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President Obama today unveiled an initiative named "My Brothers Keeper" which he says will help young underprivileged Black men succeed in breaking the cycle of poverty. While some said that his outreach to these people was long overdue after a period of neglect dating from even before Reagan, others said that his emphasis on preaching at people about personal responsibility grated on them. I submit that while teaching personal responsibility is important, it does not cover the complete picture. Therefore, this initiative will not lift Black men out of the cycle of poverty unless Obama accompanies it by getting rid of the structural barriers that prevent them from succeeding.

One blogger said that it was a step that was long overdue.

“It is a step in the right direction simply because there’s been not much done — there’s hasn’t been much that’s been done going back to before the Reagan administration,” said Dawud Walid, a black activist and political blogger in Michigan. “We’ve been deprived of these discussions and talks, this appears to be a big step. It is something.”
Another person liked how Obama was not trying to be "post-racial."
“It’s incremental progress, it’s a little step but one that I admire and commend,” said Leola Johnson, associate professor and chair of the Media and Cultural Studies Department at MacAlester College. “At least he’s not trying to be post-racial anymore.”
But they also came down on Obama as well.
“That puts forward the false notion that black people in and of themselves have not had the desire to work hard and the current conditions of inequality of black America is due to our not working hard,” Walid said. “As much as black America supported Obama and wants him to address black issues, we don’t want to be talked down to by our president.”

Johnson noted that there was also a futility in simply working harder and being more "respectable" for young black men trying to get ahead: “No matter how many young black men pull their pants up, that’s not going to increase the number of jobs available.”

The problem with Obama's initiative is that while it preaches to young Black men about the importance of taking responsibility, it doesn't show them how. On Sunday, I wrote about how Teach for America's purpose was to bust unions, not make better schools. In it, I wrote about how our schools needed to change to reflect realities. Specifically, from personal experience, I wanted to see:

1. Know how to start a business;
2. Be prepared to enter college;
3. Be ready to join the workforce (and how to organize a union);
4. Know how to create a budget (and stick to it).
5. Know how to take care of their health.

In other words, how to take responsibility.

One poster, zenbasoon, pointed out that students needed to be able to think critically as well. His ideas:

1. Know how to learn
2. Be able to research.
3. Understand and Appreciate arts and culture
4. Become independent thinkers.

These concepts are not mutually exclusive. While Obama, to his credit, got rid of No Child Left Behind by making it easy for states to opt out of it, the problem is that our schools still have too much of an emphasis on standardized testing. I have talked to school administrators and they tell me that while there are certain things our kids are expected to learn, those things are not communicated to the schools and they are on their own as far as trying to figure out what our children are supposed to know and when.

The problem with standardized testing is that it places a value on human life. Tests suffer from cultural bias; for instance, if I were to go to Botswana and attend school at a Pygmy tribe and they were to test me on how to survive in the jungle there, I would not do very well. But if they were to come over here and live and work, they would not do any better on our standardized tests. And there is something morally repugnant about assigning a value to human lives after our men fought and died to liberate the world from Hitler.

The other problem with standardized testing is that class time is all about teaching to the test and filling up kids with head knowledge instead of how to take responsibility and how to think critically. If all you do is saturate a kid with head knowledge, they will forget most of it and not see how it is relevant. But teach a kid how to think for themselves, and they will learn for themselves the importance of learning and how to go about learning, for instance, the origins of our country.

Instead of standardized testing, I submit that control of schools should be decentralized and returned to local school boards and communities, with appropriate direction from state and federal authorities. This is because inner city Kansas City and St. Louis, for instance, have different economic needs that rural Missouri. School improvement should be based on local school boards coming up with comprehensive school improvement plans that are updated every few years that take into account local and state needs as well as each of the nine educational categories that I listed above. Other measures of accountability should include such things as finances, graduation, attendance, discipline, and how well their students succeed after leaving school.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)

    "The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression." - W.E.B. Du Bois Be informed. Fight the Police State.

    by Eternal Hope on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:11:52 PM PST

  •  this is all some pretty high minded stuff (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, mwm341

    But the bottom line is these kids need schools that have enough teachers and resources so that the kids that want to work hard don't have to be behind their more fortunate peers once they reach college.  Richard Sherman the defensive back for the seahawks graduated 2nd in his class in high school and when he went to college at Stanford he found himself behind the other students when it came to the depth of his education.  He had to play catch up while taking his regular course load.  He grew up in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the United States and also one of our poorest,  Compton.

    Pull yourself up by your bootstrap, boy, but I don't have any bootstraps,  sir. Sorry the republicans have the key to the bootstrap box and they're crazy and I'm afraid of them, boy walks away shaking his head, enter the local drug dealer with a box of bootstraps and a gun, you know how this ends.

    I sing praises in the church of nonsense, but in my heart I'm still an atheist, demanding sense of all things.

    by jbou on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 10:08:21 PM PST

  •  We need this program (5+ / 0-)

    There are structural issues. There are also five year olds being abandoned and left to walk to school every day, to go home to nobody, making the school their only home. There are also the parents punching their children in the faces in the hallways of the school. I just don't see that this is a one or the other issue.

    http://callatimeout.blogspot.com/

    by DAISHI on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 10:27:01 PM PST

    •  Exactly, DAISHI! This: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eternal Hope, mwm341
      I just don't see that this is a one or the other issue
      We have always needed this program.  Once, in another era, we did have similar initiatives-brought about by diverse groups such as the original Black Panthers.

      Some of these community programs became part of our landscape beit free school lunches or HeadStart or Boys & Girls Clubs.

      Am I incorrect in thinking that "My Brothers Keeper" is an initiative not regulated to school but rather community????

      My understanding of the speech made by President Obama
      (full transcript found on DailyKos) is for the involvement of businesses, communities, leaders & everyday folk-banding together to provide what is needed-what is missing in a young person's life.

      Which included a close look at the pipeline to prison epidemic & making changes.

      My take away from reading his speech was about community not about schools steeping up and saving lives; saving futures.  

      If you read the transcripts, you will find real life examples of programs or people who changed the history of a young person's life.

      The USA community needs to step up.  Truly become a safety net for the countless kiddos who have none.

      Strengthen existing programs, created innovative 21st century programs, expand community involvement & provide critical funding for each.  

      My Brothers Keeper provides the impetus, the funding, the tools to start.

      •  It reminds me of Malcom X (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        worldlotus

        Telling black leader to reinvest into their communities and encouraging right behavior concerning one's self and the other. There's always a need for the structural, economic component, but also the social and cultural accountability as well.

        http://callatimeout.blogspot.com/

        by DAISHI on Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 02:00:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  my understanding is its more than 'be responsible' (4+ / 0-)
    early child development and school readiness, parenting, literacy, educational opportunity, school discipline reform and economic opportunity
    I've heard the criticisms from people like Tim Wise and Ta-Nehisi Coates before, but I always thought it was a bit of a false dilemma. You can worry about both The Lynch Mob and personal responsibility. Ask a old "coloured" person sometime. Bad parenting and widespread intellectual ignorance are fucking plagues in our community. You can also lay the virulent homophobia, misogyny, and faux-intellectual comfort food conspiracy crap squarely at the doorstep of the latter. When I leave Dkos to talk on Black websites, I have to battle ridiculous ideas like Michael-Sam-is-part-of-a-White-Supremacist-plot-to-"feminize"-black-men for crying out loud.

    "oh but Obama is telling them to work hard"

    And what, he shouldn't? People that think this "My life plan is to be a rapper or pro athlete" thing is a straw man need to talk to me or my high school friends some time. I'm "smart" with 2 great parents and I got sucked into the Get Rich Quick fantasy too. (the guys who adjusted the best were ironically, the drug dealers. They understood Capitalism better than the rest of us and have great corporate sales jobs now. Figures.)

    I'm assuming that this is only the beginning of Obama's post-white house plans. Sounds like a better bet than painting pictures of cats or fapping in the mirror about how awesome your library is lol.

    Also:

    leading schools away from “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies
    Oh my GOD, are you kidding me? What a blessing that would be!

    "See? I'm not a racist! I have a black friend!"

    by TheHalfrican on Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 09:58:24 AM PST

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