Friday, June 12, 2009

No Mr. Cosby - It's the Middle Class That is Not Keeping Its End of the Deal

Venerable comedian, philanthropist, and activist Bill Cosby has it wrong. It is not the poor who are failing to keep up their end of the bargain as beneficiaries of the hard won rights given them as a result of the many hard-fought battles of the Civil Rights Movement. It is the children of the middle class who have all the financial, educational, community, and parental resources they need to excel academically and socially but because of a failure of middle-class parental engagement coupled with low academic expectations from middle- class parents that Black middle-class children have become academic as well as socio-economic slackers who are failing to excel and the lead the way as examples of academic excellence and high achievement that poor children from the inner-city could see as concrete examples of success.

It is reasonably understandable that poor children from broken homes who attend crumbling schools with poor facilities, outdated worn-out books, without computers or decent libraries, and who are primarily taught by inexperienced, uncertified, over-burdened, and sometimes, uncaring teachers could have great difficulty overcoming all of these challenges to learn, excel, and achieve under such daunting circumstances.

However, for the children of the Black middle class who reside in toney suburbs and attend fully funded, accredited, fully digital college-like high school campuses with experienced, subject-certified, enthusiastic teachers who generally have masters degrees it is a totally different matter. These Black middle-class children of privilege should be making full use of these great academic resources but they usually are not as evidenced by the few who graduate with highest academic honors, the few who become National Merit Scholars, and the few who become members of high school National Honor Societies.

This is a travesty, a shame, and is totally unacceptable and the blame should go squarely on the shoulders of disengaged Black middle-class parents who have low academic expectations for their children; who do not stress the importance of rigorous reading; who do not vigorously maintain exclusive in-home time for nightly hours of diligent study; who do not cut off television sets, video games, and recreational computers on school nights, and who have a lackadaisical attitude when their children bring home "B" and "C" grades from school when their children are capable of academic excellence.

For example, the ex-wife of a former NFL pro-athlete was content that her teenage son and daughter were receiving "B" and "C" grades as students at South Lake's stellar Carroll High School. To me, this is simply unacceptable and a lack of effort. Because the children are bright and do not have any mental or learning difficulty/disorder that would prevent either of them from being top-notch scholars. But, when a parent says it's okay to earn a "B" or "C" that low standard is a tragic under-utilization of the blessing and opportunity of being in a fully digital school, with well-qualified, experienced, and certified teachers and residing in a $500,000 home with all the amenities and creature comforts a child or adult could ask for.

In addition, the daughter of another millionare former NFL athlete failed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills examination and had to attend summer school and receive her high school diploma from a clearinghouse high school. This student's mother has a master's degree and her NFL father earned $12 million playing for the Dallas Cowboys, another $8 million playing for the Washington Redskins, and another $2 million finishing up his career with the Baltimore Ravens.

For another example, the daughter of an attorney who attends a private parochial high school mother brags about how her daughter watches t.v., text-messages, plays computer games while doing her homework and still is able to make B's and C's. This same daughter will begin the Fall of 2009 as a high school senior but has not yet registered for the S.A.T., (most students take the S.A.T the spring of their junior year - it is now summer break and she has yet to register for this important test), in addition, she has not been on the academic honor roll from the 9th - 11th grades, is not a member of any honor society, and has yet to visit a college.

This lax attitude in parenting is disturbing. I believe that children should pursue their dreams. And, part of the pursuit is acquiring the foundational skills necessary for success. I contend that these parents are failing their children by not emphasizing the importance of academic excellence when their privileged children are in position to be well prepared for both academic success as well as successful and productive lives.

Other Cultures Are Making Strides While Our Middle Class Kids Become Slackers

This past June 4, there were 240 individuals who received Doctor of Medicine degrees from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School during Commencement exercises at the Morton Meyerson Concert Hall in Dallas. Of the 7 Black students graduating, 3 were children of recent African immigrants with one Black student being a child of Caribbean immigrants. Newly minted physician, Dr. Alvin Anene M.D., a Nigerian-American was number 3 in his graduating class and has been accepted into the highly-competitive Diagnostic Radiology residency at Dallas' Parkland Memorial Hospital. His achievement is nothing new for him because he was also salutatorian of his high school, Mansfield High, as well as a summa cum laude graduate in chemistry from the University of Texas at Arlington. His parents have always emphasized academic excellence for him and did not expect nor accept mediocre grades during his schooling. And, their active engagement has paid off well for him, he is one of the few Blacks in north Texas to be accepted into this competitve radiology residency.

Additionally, at almost every high school graduation I've read about in the newspapers this year or been informed about by friends who attended, the students graduating with highest honors and with full-academic scholarships to premier universities like Princeton, Duke, Stanford, M.I.T, and Rice as well as the University of Texas at Austin almost always were Asian-Americans or if they were Black they were second-generation Africans, that is, their parents were born in Africa and the Ghanaian-American, or Nigerian-American, or Ethiopian-American students were top graduates but Black Americans who have been in the U.S. for several generations were rarely represented as highest honors graduates, members of the National Honor Society, or National Merit Scholars or Semi-Finalists.

Why is that the case? And, why isn't anyone alarmed about this?

Asian Americans and recent African immigrants from from the Continent seem to have a higher regard and emphasis on academic excellence as has been illustrated by the high academic performance of their offspring. It is so disheatening to observe financially well-off native born African Americans not better utilizing the educational priviliges and opportunities they have after all that was fought for during the Civil Rights Movement to give them these opportunities. I feel it is disrespecting the sacrifices of our ancestors when we do not do a better job of utilizing the rights and privileges they fought for - for us.

So Mr. Cosby - It's the middle-class children of privilege who are not keeping up their end of the deal. They have all the resources they need to excel and achieve. Black kids from upper-middle class as well as solidly middle-class backgrounds should be leading the charge and should be well-represented among those graduating with highest honors because they have the ability to do so (i.e. the raw intelligence ), the means to do so, (educated and financially secure parents and they attend some of the best schools).

So what is the problem? And, why are they not leading the way and being examples of academic excellence for the poor Black kids in the inner-city?

The problem is that too many middle-class Black parents are allowing their children to be academic slackers by not demanding or expecting the best of their children in the academic arena. And, this is very costly to all of us as African Americans. Black parents must have higher expectations and demands for their privileged children's academic performance. We need them to lead the way as the Talented 10th did in the past.

-Tony King

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