged unjust policies.
Begging, pleading, and hoping for inclusion is such a 20th century approach to solving problems. Rendering ourselves impotent and further enslaving our children to an admissions process at one institution does not factor here in the 21st century.
Ironically, identifying black talent does not pose an issue for schools when they are building a basketball, football or track and field team. Regrettably, the same cannot be claimed when seeking admission into the best schools based only on academic performance.
If black students competed scholastically with the same fierceness as they do in athletics soon the best schools in the world, not just the US will show up on our doorsteps. They will recruit our kids with the same fervor as they do to NCAA Division I universities.
Two a-days study sessions in the library are unheard of yet two a day practices on the field or court for black kids are the norm.
When it comes to academic performance, black and minority kids need to be more the rule than the exception. The young brother at Dublin High school all those years ago need not be an anomaly.