Educating Children of Color—A Summit
by L. Arthalia Cravin
The word “summit” means “the highest point or part of a hill, or the highest point of attainment or aspiration.” Government officials often meet in exclusive and highly guarded places in order to discuss diplomatic or other governmental business of an important nature. The word “summit” connotes urgency, or a condition that has reached a crisis.
This past Saturday I attended a summit called “Educating Children of Color.” It was held on the campus of Colorado College in Colorado Springs. The college itself was founded in 1874 and has a history of being unkind to the educational needs of black students. One local historian, the late Mrs. Lulu Pollard, who was born in Colorado Springs and died in 2007, often shared her own family’s history as it related to Colorado College. More specifically, one of her brother’s obtained degrees from Colorado College in the 1950s with superior grades and honors but was told that he could be a janitor at the college but not teach. This small fact is not unusual because Colorado Springs itself has a history that roughly parallels the Deep South’s treatment of African Americans, including the Ku Klux Klan. But as the phrase goes, “We’ve come a long way.” But on the matter of education, have we really? I would venture to guess that the number of individuals “of color” attending the summit exceeded the number of peoples of color who have graduated from Colorado College during its 133 year history. In attempting to get information on the number of “people of color” who have graduated from Colorado College, I was given the royal runaround-a la, “Who do you write for and what are you writing about?”
The summit began with registration activities, including enough sweet stuff to kill a horse, followed by introductory remarks by a local magistrate who asked the question “Why Are We Here?” Her remarks included the grim statistics of the crisis, including the following:
- out of 100 black boys who start out in life, if current trends continue, 32 will end up in jail or prison, 32 will graduate from high school, most of whom will perform at an 8th grade level, 16 of the high school graduates will go to college, 6 will graduate in 6 years, and 94 will struggle to earn a living wage,
- in the state of Colorado, African Americans are 9 percent of the population , 6 percent of the student enrollment, but 33 percent of the out of school expulsions and 35 percent of students referred to law enforcement.,
- only 44% percent of black 10th grade students were rated as proficient or advance in reading,
- only 56 percent of black student graduate from high school,
- in 2005-2006, there were 2129 black graduates and 1755 students who dropped out before graduating,
- black children are 51 percent of those in foster care, are twice as likely to be the victims of child mistreatment, and less likely to be reunited with their families and wait longer for permanent adoption,
- of the total adult incarcerated population per 100,000 in 2007, 525 were white, 1042 were Hispanic and 3491 were black, and
- the lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for a white male is 1 in 17, for a Hispanic male is 1 in 6, and for a black male is 1 in 3. This grim data that “greeted” the 450 attendees was reinforced by a handout entitled, “Cradle to Prison Pipeline-Colorado.”
The introductory remarks were followed by a brilliant presentation entitled “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Counseling,” given by Dr. LaVonne Neal, Dean of Education at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Her presentation was both interactive and riveting and gave us a sense of the challenges to educators at all levels, from kindergarten through college, to address current education inequities—including teacher perceptions and stereotypes associated with student achievement by children of color.
Following Dr. Neal’s presentation, Kathy Stevens gave a lecture entitled “The Developing Brain,” demonstrating how the various parts of the brain function in boys and girls, and how hormones affect behavior throughout our lives. Following this presentation attendees could choose one of four breakout work sessions, including “Empowering African American Males,” “Educating Latinos, a strength based approach to Education,” “Early Childhood Education,” and “Adolescent Behaviors.” I chose the first session and was treated to a powerful presentation by Mr. Mychal Wynn of Marietta Georgia. He shared his 20-plus years of experience in educating black males, especially his two sons. He expressed the absolute necessity of giving children of color a vision of being college-bound when they enter kindergarten. In fact he showed a school bulletin board with the phrase, “Everything I needed to know to go to college I learned in kindergarten.” He stated that if left to their own devices, the average boy will wait until second semester of his senior year to ask, “What do I need to do to go to college?”–a question that is about twelve years too late. He also provided clear examples of how to handle typical “boy behavior” so that they are embraced and not turned away by educational institutions.
Following the first breakout session several young people shared how they had defied social and economic odds to achieve educational success. The panelists shared stories of abandonment, sexual abuse, drug use, rebellious teenage behavior and other difficulties that suggested a life-outcome totally different than that achieved. In each case, a mentor, or someone who took an interest in their lives, made the difference between success and failure.
The panel discussion was followed by a second breakout session that repeated the same topics, followed by a wrap-up. I left the summit feeling that the 8-hour session had been much too short. I also started to feel depressed until I remembered the words of Mychal Wynn that, “We don’t have time to be depressed.” It’s time to do something before the current crisis becomes totally catastrophic. Before sitting down to pen this column I checked the headline news at MSNBC. One story immediately caught my attention–that racism and racial harassment against African Americans in the workplace is on the rise. The article chronicled the upswing in bold racist acts and attitudes by those who are feeling the economic pinch and need someone to blame. The online story and the summit presented two different sets of educational problems-both requiring urgent action. Where would you begin?
© Copyright 2008 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.