Monday, July 31, 2006

Word is Spoken

In the discussion of encouraging young adult males to read more
is there a more effective method than Spoken Word?

Spoken Word

I Was Born with Two Tongues. Dennis Kim (with baseball cap), Anida Esguerra, Darius Savage (bass player), and Marlon Esguerra perform at the Locus Arts Space in San Francisco. Photos by David Huang.
Slam POETS mix words and music and mojo and intellect into POLITICAL performance ART
By Neela Banerjee

Spoken word poet Dennis Kim lets loose with a barrage of words about his Korean American identity to the hard-strumming of Darius Savage’s upright bass in Japantown’s Locus Arts space. For this recent sold-out performance, the room’s booths are packed and poetry aficionados spill onto the floor, bopping their heads to Kim’s words:

“The hungry scent of sorrow on the skin of my people, Han. The muddy face of my unborn children. Han. My crooked foot searching for the footprints of my grandfather. My Han.”

Kim’s face contorts into a grimace of concentration as the words spill from his gut, his right hand twists the bill of his baseball cap back and forth to the rhythm of his song, his left index finger points toward the mirrored ceiling to emphasize his story, and one foot taps just off the ground. Suddenly, Kim breaks into Korean folk singing, his voice deep and sorrowful, catching the audience off-guard. But the rhythm continues and he flows back into English. The bass gets jazzy and the audience goes wild.

Kim, along with Marlon Esguerra, Anida Esguerra and Emily Chang, make up the Chicago-based pan-Asian spoken word poetry group known as I Was Born with Two Tongues. Since their inception in 1998, Two Tongues have been touring nationally and representing Asian American talent on the spoken word scene.
The Eighth Wonder poetry collective. Back row, left to right: Isagani “Starr” Pugao, Jason “Kreative Dwella” Mateo, Alan “Quest” Maramag, Jeremy “Kilusan” Bautista. Front row: Lillian “Dirty Dot” Prijoles, Irene “Shorty Rocwell” Duller, Jocelyn “Hi-Five” DeLeon, Golda “Supanova” Sargento. Photo courtesy of Eighth Wonder.
Voice of a Generation

With its blend of hip-hop stylistics, political empowerment, anger and beauty, spoken word has become a voice for America’s youth, activists, and those typically seen as voiceless. Spoken word, at its simplest, is nothing more than the oral tradition of poetry. But in the coffeehouses and bars across the country, where poets step up to microphones to speak memorized verses of personal truths, this scene becomes the nexus of art, activism and culture for an entire generation.

Young Asian American poets have been making a serious name for themselves in this scene, from Chicago’s Two Tongues to the Bay Area’s own Eighth Wonder collective. Bringing the diverse struggles of Asian Americans to the forefront, these artists continue the tradition of blowing the doors open and creating art that is based in the community.

The spoken word movement dates back to just 10 years ago. Since then, poetry slams — where performers are scored by audience members on a scale of 1 to 10 based on their overall performance, stage presence and style — can be found in even the smallest American heartland towns. Most devotees of the art form credit Marc Smith, who ran competitions out of Chicago’s Green Mill, for the creation of the modern slam.

The roots of the slam concept originate from the ancient culture of competitive or linked rhymes. These traditions can be traced to Grecian intellectual poetry, African griots, Japanese and Islamic courtly poetry contests and Filipino political debating. The slam also was heavily influenced by hip-hop culture’s talent battles, with DJs, emcees, break-dancers and beat-boxers often involved in friendly rivalry.

In January, Kim and Beau Sia were featured guests at Second Sundays, a monthly poetry slam at San Francisco’s Justice League. Second Sundays, with an average of 500 attendees per show, is rumored to be the largest slam event in the country and showcases some of the most renowned poets in the nation, including slam champions such as Sia. Displaying his unique style, Sia often starts his performance with a break dance, then lets loose a poem focusing on emasculating myths about Asian American males.

Nearing midnight, the Second Sunday show climaxes when he and Kim take to the stage. Sia’s poetry morphs into an in-your-face tribute to Asian America, as he sings out the names of Asian ethnic groups.

Not missing any of the API contingents, he then belligerently calls out, “Doesn’t it feel great to be Asian American right now?”

At that moment, it seems Sia has empowered every Asian American in that room.
Celebrating Heritage

I Was Born with Two Tongues. Left to right, Darius Savage, Marion Esguerra, Dennis Kim, Anida Esguerra. (not pictured: Emily Chang). Photo by Neela Banerjee.
The Two Tongues crew performs at a lunchtime concert series in celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage month at DeAnza College. On a makeshift stage in the center of campus, Anida Esguerra performs her piece about comfort women. Around 50 to 60 Asian American students crowd onto tables and benches, under the shade of trees. Further out, others play hackey-sack, pore over books and eat cafeteria food. A white male student walks by, sees a friend and stops to listen. His blond hair is tousled as he removes his white hat. He unloads his heavy backpack and sits down on a bench. Esguerra’s voice is loud as she cries out in detail about the rape of women. It is only a matter of moments before the student reaches for his backpack and hurries away. After the show, both Esguerras (Anida and Marlon are married) and Kim sign autographs, take pictures and have intense conversations with students.

The DeAnza show comes after the Tongues spent an entire day at Newark High School, where they did six performances in a row. They are exhausted but the energy they exude seems endless. Over and over, Asian American women approach the poets to say that the first time they heard a Two Tongues poem, they were moved to tears. The Tongues give out hugs as freely as they give out encouragement. They tell people to send them poetry. They listen to stories about the state of race relations at DeAnza, and make small talk about the importance of eating dessert as a first course.

After half-an-hour, Kim finally sits under a tree while students continue to approach him. His sincerity and energy make him seem other-worldly and familiar all at once. The other poets join him and shed light on their genesis.

Kim and Marlon Esguerra met in Chicago in the mid-1990s. They both frequented the predominantly African American open-mic scene, and naturally gravitated toward each other.

“When we saw each other, it was just this sort of magical experience,” Esguerra says.

Kim and Esguerra began performing together more and more in Chicago. The members of the group attended a meeting called by the Seattle-based Filipino arts collective known as Isangmahal, which in Tagalog means “one love.” Isangmahal’s art includes poetry, hip-hop, dance, percussion, native Filipino instruments and mixing. Seeing the importance of collective creativity inspired the soon-to-be Tongues to form their own group.

Soon after, Kim was offered the chance to headline a show at Chicago’s poetry spot, The Mad Bar. But he had a larger vision and wanted to bring others on board with him for what was supposed to be a one-night show.

“People really responded,” Anida Esguerra says. “There was a real need for it, an urgency.”

Kim came up with the name I Was Born with Two Tongues, which really captures the pan-Asian aspect of the group. Marlon is a second-generation Filipino American, who works as a teacher and helps out with his wife’s business. Anida identifies as Cambodian Malaysian Muslim American and runs her own graphic design firm in Chicago, Atomic Kitchen Design. Chinese-Taiwanese American Chang, who lives in New York City, works as an editor in a social science publishing foundation. Kim, who is Korean American, not only tours with Tongues but is also part of the hip-hop group Typical Cats.

“When I first started reading, it was just to get my feelings out,” Marlon says. “It was a lot of pent-up frustration and anger. It was basic.”

ünida says she began writing because her soul was crying out to create. Coming from a visual arts background in college, she was looking for an inexpensive alternative to express herself, and picked up a pen. She had never tried writing poetry before.

“When I started this, I couldn’t go up there alone. I was scared,” Anida says. “But this is my family right here. This is how I am able to go up there. Because of our growth together and our support of each other, it keeps us going.”

Kim talks about his poetry as necessity for his existence.

“I know I did it to be seen and heard, to exist on my own terms,” Kim says. “It was incredibly, crucially important to me. It was horrifically important to me at that time. A matter of survival, in a sense.”

Since the Tongues exploded onto the scene, many more Asian Americans have been visible. Nowadays, Marlon says, it is not uncommon to see two or three Asian Americans at open-mics in Chicago.

“I don’t think there was this thing, that the Tongues came and suddenly there was Asian American spoken word,” Marlon says. “I think we were a fresh voice. Our voice was deeply integrated and inspired by poets, spoken word artists, political figures and movements.”

When asked to define spoken word, the poets balk. They give simple definitions along with complex ones, along with refusing to pin down the concept.

“It’s just a word, just a term and it’s useful to a certain point, like the term Asian American or hip-hop,” Kim says. “I know the essence of it and that is where our lives are intimately caught up. It is the Korean folk song tradition, which is a sort of improvisational public mourning. As Marlon says, it’s our ancestors wearing the hides of animals sitting around a fire yelling at each other at the end of a day. It is also Janice Mirakatani and Garrett Hongo and Nabuko Miyamoto.”

Most of Two Tongues’ poems are identity-based and deal with issues such as class, racism, misogyny and exoticization. Anger toward American systems fuels the energy of their words. Before Anida performs the poem Excuse Me, America, Marlon and Kim step onto the stage and with biting monologues, transform themselves into caricatures of their spectators. Kim speaks in the voice of a stoned college student, a thugged-out Asian, and even Anida’s mother — all asking, “Why is Anida so angry?”

“I think people underestimate the power of art as activism,” Anida says. “We are political poetry. We are just telling the shit we feel and telling our stories. Actively participating in trying to create a better world and trying to create change, which starts within yourself.”

Says Kim: “If I’m going to get down with the revolution, I’m not going to get down with one that is soulless. I think what we are doing is revolutionary … It is the belief in, and the enlargement of, and the defense of, and the creation of something beautiful and powerful that can sustain us … It is our families, our babies, it is being able to sit under a tree and talk to a friend.”


Meant to be heard, spoken word has yet to earn respect on the page. In academic settings, professors often reject the poets’ spare, rhyming works.

But San Francisco State University ethnic studies professor Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales is working to change that. Utilizing the energy of spoken word, she hopes to inspire her students. This past year, Tintiangco taught a new course entitled “P/Filipina/o American Pinay/Pinoy Literature.” Tintiangco wanted her students to create ways to make the literature available to people outside the classroom.

The students surpassed her expectations. In both the fall and spring semesters, they created a CD, a zine and a Web site to showcase their work — much of which was spoken word poetry. And as final projects, both classes held performances that attracted over a hunded people.

“Students really like spoken word, and if you can get them interested in literature through spoken word, why not do so?” Tintiangco asks.

In legitimizing spoken word, Tintiangco is blazing new paths. Practically no academic writing exists on this form of poetry. Tintiangco pushes her students to understand the connections between spoken word and activism, but she wants them to move past that, as well.

“Spoken word is definitely a form of activism but it is not enough by itself,” she says. “When I start talking to my students about spoken word, I say this is not just it. If you are going to go out there and voice all these things, you have to do things that will make a difference, also.”

Tintiangco also encourages her students to respect a diversity of literature, which is important to her as a poet and author who writes across genres.

“Someone asked me once if I think spoken word is the best kind of poetry, and I replied that that was an ignorant question,” Tintiangco says, laughing. “I feel that a lot of folks in our community don’t read a lot, and our writing depends on what we read. The change I see in my students’ writing from the beginning of the semester to the end is amazing, and I think it is due to the reading that they do.”

Tintiangco, who is recognized as a major inspiration to many younger spoken word artists today, emphasizes the importance of understanding spoken word as part of a larger legacy, not only going back in tradition but also in Asian American history.

“Since the Third World Strike at Berkeley, people were doing spoken word and poetry,” she says. “Maybe it wasn’t called spoken word, but people were going out there and reciting their stuff. I mean, we wouldn’t even be able to speak out loud if it wasn’t for the Third World Strike.

“I think it is important to look beyond that, too. Silence was something that was forced upon us but we were never really silent. Sometimes we get caught up in thinking we were silenced, but we didn’t ever really accept it. Asian Americans were always writing and talking and yelling out loud.”
Eighth Wonder

San Francisco’s traditions of beat poetry and Asian American empowerment set the stage for the birth of a local poetry collective known as Eighth Wonder. Less than a year old, the four-man, four-woman Filipino American group creates ripples that are reaching halfway across the nation and far into the cosmos.

Like the Two Tongues, Eighth Wonder was brought together by another young, prophetic poet named Jason Mateo. Like Kim, Mateo’s stage presence is nearly triple his actual size. (He stands just barely 5-foot-4.) His spoken word, beat-boxing and freestyle skills have earned him god-like status on the local scene.

In July of 2000, Mateo was asked to open for the Two Tongues at a performance they were doing at Bindlestiff Studios, a San Francisco-based center for Filipino performing arts. The vision for Eighth Wonder appeared before Mateo as he looked out at the eight tiers of seating around the stage at Bindlestiff, which to him, looked like rice terraces.

“For years the rice terraces in the Philippines have been considered the unofficial eighth wonder of the world,” Mateo explains, at an intense discussion with four of his fellow Wonders. “I wanted to bring that concept, the number eight in its infinite possibilities, to life.”

Mateo’s dream was to bring together a group of four men and four women poets, all Filipino, to open the Tongues’ show. From there, he pulled this crew together. All the members were involved in the community, where Mateo had either witnessed or heard about their skills and creativity. Mateo rounded up the spoken word artists from across the Bay Area, from Vallejo to Santa Cruz: Lillian “Dirty Dot” Prijoles, Irene “Shorty Rocwell” Duller, Golda “Supanova” Sargento, Jocelyn “Hi-Five” DeLeon, Jeremy “Kilusan” Bautista, Isagani “Starr” Pugao, Alan “Quest” Maramag and Jason “Kreative Dwella” Mateo. All of them are under 25.

The first time they gathered in a room together was also the day of the Bindlestiff show. The energy was impossible to ignore, they say. From that day on, Eighth Wonder has been together, performing in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.

In 1996, Mateo was indoctrinated into the world of spoken word with the genesis of the literary arts nonprofit known as Youth Speaks. The organization is largely responsible for getting the youth slam scene started, and is the beneficiary of funds from Second Sundays events.

Other Wonders shared their stories: Duller, who recently moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles, says she “grew up as a loyal hip-hop follower, a citizen of the hip-hop nation. Add that to talk-story in the living room, and the actual articulation was in 1996.” Originally from San Diego, Prijoles, a film student at the Academy of Art, says she was always writing and reading, and started participating in the open-mic scene in the last few years. Prijoles began hosting open-mic events at her house, which attracted large crowds and created a real community. Bautista, a student at U.C. Santa Cruz, says he was going through some tough times in high school, when a teacher encouraged him to write.

“If my teacher did not tell me to write and put my feelings down, I would have just been another statistic,” Bautista says solemnly. He continues on in a soft-spoken voice to talk about the importance of word to him, with the peace and serenity of an ancient wise man. As he explains, the other poets nod their heads and call out affirmations.

“I believe in using the word as a device to speak your truth and understand what you are going through … Sometimes when it gets too clogged in your head … the word is a way to express all this chaos and allows the art to quantify and beautify it, “ Bautista says. “Eighth Wonder is a sanctuary, in my opinion, because we are all finding refuge in the word.”

For Eighth Wonder, spoken word is also a nebulous form. For Duller, it is freedom. For Prijoles, it is voicing her perspectives.

“Our ears are affected by mainstream media, street bullshit, chismis [gossip], oppression, institutions that discriminate against us, the workplace,” Mateo says. “Our ears are already affected in so many ways that it is important for spoken word to be there, to be that nurturing syllable for the ear, the mind, the soul.

“The importance for spoken word in my life is a poem in itself. I found a sense of identity at the age of 17. I found a sense of being Filipino American, knowing about my roots. Spoken word has been a teacher and a pillow and an inspiration that has started my creativity dwelling in this urban city.”

As a Filipino American collective, the Eighth Wonder poets say they don’t intend to always focus on poems about identity. At times, their work is more of a response to the system.

Says Bautista: “We are living in a cut-throat society. Corporations are absorbing the resources that should be for the people. Spoken word provides an alternative to that machinery. It is not a truth or the light, not a negative or positive, but an alternative… Who is to say what I am saying is the truth? It is just another perspective. But because there are many degrading representations of Asian Americans in the mainstream media, this gives us a chance to represent our people, our people’s struggles.”

The other poets agree, citing their work as something more than just an art or entertainment, but something that is inherently intertwined with their community, family and heritage. Mateo, at one point, almost echoes Dennis Kim’s words verbatim, saying “This movement is so important. This is necessary.”

Duller, too, identifies the Eighth Wonder members not as politicians or poets, but as revolutionaries.

“What Eight Wonder encompasses is revolution,” Duller says. “And in that term I don’t just mean in a political context. Revolution is love, feeling, change, education.”

Looking ahead, Eighth Wonder hopes to grow and learn, both together and individually. All members hope to use their work and teach in the community, bringing people into the glory of spoken word and its powers. Mateo plans to work with teens this summer at the West Bay Filipino Community Development Center, and also has plans for the young collective.

“I want to make such a strong movement that it is in your face, like NoLimit Soldiers,” Mateo says earnestly. “Not to sell out but to get in the faces, into the masses and let folks feel the movement, not even necessarily Filipino American, but our larger community. I want to see an Eighth Wonder spoken word video on BET.”

The poets chuckle over this, but then sit back and think about it.

Duller adds: “I think it is time that normal, down-to-earth, down-home folks become heroes.”

Friday, July 28, 2006

Graphic Novels in Schools

Librarians, educators, and politicians can all agree on one thing: reading is absolutely critical to young people’s success in school and beyond. Graphic novels offer appealing stories and engaging visuals that reach out to reluctant readers, visual learners, and others who may shy away from traditional, print-heavy books. Yet graphic novels offer the same benefits of regular books: introducing young people to new vocabulary, “book language,” and stories and information to teach them about their world and spark their imaginations. In fact, Stephen Weiner reports that “researchers concluded that the average graphic novel introduced readers to twice as many words as the average children’s book”1 and Francisca Goldsmith points out that “the kind of abstraction that competent and comfortable text reading requires is also demanded by the graphic novel.”2

Fiction and nonfiction graphic novels can bring another perspective to classes in language arts or social studies. For instance, elementary school classrooms discussing current events could read Alia’s Mission (Knopf, 2004). This graphic novel tells the true story of Iraqi librarian Alia Muhammad Baker, who in 2003 saved thousands of library books from being destroyed during the war. Graphic novel versions of the accomplishments of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, or Paul Revere, and the Viz Media-World Bank collaborative graphic novel series 1 World Manga3can bring valuable lessons to life. Indeed, there are even lesson plans for using graphic novels in classrooms, as well as print and Internet resources to assist school media specialists in developing educational graphic novel collections. (See resources.)

Graphic novels can be integrated into fiction and nonfiction collections in libraries or collected together as a format (much as videos, CD-ROMs, and audiobooks are often separated from books.) however, most librarians recommend maintaining separate collections of graphic novels by age group, since manga for adults can contain the same sort of violence, mature themes, sexuality, or language that are found in regular novels for adults. As Steve Raiteri comments, “if a preteen patron seeking Pokemon or Powerpuff Girls discovers mature material like Preacher or Palomar in the same section, this could lead to problems that are best avoided.”4

Allyson and Barry Lyga’s “Definitive Guide” to graphic novel collections in school libraries has numerous recommendations for age-appropriate titles. Just among manga there are great choices for every grade: primary schools might try titles like Akiko, Yu Gi Oh, What’s Michael, and Spirited Away; middle-schoolers like Dragon Ball Z, Inu Yasha, Mars, and Love Hina; and for high school libraries popular titles are Ranma ½, Fushigi Yugi, Oh My Goddess!, Naruto, and Fruits Basket.

With well-written stories, engaging artwork, and a range of genres, themes, and age levels, graphic novels are finding their place in libraries and schools worldwide.

Relevant Websites
(Back to Top) :: manga in libraries :: parents’ guide to anime :: recommended graphic novels for libraries :: more recommended graphic novels for libraries :: comics especially for young adults :: teachers’ companion to manga :: Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art class listings :: graphic novel listserv for librarians, book industry professionals :: recommended graphic novels for libraries :: teachers’ companion to manga :: reviews of graphic novelss for youth, teens, and adults, maintained by librarians)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Poisoning the Future

I met with a group of educators and we discussed creative ways to stimulate reading to teens, (this in addition to teaching under the oppressive No Child Left Behind System) One sugested using Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards might be a good idea another agreed, but the one teacher said it was a bad idea because many of the cards are inherently racist.
This 2000 article supports it, keep in mind that while this article is only about one stereotype the makers of Pokemon didn't forget African American Males or males of Latin descent. The truly sad thing about this balatant act of racism. Is that instead of preparing thier youth for a global society the Japanese government condones these actions thus poisoning thier own future from embracing the inevitable.

By Carole B. Weatherford

I confess: I succumbed to Pokémon fever. I took my 10-year-old son to "The Pokémon Movie" during opening weekend. I suffered through the bad animation and mindless plot while he sat spellbound as the battles advanced toward a saccharine moral. When I saw the movie, I already understood the phenomenon, having bought Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow and Pinball. Manufactured by Japan's Nintendo Corp., these digital games challenge players to collect and train 150 little pocket monsters that gain power as they evolve. If my two children are any indication, the game is incredibly fun and addictive.

The fun merely begins with the game, however. Pokémon trading cards capitalize on the game's popularity. Despite my son's begging, I initially resisted investing in Pokémon cards, having bought Pogs and Beanie Babies when those fads were at their peak. So, without spending a dime, my son assembled a 60-some-card collection using duplicates donated by friends. I eventually relented and allowed him to buy a starter set, theme deck and several booster packs of Pokemon cards at prices ranging from $4 to $17.

Like I said, I have submitted to Pokémania. And I would have paid a premium for the video game Pokémon Snap if only I could have found it on store shelves or e-commerce sites during the holiday shopping season. Unfortunately, Nintendo underestimated demand, and the most popular Pokémon toys were snatched up around Thanksgiving. Committed to resume my search for Pokémon Snap after the Christmas rush, I saw a character on the Pokémon TV cartoon that not only stripped the phenomenon of its innocence but stopped me cold.

The character Jynx, Pokémon #124, has decidedly human features: jet-black skin, huge pink lips, gaping eyes, a straight blonde mane and a full figure, complete with cleavage and wiggly hips. Put another way, Jynx resembles an overweight drag queen incarnation of Little Black Sambo, a racist stereotype from a children's book long ago purged from libraries.

While my 10- and 12-year olds do not find Jynx offensive, their parents and grandparents do. We call a spade a spade. And we have seen enough racist stereotypes to know one when we see it. There was room to debate whether "Star Wars: Episode One's" Jar Jar Binks was West Indian, but there is no question about this Pokémon character. Jynx clearly denigrates African Americans, particularly black women. At the close of the 20th century, how could Japanese computer animators unleash such a culturally insensitive menace on the global marketplace?

In Asia the racist stereotypes popular before World War II apparently die hard. In 1985 when Colgate-Palmolive bought Darkie Toothpaste from Hong Kong's Hazel & Hawley Chemical Co., the new owner inherited not only a leading brand but also a racist name and logo featuring a grinning caricature in blackface and a top hat. Rival Procter & Gamble leaked news of the offensive logo to the American market, sparking protests by civil rights groups. Though Colgate eventually scrapped the Al Jolson-inspired logo and changed the brandname to Darlie, the Cantonese name-Haak Yahn Nga Gou-remains "Black Man Toothpaste."

Every few years, the Japanese sense of superiority seems to resurface.

For example, the Japanese fought to keep U.S. military bases in Okinawa from relocating to the mainland. And about a decade ago, a high-ranking Japanese official attributed Japan's low crime rate to the country's lack of ethnic diversity, blaming African Americans for the high crime rate in the U.S.

These are strange days. Sisters in Harlem toss long tresses-courtesy of hair extensions shorn from women in Shanghai-to the beat of misogynistic raps produced by Japanese media giant Sony.

So I am not surprised, though I am appalled, that a computer animator at a Japanese corporation would conceive of Jynx and that corporate executives would deem the character appropriate for multiracial markets. Even Jynx's name-a variation on the term "jinx," which means a bearer of bad luck-has negative connotations. In addition, the name Jynx suggests a link with witch doctors and voodoo, practices rooted in African religion but often ridiculed by Western culture.

Pokémon is unquestionably the year's hottest toy. Since Pokémon's arrival in the U.S. in 1998, more than 7 million of the games have been sold, representing more than half of all U.S. video game revenues.

Will African-American parents continue to cough up hard-earned dollars for games and trading cards featuring a monstrously racist image? Will Jynx deal Pokémon's last hand in the black community? Or will the blonde-haired, black-faced, monster evolve into an ebony princess? Stay "tooned."

Carole Boston Weatherford, a High Point, N.C. poet and children's book author, wrote Sink or Swim: African-American Lifesavers of the Outer Banks
(Coastal Carolina Press, 1999).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Teaching Fathers

January 20, 2006

Shannon Love

Via Instapundit comes a link to this article in the New Republic about the growing gender imbalance in education. Boys are falling behind to the extent that colleges are running a 60/40 female to male graduation ratio. The article's most significant point isn't the imbalance itself but rather the fact that the imbalance only opened up in the early 80s and appears to be accelerating. The article mentions many possible factors but neglects one I think probably has a significant impact:

Absent Fathers.

The article mentions the role of fathers only briefly, in seeking to explain why the drop off in boys' verbal and reading scores in the teenage years is more severe among the working class. However, the article doesn't even touch on the problem of boys who grow up without any immediate day-to-day role model.

It has long been known that children fare better when raised by a single parent of their own gender. Girls do better with mom and boys do better with dad. In most divorces and never-married families, the mother becomes the primary care giver with Dad showing up on the weekends. As a result, girls have a day-to-day role model of responsible feminine behavior whereas boys don't have a comparable masculine role model. Many boys are fortunate to get good stepfathers, but even then they may spend several critical years waiting for Mom to shop around.

The absence of masculine role models also leaves boys more susceptible to the popular culture's portrayal of masculinity, which, frankly, is crap. In popular culture, men are impulsive, childish and violent. In popular culture men do not think, plan or create. No boy raised on a steady diet of MTV and associated media ever comes away with the idea that long-term planning, self-restraint and self-sacrifice are important facets of masculine behavior. They certainly don't receive any positive reinforcement that education is important or admirable.

We've long known that divorce and single parenting negatively impact children across the board. There is no facet of a child's life that is improved by divorce or single parenting when all other variables are held constant. All other family configurations are inferior to that of married biological parents. A lot of people ignore these simple, empirical facts. I think that boys have suffered more from the breakdown of the family than have girls, and that is reflected in their academic performance. It is not the only cause of the gap, but I bet it is a major one and one that receives precious little attention.

January 20, 2006 11:41 AM

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Resolving the Boy Crisis in Schools

A recent Chicago Board of Education report showed that girls enjoy a 63-37% advantage over boys in gaining admittance to Chicago's eight selective-enrollment college prep high schools. In response, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan and top administrators at Jones, Whitney Young and Brooks prep schools are advocating that schools consider “gender weighting." Yet to balance the scales by employing admissions preferences is misguided. What’s needed instead is a rethinking of the way we educate, beginning at the earliest levels.

Many healthy, energetic, intelligent boys are branded as behavior problems as soon as they begin school, and are punished and put on Ritalin or other drugs so they will sit still. Little thought is given to two obvious questions: how could a six or seven year-old be “bad”? And how could so many boys need drugs to function in school? Because schools and classrooms do not fit their educational needs, many boys disengage from school long before they ever reach the prep school level.

Many modern educational practices are counterproductive for boys. Success in school is tightly correlated with the ability to sit still, be quiet and complete paperwork and assignments which are sometimes of questionable value. A “get tough” mentality—under which teachers give excessive homework lest they appear uncommitted or weak—has become a substitute for educators actually having a sound reason for assigning all the work they assign.

Many young boys are bodily kinesthetic learners who respond to hands-on lessons. The educational establishment finds this inconvenient, and thus largely ignores it.

The trend against competition and the promotion of cooperative learning strategies run counter to boys' natural competitiveness and individual initiative. Lessons in which there are no right or wrong answers, and from which solid conclusions cannot be drawn, tend to frustrate boys, who often view them as pointless.

Efforts to make schools gentler and to promote women's writing, while understandable, have pushed aside the action and adventure literature which boys have treasured for generations. In their place are subtle, reflective works which often hold little interest for boys.

The dearth of male teachers--particularly at the elementary level, where female teachers outnumber male teachers six to one--is a problem for boys. The average teacher is a well-meaning and dedicated woman who always did well in school and can’t quite understand why the boys won't sit still, be quiet and do their work like the girls do. Instead, boys need strong, charismatic teachers who mix firm discipline with an understanding and good-natured acceptance of boyish energy. And though it’s rarely mentioned, most teachers are weighed down by paperwork and secretarial labor, which limits the time they can spend planning creative, hands-on, boy-friendly lessons.

Recess and physical education time allotted during the day are insufficient for boys' needs, and the trend has been to reduce this time rather than to increase it. Pervasive fear of lawsuits has turned educators into guards vigilant to prevent any manifestation of natural boyishness outside the classroom from becoming the school district’s latest legal settlement payout.

The deterioration of vocational education also hurts boys. US Department of Education data show that these programs suffered a sharp decline from 1982 to 1992 and never recovered. Vocational classes once started low and middle achieving boys on the path to careers as skilled tradesmen. They have now often been replaced by an asinine yet pervasive mantra that defines as successful only those who go to college and become doctors or lawyers. This mantra often disrespects boys’ blue collar fathers, who also happen to be their primary role models. In fact, to suggest that a boy pursue a career working with his hands leaves a teacher open to charges of harming students by encouraging low expectations.

The boy crisis in our schools is more than an educational crisis—it is also a significant public health issue. Nearly nine million prescriptions of Ritalin are written for American children each year, most of them for boys between the ages of six and 12. According to a federal expert advisory panel, 10% of 10 year-old American boys are on Ritalin or similar drugs. In February the panel, which reviewed several dozen reports of deaths, heart problems, and toxic reactions associated with these drugs, recommended they carry a prominent 'black box' warning, the strongest warning for prescription drugs.

The gender weighting currently being pondered by Chicago’s educational establishment wouldn’t begin to solve these problems. Nor would it address the wide gender disparities that exist among low and middle achieving students. Boys don’t need admissions preferences—they need a system which meets their educational needs.

This article first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times (5/7/06).

Jeffery M. Leving is one of America's most prominent family law attorneys. He is the author of the book Fathers' Rights: Hard-hitting and Fair Advice for Every Father Involved in a Custody Dispute. His website is

Glenn Sacks' columns on men's and fathers' issues have appeared in dozens of America's largest newspapers. Glenn can be reached via his website at or via email at

Reading Rants

Boy Meets Book
Best Boy Reads

When you go into the Young Adult section of your public or school library, does it seem like all the books are for girls? Are Sweet Valley High and Teen Angels threatening to overwhelm you with their sickening pastel covers? Well, never fear, Best Boy Reads are here! Believe it or not, there are some great books out there for the teen-aged males of the world who like a little more testosterone in their paperbacks. check it out at Reading Rants

Sci-Fi/Fantasy for the Non-Sci-Fi/Fantasy Teen Reader

(The truth is out there, but not in these books)

These books tend to feature real-life teen situations that are set off by just enough of the fantastic to make the story fun and fictional. But whether you're a total Trekkie or just surf over the sci-fi titles once in a while, I think you'll find at least a few books that you can "beam-up" to your bedroom! check them out here

Monday, July 24, 2006

Recognizing True Super Hero's

posted by Howard Brown 2006-07-17

Winners of the 'OfficeMax Super Hero Teacher of the Year' Contest Share Adventure with Marvel's Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four

ITASCA, Ill., July 17 -- OfficeMax, one of America's largest office supply distributors, announced that a special edition Marvel comic book titled Brain Drain, which honors middle school teachers as Super Heroes, is now available for free at OfficeMax's approximately 870 superstores across the country. Approximately 500,000 copies of the comic book are available while supplies last.

OfficeMax partnered with Marvel Entertainment and TeachersCount in a nationwide contest to find the "OfficeMax Super Hero Teacher of the Year" earlier this year. Of the 4,200 entries submitted, six winning middle school teachers and the students who nominated them were announced in June. The 12 winners are now featured as illustrated characters in the new custom comic book.

"OfficeMax has a long-standing tradition of supporting teachers through our MaxPerks for Teachers program and teacher appreciation events," states Ryan Vero, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for OfficeMax. "Portraying real-life teachers as Super Heroes with Marvel exemplifies OfficeMax's continuing commitment to supporting education."

"As adults, we all remember teachers who were heroes in our young lives," says Robert Sabouni, vice president, Marvel Entertainment's Custom Publishing and Cover Concepts. "So, we are thrilled to honor today's heroic teachers by illustrating them alongside Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four in Brain Drain."

"Brain Drain includes Peter Parker (Spider-Man), who is working as a teacher at Midtown High. During the course of the story, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and each of the winning teachers exhibit heroic traits, some of which were described in the students' essays, to help save the students from Dr. Doom's knowledge-siphoning Doombots."

The winning teachers and the students who nominated them are:

Grand Prize

-- Herm Hoffmann, 6th-grade science teacher, Beck Middle School, Cherry

Hill, N.J.; nominated by Rachel Benigno, 12.

First Prize

-- Kathryn Pariseau, 8th-grade language arts teacher, Fairfax Middle

School, Bakersfield, Calif.; nominated by Cody Rhoades, 13

-- Tina Regan, 8th-grade science teacher, Fox Chapel Middle School,

Spring Hill, Fla.; nominated by Alexis Fromm, 13

-- Mario Guerrero, 6th-grade teacher, Andrew Jackson School, Selma,

Calif.; nominated by Garrett John Ghimenti, 12

-- Karen Yingling, librarian, Blendon Middle School, Westerville, Ohio;

nominated by Neil Hamrick, 12

-- Tony Pavlovich, 7th- and 8th-grade history/cartooning teacher,

Diegueno Middle School, Encinitas, Calif.; nominated by Satchel

Lieberman, 14

In addition to starring in Brain Drain, grand prize winners Hoffmann and Rachel will make an illustrated appearance in one of Marvel's Jr. Network Comic Books available in stores this fall. "I teach my students that the true test of a person's character is how he faces adversity," Hoffmann says. "I'm absolutely thrilled to appear in Brain Drain with the likes of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. I'm even more humbled to discover the extent of the positive impact my teaching has on students like Rachel."

OfficeMax worked in concert with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers to help publicize the contest.


There's nothing wrong with girl power, but it shouldn't be achieved at the cost of boys,

We shouldn't be putting down boys to lift up girls.

But has this happen in the educational system?

How did boys fall so far behind?

And is anger at them what’s preventing the

creation of a national initiative to address this concern?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Learning through Designing

While following up on the the Future of Entertainment Chart I came across this article

Computer as Paint Brush: Technology, Play, and the Creative Society
Mitchel Resnick MIT Media Laboratory

To be published in:
Singer, D., Golikoff, R., and Hirsh-Pasek, K. (eds.), Play = Learning: How play motivates and enhances children's cognitive and social-emotional growth. Oxford University Press.

Heres a sample

Learning through Designing

Children have many opportunities to interact with
new technologies – in the form of video games, electronic storybooks, and “intelligent” stuffed animals. But rarely do children have the opportunity to create with new technologies.

Research has shown that many of children’s best learning experiences come when they are engaged not simply in interacting with materials but in designing, creating, and
inventing with them (Papert, 1980; Resnick, 2002). In the process of designing and creating – making sculptures out of clay or towers with wooden blocks – children try out their ideas. If their creations don’t turn out as they expected or hoped, they can revise their ideas and create something new. It’s an iterative cycle: new ideas, new creations, new ideas, new creations.

This design cycle can be seen as a type of play – children play out their ideas with each
new creation. In design activities, as in play, children test the boundaries, experiment
with ideas, explore what’s possible. As children design and create, they also learn new
concepts. When they create pictures with a paint brush, for example, they learn how
colors mix together. When they build houses and castles with wooden blocks, they learn
about structures and stability. When they make bracelets with colored beads, they learn
about symmetries and patterns.

In my research group at the MIT Media Lab, our goal is to develop new technologies that
follow in the tradition of paint brushes, wooden blocks, and colored beads, expanding the
range of what children can create, design, and learn. Our Programmable Brick
technology, for example, is a natural extension of the LEGO brick. The original LEGO
brick, developed in the 1950s, enabled children to build structures like house and castles.
In the 1970s, the LEGO Company expanded its construction kits to include gears,
pulleys, and other mechanical parts, enabling children to build their own mechanisms.
Programmable Bricks, which we developed in the 1990s in collaboration with the LEGO
Company, represent a third generation. With these new bricks, children can program their
LEGO creations to move, sense, interact, and communicate. Now, children can build not
only structures and mechanisms but also behaviors.

Programmable Bricks are commercially available as part of a robotics kit called LEGO
Mindstorms. Over the past decade, there have been hundreds of different robotic toys on
the market, but Mindstorms is fundamentally different. With most robotic toys, children
simply interact with a pre-built robot. With Mindstorms, children create their own robots:
they use gears, axles, pulley, and cams to build the mechanisms, connect motors to drive
the motion, attach sensors to detect conditions in the world (temperature, light levels,
etc.), and write computer programs to guide the robot’s behavior (turning motors on and
off based on inputs from the sensors).
By creating their own robots, children gain a deeper understanding of the ideas
underlying the workings of robots. In one fifth-grade class, for example, students used a
Programmable Brick to create a LEGO dinosaur that was attracted to flashes of light, like
one of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

To make the dinosaur move toward the light, the
students needed to understand basic ideas about feedback and control.

They wrote a program that compared readings from the dinosaur’s two light-sensor “eyes.” If the dinosaur drifted too far to the left (i.e., more light in the right eye), the program made it
veer back to the right; if the dinosaur went too far right (more light in the left eye), the
program corrected it toward the left. This classic feedback strategy is typically not taught
until university-level courses. But with the right tools, fifth graders were able to explore
these ideas

(Resnick, Bruckman, & Martin, 1996).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Here Comes the Future

Alemsah Ozturk and Ozgur Alaz run Marketallica a blog dedicated to fresh marketing trends and new business ideas from istanbul
On their blog they outline 11 forces that will change the Future of Entertainment
  • “Virtual Self”
  • “Centralisation”
  • “Need to be different”
  • “Mixing”
  • “Co-Create!”
  • “Snack Size”
  • “Networking”
  • “Interactivity”
  • “On demand”
  • “Long Tail”
  • “Peer 2 Peer”
  • “Information Overload”
The above is a great opportunity to to come up with ways to make reading interesting to our youth
check it out at here

*** Please Digg it, and Delicious it if you liked the story

A Letter to Oprah

Dear Oprah:

At the your website

You ask the question, "Do you have an idea for a show? Do you have a comment you'd like to share with us? Please fill out the form below, type your message and click "Submit" when you are finished. We look forward to hearing from you!

Here was my idea. Dear Oprah You have been quoted as saying I've been accused of not liking hip-hop, and that's just not true. I would like to suggest that you do a show dedicated to the more positive aspects of hip hop culture. This show would be useful in educating Oprahs broad audience to the fact that not all rap is negative and misogynist, and that there is a largely ignored element of hip hop called Conscious Rap that is both entertaining and prolific. The show could be divided into 4 segments
Segment 1 A discussion on Conscious Rap (rap that is informative & uplifting,) artist such as The Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, ZionI, Company of Prophets (add a name that could be part of this discussion.)

Segment 2 A discussion on the efforts to get more air play for positive rap and the media broadcasters reluctance to allow them airtime (this discussion could feature advocates for positive lyrics like Dr Cornell West and California radio DJ California Davy D. Please see his website

Segment 3 A discussion on books that are targeted toward the hip hop generation, books that entertain inspire and inform. Adrian Harpers Night Biters a hip hop horror novel targeted toward urban, multi-cultural youth (most books in this genre are either in the suburbs or feature a mono-cultural character) Hill Harpers Letters to a Young Brother a book of letters inspiring young African American males to turn away from violence and to reach for the stars, also Jeff Chang's "Don't Stop Won't Stop a History of Hip Hop.

Segment 4 Lastly, a rollicking performance by artists that can move the audience while keeping it positive This would be a great response to the negative press that the Oprah Show has received and shed light on what the very essence of hip hop is all about.

Thank you for your time,

Adrian Harper

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Artist Jill Scott Takes A Stand For Respect

I really support the position that Jill Scott and so many other artist are taking toward the negative content in too many rap lyrics. Hip Hop is clearly the number one interest of many young adult males this makes it a viable tool for teaching (if used correctly) but first there has to be some confines as to where it can go and when it should go there.

This article appeared in The Roanoke Times.
Friday, July 14, 2006

written by by Shanna Flowers

Jill Scott the young R&B singer has had enough of some other performers' pimp-my-ride-as-well-as-my-ho music and its accompanying degrading videos that portray black women as nothing more than scantily clad, booty-shaking vixens.

"It is dirty, inappropriate, inadequate, unhealthy and polluted," Scott said last week at the Essence Music Festival in Houston. "We can demand more."

The Grammy-award winning singer told the audience that if they are offended by the music's images -- such as disrespectful name-calling and video close-ups of backsides hanging out of shorts so short that they make Daisy Dukes look like knee-knockers -- they should vote with their pocketbooks: Stop buying it.

Without calling for an outright boycott of the music, Scott's diss comes after rappers Ludacris, 50 Cent and Ice Cube have unwittingly embarrassed themselves in recent weeks with their public put-downs of talk show queen Oprah Winfrey because they feel she shows no love for them or their music.

Winfrey has said she can't get with music that debases women.

She's right on target.

Maybe the fact that Scott, a relatively young woman of 34, is discussing the issue will help it gain some traction. She's less likely to be branded as an old fogy out of touch with today's urban music.

I have to agree with Scott and Winfrey on this one -- and so should anyone who cares about the negative impact on children, especially black girls.

Your daughter or sister may not be influenced by the images that go with the music, but too many daughters and sisters are.

Several months ago, I watched a behind-the-scenes TV show about a call for video extras. I was distressed to see young black women so willing to be treated as if they were pieces of meat.

As Scott said, we need to convey to young women and society at large that black womanhood is so much more than sexuality.

The singer spoke during a seminar that was part of a "Take Back the Music" campaign launched last year by Essence magazine, which has a large black readership.

"We're deeply concerned by the pervasiveness of negative images of black women and its effect on our girls," the campaign's mission statement says. "We're not trying to tell people what to think about this; we simply want to encourage them to think."

Scott said last week, "This is about choosing what we will allow in our lives. We can force things. We can change things. Challenge the music industry with your purchasing power."

Shanna Flowers can be reached at

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why Can’t Johnny Read? Marva Collins Part 2

I travel across the country and everywhere where I go I meet children who, in the 3rd and 4th grades, cannot read at grade level. School systems are confounded by the phenomenon and the solution of choice is to test the child, which eventually leads to labeling. The assumption seems to be that if the child isn’t reading, the problem must be in the child. Perhaps. I certainly don’t want to challenge the experts, but I must confess that I am confused.

Here’s the source of my confusion. At the beginning of each school year in September I have admitted, to my school in Chicago, children as young as 3 ½ years of age. I guarantee that they will all be reading by Christmas. Lest I am accused here of screening my students and accepting only those clearly bound for Rhode Scholar status, I issue this disclaimer: Since the inception of my school in 1975, I have never tested a child for admission purposes. Testing, when done, is for placement purposes only. Moreover, many, if not most, of my students came to me after the Chicago public school experts had labeled the children as “uneducable” for any of a variety of reasons.

Indeed, a strapping young man came to me years ago. He had played basketball for Creighton University for 5 years, at which time he had used up his eligibility to play big-time college sports. Kevin, after 5 years in college could only read at the second grade level. Personally, I taught him and at the end of one year, he was reading at freshman college level. Don’t take my word for it; his plight and its solution has been aired on ESPN and featured in other media on many occasions.

So, why can’t Johnny read by the 3rd or 4th grade? I’m told that an example does not establish a general rule, but, just the other day, my representative, acting as an advocate for an 8-year old boy and his parents, sat in on an “evaluation” session. The psychological evaluation cited that the boy had limited knowledge of phonetic rules. His classroom teacher was asked three questions:
1. How many ways are there to spell the sound “a” [the long vowel sound]? “Four,” responded the teacher.
2. What are the classifications of the different “ch” sounds? “I have no idea,” answered the teacher.
3. What is the significance of the letters “e,” “i,” and “y?” Again, the teacher had no knowledge of the answer.

There are 11 ways to spell the sound long “a”; the three different pronunciations of the combination “ch” are the French (as in champagne), the English (as in church) and the Italian (as in ache) and; the letters “e”, “i” and “y” are vowel signals. Simply stated, these experts wanted to label the child “learning disabled” and they proposed placing him in a special education class. But, how could the boy learn what his teacher did not know? To rephrase, how could the teacher teach what she did not know? Phonics is taught in my school to all children, the very little ones included. Phonics provides the keys that unlock the mystery of reading. How can anyone insist, with a straight face, that this 8 year old has a learning problem for not knowing what he clearly wasn’t, and couldn’t have been, taught? Again, it is impossible to teach what one doesn’t know.

I teach children phonics, and I offer phonics seminars to teachers.

William Ryan wrote a book, Blaming The Victim. If you understand the title, you may not have to read the book, but it is worth reading. The question in my mind remains, and I am even more puzzled because I have taught so many children over many years who had been labeled and considered to be un-teachable. I taught them because I paid no attention to the labels, and you should witness the joy displayed in their eyes when they realized that they, indeed, had learned and became scholars in the process. I don’t look for excuses. I don’t blame the parents, or their economic disadvantages. If a student of mine doesn’t respond to one teaching approach, I’ll try many different ways to get my point across. I’d rather spend time teaching than testing and labeling. The CBS program 60 Minutes, twice featured my school, first in 1980, then in 1996 as I recall it. They documented the case of one student who became a student of mine shortly after the Chicago public school “experts” had labeled her as “borderline retarded, learning disabled, and unable to ever learn to read or write.” Cruelly, the mother was told this with the child sitting right next to her. When 69 Minutes returned to my school after the 16 years passage of time, the child, then a young woman had just graduated from a university in Virginia Summa Cum Laude.

There are some things I know for sure: labels are destructive to children. I cannot possibly teach what I don’t know. And, I know that children have boundless energy and curiosity. I don’t know is why so many Johnnies cannot read at grade level by 3rd or 4th grade. But, I suspect the educational systems’ propensity toward testing and labeling and teacher inabilities may have something to do with it. What is my approach? Instead of focusing on what Johnnie doesn’t know, I teach him. For teachers who truly want to become master teachers, I offer a complete phonics program in my seminars.

What else do we teach children other than the 3 R’s?

There’s an old saying that children learn more from what do what we do, rather than what we say. If that is true, what lessons do children learn from their teachers? I have a dress code for staff and students in my school. Both are expected to arrive each day dressed like professionals in the one case, and, in the other case, come to school prepared to study and learn and practice the excellence that is required in the world of successful people. Certainly, we should teach children how one dresses for work and how one should carry oneself with pride and dignity.

If we ourselves are not excellent in what we do, if we take shortcuts, even cheat and misrepresent, we deliver a strong message to our students that hard work and dedication to excellence can be disregarded in favor of short cuts and evasions. Cheating and evading are strong charges, but I didn’t make them up. CNN featured a story some months ago in which they alleged cheating by educators and their administrators is widespread across the nation and is done to meet standardized test score goals.

Consider this: Would you want to be operated on (if that were necessary) by a doctor who cheated in medical school? Would you want to fly in an airplane piloted by a captain who took shortcuts when he should have been diligently learning the intricacies of how to handle the aircraft, even in difficult situations? The questions are rhetorical, of course, but the answers are obvious.

Allegations aside, there are educators who have taken shortcuts in misguided attempts to attain public acceptance. Instead of putting in the hard work requisite to learning what they must teach, they rely instead on misrepresenting who they are and what they do, and they use my name to do it. My name has become synonymous with outstanding results, but I never did anything for fame. (Certainly fortune never came my way because of what I have done in the classroom.) I have worked hard to get better at what I do. I am not as good as I want to be, and I constantly strive to improve. In Wisconsin, Ohio, and other places, people claim to be using my methodology of teaching, or my philosophy, or my educational program. Not so. My method of teaching and my educational program are diametrically opposed to the wide spread use of work sheets in the classroom. I use the Socratic method of teaching. My philosophy is summed up by words from a poem I teach children, “If you want a garden fair, you’ve got to bend and dig…”

It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Perhaps that is so. As always, there are two sides to everything. The down side of imitation, as I have learned the hard way, is the cost to my reputation. Fakers have adversely affected the perceived quality of my program. To illustrate, a school superintendent declined to have me share my program with his teachers because he knew a school in a nearby community whose test scores were very poor and that school claimed to use my program. The fact is that school had never had anything to do with me, I had never trained any of its staff, nor had I ever consulted with its administrators or educators. The matter was settled out-of-court in my favor, but the damage had been done, and not publicly corrected. In fact, part of the settlement agreement was a non-disclosure clause.

Children know our character immediately. Have you ever observed how a child will respond differently to different people? A child may hug one person, and shy away from another. What we are is apparent to a child. If we are not honest in what we say or do, the message to the child is that if this person in authority can get by without hard work and integrity, so can I.

I earn credibility with my students at every juncture possible. If I assign a poem to be memorized, I memorize it too. And, if I preach while I teach about the excellent mind and person, I must exude those characteristics all of the time. I never have different rules for the children than those I accept and practice all of the time. I believe passionately that perfection belongs to the Lord. For the rest of us, there is always room for improvement. Excellence is a constant journey, to be sure. It makes no sense at all if we take this detour, then that one. The detour can only take us off our desired path to our goal. I cannot fake excellence in one situation, and deviate from it in another instance. As Ayn Rand, the writer and philosopher, tells us, one is either a creator or a second hand person. The choice is, as always, ours to make. So, if you meet someone who claims to be using my methodology and program, check it out with me before you accept that assertion as gospel truth. That is especially important if you are contemplating enrolling your child in that school.

To Think, Or Not To Think, That Is The Question

There is presently a group going across the country purporting to bring attention to the plight of the black family. That which we do not resist will persist. There seems to be a great resistance to answer the question: “Why is the black family in trouble?”

James Allen, in his book, As A Man Thinketh, states, “A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth.”

Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits that he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind. We send our children to the “Garden” to be seeded, planted, nourished, and cultivated. That “Garden” happens to be our schools. The gardeners happen to be the teachers, experts, and the behemoth of caretakers in our schools. We, however, continue to reap “weeds” rather than “plants.” In fact, we continue to reap perennial weeds.

Just as soil must be cultivated for great crops to grow, our children too, must be placed, figuratively, in fertilized soil if they are to grow. But, as I go across the country I find that students sit militaristically behind worksheets and workbooks that they have never been taught to read. No one can learn to read, comprehend, and reason from worksheets or workbooks. Those are not the tools of a teacher-directed classroom in which the Socratic method prevails.

Could any of us go to a foreign country and be given a workbook, or worksheet and be expected to master the language? Imagine Jesus passing out worksheets and workbooks requiring the participants to check off true and false answers, and to guess at answers that they had never learned to read.

I recently did a training seminar in a southern city with over three hundred educators. I asked for the lowest achieving students, the most incorrigible students, and I asked to be allowed to demonstrate that all children can achieve. I taught the students the passage about the conscience from Richard the III by Shakespeare. Why did I select this treatise? I have found that students begin to really think about right actions when they see where a king, at the end of his life, can suffer so badly from the wrong choices and the evil that he had done during his lifetime.

Of course, teaching is not as simple as drawing milk from a cow. I first extracted all the difficult language from the selection. I taught every student to read the words, to spell the words, to repeat the definitions of each word. I did not begin the selection until we had “Packed” the necessary skills in which to be successful readers. To hand these sheets to students and to say, “Read this,” and then to “test” them on what they could not read is to me ridiculous at best, and quixotic at least. Just as we are what we eat, we are what we learn.

Great poetry, great ideas are almost as unheard of today as seeing a horse and carriage on the freeway. If our students are misbehaving in our schools, perhaps we need to revisit the maxim that says: “An empty wagon makes a lot of noise.” Our children are empty; they are overdrawn; they have insufficient skills with which to be anything other than a victim of illiteracy. I have discovered few learning disabled students in my three decades of teaching. I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities.

Aristotle’s essay views on ethics and Emerson’s Self-Reliance could teach our children more about succeeding, and more about life than all the easy-to-teach-easy-to-read banalities disguised as curriculum. How on earth will a child learn to read by listening to a tape? The Socratic method of asking questions until students, through reasoning and thinking, discover that they had the answer all the time. It simply had to be archeologically uncovered by a caring and determined teacher.

I was in a Florida school last week where one of my charges had kicked the principal, and she was walking with a cane. He had bitten another teacher. When I began the class I said, “I am honored that you would allow me to be your teacher today. Of course, I only know how to teach bright boys and girls; good looking boys and girls, and I can tell that all of you are bright, and you are, emphatically, good looking.” I added, “However, if there happens to be any dumb children in this class, you may leave now. If there are any ugly children in this class, you, too, may leave.” Continuing, I stated, “I only know how to teach bright, wonderful, good-looking boys and girls.” Not one student left the classroom.

The next step was to insist that they sit upright in their seats and look bright, or to fake-it-until-you-make-it. They all complied. Then, I had them repeat: “I am bright, there is nothing that I cannot do. Excellence is my birthright, and I will let nothing get in the way of my pursuit of excellence.”

I was “fertilizing the soil” for the crop to grow. I then placed all of the new vocabulary words from the selection on the chalkboard, and we went over each word. I told them the story of Shakespeare who lived and wrote hundreds of years ago, and today we still read and quote his works. I told them, “I know that you too, will do wonderful things, and hundreds of years from now, people will be quoting and reading your works.”

With this class too, I did the same selection of Richard the III. The student who had kicked the principal and caused such havoc in the school was the first student whose eyes held wonder like a cup. He said to me when I left, “I like me when I am with you; I wish you could be here everyday.”

Parents call me from all across the country weeping and lamenting because their children are being labeled and punished in our schools. Will these students not become part of the plight of the black family? Until we get our schools right, and begin to weed out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and begin cultivating the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts, we shall continue to have what is called “At Risk” students created by “At Risk” teachers in a callous “At Risk Society.”

Plato was right when he said, “Education is cumulative, and it affects the breed.” If we continue to plant “weeds,” why do we expect exotic “flowers?” Perhaps Socrates was onto something in his myth of the metals. Perhaps it is intentional that we still have the bronze, the silver, and the gold categories that represent the levels of a society from rulers down to workers. Perhaps too, Plato’s noble lie is still alive and well today. Is it possible that the experts truly believe our children are inferior, and the noble lie of pretending to educate our children is just that? Or is inferiority cultivated by the process mislabeled “education?”

Our children and parents surrender themselves to those who are identified as protectors, but who actually destroy them. Children come to school to get what they lack, and they are told, instead, all the things they cannot do. We, the educators, should be the hope of our children’s. We should be their insurance against the dark side of failure and mediocrity, and, far too many times we cancel that insurance by labeling them “At Risk students”. They come to be complete and far too many schools split them in halves. We either learn to think critically and analytically, or we become parasites fed by the thoughts of others. Our children can never learn to be creative with “dumbed-down-meaningless-worksheets.” And, of course, it is still true that the creator originates, and the parasite borrows. Until we teach children to believe that “I am, I think, and I will,” the plight of the black family will continue. The gap will continue to widen, and, the gap, of course, will be made permanent if we insist on labeling children as “At Risk” students and place them in classes taught by teachers, in an “At Risk” who are protected by an “At Risk” Teachers’ Union. Beat a man daily then forget to beat him one day, and he will bring the whip and remind us that we forgot to beat him. Our children are what they learn, and we must admit that after all their schooling, they are still labeled as “At Risk” students. When we cease destroying their self-esteem by making them doubt their abilities and leading them to believe that their worth is unimportant and valueless, we shall see the poor student become a good student, and the good student become a superior student. Creating doubt in the mind erases self-esteem and self-value. A mind with too many “holes” in it will always depend on the validation of someone else’s opinion. The present excuses used by far too many educators are, to me, nothing more than a narcotic taken to cover their own inadequacies, if not their guilt.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Men of Letters

Most people associate Hill Harper with Hollywood, But he is just as comfortable in a school auditorium, rousing groups of students with his unique style of real-life wisdom. Having addressed thousands of high-school and middle- school students over the years. Inspired by the countless letters and e-mails he has received from teens, Interspersed throughout are e-mail inquiries from young men and Harper's responses and those of other celebrities, including Nas, Venus Williams, and Barack Obama. He devotes separate chapters to school and work, sex, and life aspirations, tackling such issues as single parenthood, sexually transmitted diseases, the allure of materialism, and the power of words and faith. Harper offers his personal story: Hill Harper set out to write a series of letters to young people that would catch the attention of even the most reluctant readers. The result is a motivational but approachable book full of encouragement on a wide array of hot topics, particularly among young African-American and Hispanic men. From the challenges of getting a good education and making it through college to the media’s destructive emphasis on material wealth, Letters to a Young Brother delivers eye-opening answers.

Check out his site

This isn't the most enthralling or cogent book on the subject of black male identity and destiny, but brother Harper really won me over with his heartfelt personal truths and some pretty decent writing.

I would encourage all young brothers and "mothers" of young brothers to pick up a copy of this book right away. It'll be a cool summer read, too.

Letters to Young Black Men
by Daniel, III Whyte (Paperback - Aug 1, 2005)
Whyte is a minister and his book was actually written from numerous historically black colleges, such as Tuskegee, Morehouse and North Carolina A&T, from the very heart of a black Baptist minister, who has himself faced all of the perils and problems young black men face today, comes forth this book, written just for the young black man in you life, whether you are a Mother, Father, grandmother or Sunday School teacher. "Letters to Young Black Men" is overflowing with "advice and encouragement for a difficult journey."

His book can be found here

This book is an inspirational work for the reader. It explores the three aspects of life that causes conflicts and problems in the life of young men. The spiritual, mental, and emotional aspects of life that for so long has gone unaddressed are delved into in detail. Although the book talks about young black men, this is a lesson for all young men."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Marva Collins Way

“I promise that each day shall be gained, not lost; used, not thrown away.” Students are taught to have ownership of their education, and are guided in realizing that responsibility is the key."

Marva Collins grew up in Atmore, Alabama at a time when segregation was the rule. Black children were not permitted to use the public library, and her schools had few books. Nonetheless, her father, a successful businessman, instilled in her an awareness of the family's historical excellence and helped develop her strong desire for learning, achievement and independence. After graduating from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia, Marva Collins taught school in Alabama for two years. She moved to Chicago and, subsequently, taught in Chicago's public school system for fourteen years.

Mrs. Marva Collins' success with students labeled as "unteachable" by others led to profiles in Time and Newsweek magazines and television appearances on 60 Minutes and Good Morning America. Her life was the basis for a CBS Special Movie, The Marva Collins Story, with Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman. During his presidential term, Ronald Reagan offered her the post of Secretary of Education, but she declined in order to stay with her school.

Collins' educational program and methodology is based on the Socratic Method. Socrates, an Athenian philosopher and teacher, lived from about 470 – 399 BC. The Socratic method teaches by using a series of questions and answers by which the logical soundness of a definition, or a point of view, or the meaning of a concept, is tested. The Socratic method is based on logical analysis, consequently, it develops superb reasoning skills in students.

Mrs. Marva Collins promotes excellence for the children in her charge. Effective teaching requires making daily deposits so that every child can become a lifetime achiever and they will never have to go through life faced with "insufficient funds". She tells her students that if you cannot keep one desk orderly, how can you possibly keep the world. She believes if we are not in control of small things then the larger order of things will not become ours to command. Marva Collins believes every child is a winner until somewhere, someone teaches him or her too thoroughly that they are useless.