Category Archives: Education

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Speaking Truth to Power: Black students at PWIs

indexI went to a southern PWI ( Predominantly White Institution) more than ten years ago as an administrator just certain that I was on a mission of truth, justice and the un-American way of social justice. I was not on campus long before both blacks and whites with my best interests in mind began sidling up to me telling me to be careful what I said. Their message was basically one of, people are listening to you and if they don’t like what you say they will get rid of you, and we don’t want that to happen.

I was happy they liked me and wanted me to stay, but puzzled by this seeming fright that if I said something the people in power did not like they would get rid of me. After all, I was a diversity officer, wasn’t part of my job to point out injustices, work against injustices and advocate for change to remedy injustice? The veterans, those who had worked there for a while, knew what it took me several years to find out. The administration was only interested in protecting the status quo–white supremacy–not in making changes. They were however, very interested in getting help pretending to change things or to care about about social justice.

During my tenure I was fascinated at the cooperation of the black folks on campus with this charade. Not only did they do what they were told, they usually pretended to like it. When I asked them things like why there were not more black professors or why some of the programs like study abroad seemed to be virtually without minority representation or why women kept getting leapfrogged by men who had been their subordinates until those men were now their superiors, they all tsk-tsked and shook their heads, ducked and covered and collected their paychecks.

So, this missive is to black students at PWIs. You are on your own. In the vast majority of circumstances the black people on campus as powerless. They have choices, keep their mouths shut, please their superiors, always a white person, and keep their jobs, or advocate for real change and be sent packing. They are not bad people, they want to do better, they simply are not allowed to, it is a binary situation: Stand up–get removed, go along-keep your job. They are powerless and kept that way on purpose. If you do not believe me ask them to give you a list of what they have changed for black people on their campus in the last five years. Do not be fooled by ” We hired a new black director of…..”, unless you see evidence that the new black director of …..has actually done something besides be the new black director of…..As one sage said sometimes we have met the enemy and it is us. In my home school district of Xenia, Ohio we hired fewer black teachers when we had a black head of personnel than before or since. Because he was in the position he was able to help make the district proof against discrimination. “See we are not prejudiced, our personnel manager is black!” Of course, the fact that principals actually do the hiring and the personnel head only rubber stamps was ignored. Thus it is on your campus. Look to see who actually hires and what kind of people they actually hire.  The black head of……. is only as good for the rest of us as he or she is allowed to be, again they are generally powerless. If they really try to effect change they are going to be marginalized or removed.

You on the other hand are not powerless. You can raise questions about why there are so few or no black professors, why things do not change, why committees are formed and people are hired without anyone of color being involved in the decision. You will have to do your homework, of course. Ask questions frequently and of anyone you can find who might listen. Ask why there are no black trustees, or blacks on the board of visitors , if that is true. If there are black folks on these bodies ask them why there are so few black professors or other staff. Ask they why the names of slave owners and klan members adorn some of your buildings without comment, ask them where the voices are of black folks on the campus. Ask they why certain areas of study are considered more scholarly than others, like African American Studies. Ask  any question that comes to mind about the state of black folks on the campus, and for that matter what are they doing to foster and promote and encourage and effect social justice on campus, in the state, in the country, in the world. The fights these days are more subtle. There are no signs that say ” no blacks allowed”, but look around your campus and see how many clubs, choirs, organizations, honors, etc, are monochromatic. Who sits in the fancy boxes at football games? Whose kids and grandkids get to be ball boys and ball girls at the basketball games? Whose pictures are hung in the hallowed halls? .

Our white administrations are good at making pretend changes with pretend front folks ( we called them house niggers in my day) who assure you all is well. Yet, when you are in class and find yourself the only black in class,expected to represent your race as all faces turn towards you when the subject of race comes up  is all well? When you have been at an institution for four years and have never had a black professor, is all well? When honors days come and go without anyone black being on the podium is all well?

Beware the grateful blacks who think they do not belong at this prestigious school and are lucky to have been admitted. Quite a lot of them work there. They are convinced they have been honored to be allowed to sit at the foot of the table and they show up at reunions singing the praises of the school, forgetting the times they were insulted, ignored, passed over, denigrated and devalued. They too will tell you all is well, you just have to try your hardest and love your institution even if it does not love you back.

Speaking truth to power is rarely, if every, popular, but it is necessary if things are going to change for those who come after you. At one point in our history black people stood up and demanded that places supported by common monies serve everyone and serve them equally. We have now sold out to the point where success is not making progress for your race or your gender or your sexual orientation or citizenship status, but whether or not you can make money. If you cannot fight for social justice and make money then you should not fight for social justice. Or, put another way, it is better that I have a nice fat paycheck and the hell with the rest of y’all.

Audre Lorde said ( read her if you are unfamiliar) “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The black people you have on most campuses are the master’s tools. If they were not they would not be there. That means if you see things that you believe are unjust you have to be the power that changes it. It can be done. Even on the most docile campuses there are some folks, and they may not be black, who will help you. But, you need to lead and you need to be heard. Think something is wrong? Change it.  Think something is missing? Say so. You are standing on the shoulders of people who did or you would not be there.  Make up your mind whether you want to be part of the solution or part of the problem.

Don’t join the ranks of grateful blacks unless you can be grateful that you made real change, change that will benefit future students, faculty and staff of all colors by making the institution more equitable and welcoming and not afraid to take a stand for what is right, even if it costs.


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The Invisible Man and Woman Redux: Attempts to make blacks once again invisible

thThere is a campaign going on in this country that is being missed by many, if not most people. That campaign is to undermine or marginalize black people and black culture. This is not a one issue campaign, black people are not alone in the cross-hairs of dedicated racists. Latinos, people of Asian descent and as usual American Indians are also being targeted. I, however, identify as black and , therefore, will only be commenting on that war.

It has begun with the majority of our society at least claiming to be bias free in the area of race. They point to the election of a black man as president, they point to increase in middle class blacks and their more common representation in certain areas like some governments. What that has permitted, or perhaps caused, is the development of a new strategy to discriminate and discredit.

I am sure as an educator I do not know what is happening in big business or the media, although my friends the Byars , both recently retired journalism professors, could probably tell me enough horror stories to curl my hair even more. I do know that no only are blacks disappearing from the education community nobody seems to care or understand the impact of this disappearance. Fewer and fewer blacks go into education. The common myth is that it is because they are being wooed by every industry and offered astronomical salaries, much more than any school teacher or even professor could make.

The unfortunate underlayment to this is, of course, the belief black people are not smart and do not want anything more to do with education than they absolutely have to in order to make a living.

The truth of the matter is that it is not a coincidence that the requirements for becoming a teacher have been, in recent years, increasingly linked to standardized test scores. Tests prepared with the majority culture in mind and predicated on the premise that you received a good K-12 education, something not experienced by many students of color, including blacks. We know, for example, that students in inner city schools and rural schools have less than a 50% chance of being taught math or science by someone who majored in those disciplines. Many high schools in less affluent areas do not even offer higher level math or science courses. How then are these students expected to compete with kids who have had AP or International Baccalaureate curricula at their disposal?

Recently a study came out that, once again, linked income of the parents to the academic achievement of the child. In response to this many in the public forum screamed that the rich are just better, they have better values, they make their kids study! What they are either ignorant of, or simply do not care, is that rich people have privilege. The kind of privilege that allows them to pay for and demand excellence in their schools. They can also pay for tutors, for software to prepare their children to take standardized tests and for enrichment activities to help them know more and learn more. In most cases they also tacitly indicate to their children that people with more education have more money and live better lives.

Some of the respondents to the news of the study also pointed to what they consider to be the denigration of black culture, their concept that all blacks lead lives of some form of degradation and inferiority. Similar to the comments made about black youth after the murder of Trayvon Martin. More later in this post about the attempt to justify any violence or indignity directed at black males because they are all thugs or potential thugs anyway.

Children who live where people are not living better lives would have difficulty linking better education with better lives. The better educated from their communities move to places where other people with better education live. Three incidents recently, two in the news and one personal have set off alarm bells in my head about the role of race in America, in education and in society. I will start with the two media incidents. A North Carolina school board voted to ban Ralph Ellison’s marvelous book “ The Invisible Man.” They cited sexual violence and incest as the reasons. They did not, it seems ban Oedipus , any Steinway, Faulkner or other authors or works for the same reasons. This was not random dear readers. This is targeting. Don’t believe it? The Ohio School Board is attempting to ban Toni Morrison’s ( an Ohio native) book “The Bluest Eye” on similar grounds. It appears that if black people write about raw life events it should be banned. If white people write about it then it is literature. In both cases the overarching reason given for banning the books was that they lacked education or literary value. I doubt if the people making these decisions have read either book and I also would like to see their credentials in literary criticism if they have.

The personal event was even more disturbing. One of my former Face Book friends, a young white woman married to a black man and the mother of several bi-racial children, posted a picture of herself dressed up in costume to represent a black rapper, Flava Flav. The concept of this kind of mimicry was kind of beyond me and her captioning of the picture as #thugnation2” ( evidently she had appeared in an earlier post I missed as Tupac) actually upset me quite a bit.

Here was the mother of boys who look like they are black and the wife of a man who is black and she was either giving homage or making fun of the linkage of the word “thug” with a black person. Did she not understand that the appellation and stereotype of thug with young black men is getting them killed either in their own communities or by people like George Zimmerman? When I raised an objection she chastised me for trying to inject race into her page.

Let me see, you are a white woman dressed up as a black rapper who you refer to as a representative of thug nation and I am the one injecting race into it? To add insult to injury at least two or three of her younger black friends defended her, saying it was funny and no big deal.

This latter is one reason that I am as alarmed as I am about the reality of race relations in this country. Far too many young blacks are asleep at the switch. They think as they tell me from time to time, “ it is not like that anymore.” Okay. How many black teachers have your children had? How many black professors did you have when you went to college, if you went to college? If you think that presence of diversity does not matter I will direct you to the two attempts by school boards to eviscerate the curriculum of black literature having already removed most of the black teachers.

When was the last time you looked at your city and county government and its staff and checked for racial diversity? When was the last time you paid attention to who is in power and what they are doing with that power? Ever heard of the Voting Rights Act? Do you know what the Supreme Court did to it? You presume we have left overt racism behind. We may have for the most part, although there is certainly a good measure of it still around, but the kind that will get you, undermining your culture, denying you employment, refusing to loan you money even though your qualifications are the same as those of other ethnicities getting loans , educating your children poorly or not at all, is still here and growing in some cases.People do not trust people who identify as “thugs.” And our society is not good at determining the difference between pretend and reality.

The idea that I take objection to racism, linking blacks with being thugs and attempts to roll back the clock and get rid of some, if not most, of the progress we have made because I am hyper sensitive  is both facetious and ignorant. I know a lot of people, black and otherwise who would,  and do ,find objection to the things I am calling out.

People must begin to ask questions. Why are there no black people working in your restaurant, your store, your post office, your county building, your city building, your schools, your colleges? Or, if they are working there what kinds of positions are they holding? Can they influence policy? Hiring practices? If they can, do they? Black folks are not homogenous, thank goodness, but we have some who are more house than field. They want to protect their own jobs at the expense of others. When Xenia Schools had a black director of personnel they hired fewer black teachers than before. The system felt it was proof against discrimination claims and the director went along with the decisions made, primarily by principals, all of whom but one were white. This is not to imply all white people are prejudiced or that they hire whites every time because they are white, but there is definitely still discrimination based on race in hiring practices in many place. It is past time to pay attention.

Education is in many instances being purged of black people , black scholarship and black thought and at least some of my younger black folks are so determined to “fit” that they are willing to turn a blind eye to racism and declare, along with the Tea Party , that racism is all in the minds of a few discontented people of color and white liberals. If the black intelligentsia can be wiped from our education system it is easier to portray blacks as inferior, as venal, as uneducated and un-educable, as thugs or potential thugs.

Fortunately there are a lot of young black folks, Latinos, Asians, Indians and white folks and older black folks, Latinos, Asians, Indians and white folks who are not going to allow this to happen on our watch. Those of you that think race does not matter get out of the way so we can save your ignorant behinds, even if you do not deserve it.

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Posted by on September 22, 2013 in Education, Race, Social Justice


Race: The past is never dead, it is not even past

In this season when a black man is running for reelection to an office I would have sworn he would never be elected to in the first place and the inevitable talk of race and racism has erupted in full force, encouraged by things like bumper stickers that exhort white citizens not to “re-nig in 20012” or to put the “White back in the White House” , I just watched a special on television about Ole Miss and its football team in 1962, the same year James Meredith was admitted to the university amid riots and protests and with armed federal marshals defending him.

Many young folks of all races think the images of riots, police brutality, dogs been turned loose on children, people being beaten, hit with water hoses, etc. are images of a bygone era, one that was awful, but is over. Having lived in the South now for about 10 years I can tell you there are still remnants of that era although the weapons that are used to deny opportunities are much more subtle and much more insidious and much tougher to fight. For example, the mascot of Ole Miss is the Rebel, named after men from the college who volunteered to go fight for the Confederacy, many of whom were killed or wounded in battle. The mascot honors them. I find it hard to believe that I am the only person who would find it ironic that black students and players would not have a problem honoring someone who was fighting to keep their ancestors as chattel property. But, I will write another blog about the perceptions of some Southern blacks that I find puzzling.

I went to a Southern Research 1 institution in the spring of 2003 with great expectations of what could be accomplished there in the area of race. They claimed to want more black faculty, a better climate for racial and ethnic minorities and lots of other things. That did not prove to be true. What they wanted was a cover for the maintenance of the status quo. Ergo, I found out quickly I was not going to ever fit in, not really. Oh, I had my fans, quite a few I can immodestly say, but I was not willing to be nice about what I saw as social injustice. And they were not willing to change.

The past ( and that is a paraphrase of Faulkner–one must give the citation or be accused of plagiarism) is not the past. The past influences the way black people experience life every day. We no longer sit in the back of the bus, but we have to endure things like white people trying to tell us what is racist and what is not, attempts to convince us that racism is dead–even though we know it most certainly is not, and efforts to encourage “color blindness”, in other words let’s pretend everyone is white.

A poster on Facebook recently reminded me of the motto of the US E Pluribus Unum–from many, one. I am not sure if he is uninformed or naive or just stupid. America has never been a melting pot, and the “one” has almost always been white, male, rich  and straight. Let me say right now that I have absolutely nothing against white, male, rich, straight folks. I have quite a few friends who fit into that category, some of them quite beloved. But, to pretend that America has ever been a place of equality for all is a fool’s tale told by a liar.

Ole Miss today still has Confederate flags around, still has Confederate statues of “heroes”, as does my campus for that matter and no doubt still has some lingering racial problems. The author of the piece I watched, basically an apologist for his beloved state, admitted that last year the Chancellor had to intercede because some of the students were chanting ” The South Shall Rise Again!” before a football game. I am sure you know that Ole Miss football, like all division 1 football has quite a contingent of black players. Who do you suppose the crowd of students was directing their comments to?

I recently went on a job interview for a VC ( Vice Chancellor) postion at another Southern University–why? Because I am crazy I think, or an eternal optimist. I will not get the job, I know that because I refuse to pretend to be someone I am not. The same scenario will play out that has happened to me several ( more than 3) times before. The committee will select me, the people who came to my open forum will adore me ( one woman , a black professor approached me after my public talk, grasped my hand, looked me in the eye and earnestly said “God sent you here.” ) and the Chancellor will over rule them all.

I am not obsequious enough or grateful enough or humble enough for the Chancellors and Presidents of the South. I do not know my place. I know my stuff, I could work quite a bit of change, given the authority, but there lies the rub. They do not want change. The past is not dead, it is alive and well on campuses all over our favored land, and not all of them are in the South I must hasten to add. Black faculty numbers continue to be miserable at the vast majority of campuses, and even the campuses that have a large population of black undergrads rarely translate that to their graduate and post doctoral ranks. The past is not dead.

Racism will never be gone from America and certainly will not be gone from education until the majority, read white, decide not to tolerate it period. Like the other sins of sexism and homophobia and classism, racism exists because the majority culture tolerates it, often acting like racism is just a social gaffe like farting or burping loudly, something you personally might find distasteful, but that is best handled by turning your head and forgetting pretending you didn’t see or hear it.

The football players from Ole Miss were nostalgic about their time in 1962, and, of course, expressed their horror at the actions of the white students at the time, even though one of the players admitted to throwing a Molotov cocktail at one of the soldiers guarding the building Meredith was in. The entire tone of the program “Ghosts of Ole Miss” on ESPN was a paean to how the football team had pulled together to go undefeated that year. The narrator said, ” Having seen the worst of Ole Miss ( the riots) it was time to show them the best.” I snorted with laughter, if he thought that all white team was the best athletic talent in Mississippi then or now he is sadly mistaken.

And there lies the problem, looking back at your past you want it to be pretty, pleasant, made up of good memories, so we engage in euphoric recall. Not just whites, blacks do it too. Recently on Facebook some of my era friends were posting about how great their junior high and high school years were in Xenia. I had to rain on their parade. We were integrated in junior high and only two of us–none of the ones talking about their lovely time, were allowed to take honors classes. Not only that we were not represented in any way in the student government and most of the clubs I belonged to might have had one or two at the most other blacks. I was on the very large scholarship team with only 3 other black students and we struggled to get a black cheerleader chosen. In addition the basketball coach at the beginning of our school years, Kaylor, refused to start more than three black players no matter how goo they were.

I enjoyed high school and people, teachers and students, treated me well, but most of my black classmates from East Jr. Hi, disappeared academically and socially at the white school. Who knows how their futures might have been different if they had not had the opportunities denied them to achieve more academically? It was not their intellect that was at fault, it was the view, sadly still present in much of education, that black people are not as smart as white people.

Someone , not a friend, but a friend of a friend, shared a right wing article with me with the position that if Barack Obama does not win re-election it will not be because he is black. I do wonder how many times we have to hear a lie to make it the truth? Being anti-Obama does not make you a racist, but that does not mean that a significant number of those who are against Obama far more than they are for Romney are not racists.

America has never dealt with race effectively or honestly. In Canada they have Anti-Racist Education. We have Diversity Training which can range from soul-food carry-ins to Community Seders. Diversity means nothing, we are a diverse people we don’t need lessons in diversity, we need lessons in how to treat each other and even more importantly in learning about each other’s realities, culture and history. . What we need to call it is what it should be about Anti-Racist, Anti-Homophobia, Anti-Misogynistic, Anti-reinventing history to make you and your ancestors look good Education.

The past is not dead, it is not even past. That quote is never truer than when applied to race in this country.


Tales of Xenia: High school teachers worth remembering

Going to high school in the 60s was exciting. Because of the newly minted anti-establishment revolution almost all of my classmates were of the opinion that while they might not all like each other we certainly liked each other more than we liked any adult. There was a continual loosely agreed upon conspiracy to do things we thought were right to do whether the teachers and administrators and parents thought so or not. As a matter of fact, the more they disliked it the more attractive it was. This was not normal generational perception differences, this was organized disobedience. It manifested itself in many ways, in dress and grooming to name two major ones. In breaking social mores was another.

When I was a sophomore girls were required to kneel at the request of the counselors to check the length of their skirts. If the skirt did not touch the floor the girl was sent home to change clothes, or her mother was called to bring her something more appropriate to wear. By the time I was a senior girls routinely kept a belt in their lockers, the purpose of which was to provide a method for rolling up your skirt to mid-thigh, the belt would hold the extra fabric you rolled up in place. Required to wear dresses or skirts, we were still able to go against the grain. Our dresses were not shirtwaists, they were shifts, a-lines, mod in other words, much more like the clothes shown in fashion magazines.  Madras plaid had its popular time with its ability to change color each time it was washed. Because there were fewer rules for shoes and accessories wedges and sandals and other trendy shoes began to appear as well. We thought we were very progressive. Of course, by the time I went back to do student teaching four years later there was no dress code at all and I turned into the shocked prude, very depressing evidence that I was no long not only a teenager, but I was no longer hip!

Hair was a real issue for us. It had to be long and straight or short and cut funky.  Even the white girls ironed and straightened their hair, the standard being no waves, no curls, nothing. Since my hair was long and wavy there was no way I was going to be cool, so I wore mine in a bun with a cool crocheted bun cover on it, or I wore two braids.  I was obviously not in style hair wise. The style was the issue with females, but the length was the issue with males. This was the era of the Afro and some of my classmates sported some impressive almost shoulder to shoulder creations. The rules of the school, written before integration and with white boys in mind, said that you hair could not touch your collar. It did not say anything about length. That meant that the black boys could have ten inches of hair because it was going to stand up and not touch their collars, while the white boys would quickly be in violation of the policy with much less hair. To their credit most of the white boys did not hold it against the black boys, they simply violated the policy and complained if they got caught and eventually organized to get the rule slapped down.

Our principal Mr. Benner always struck me as a mythical creature. He rarely came out of his office and when he did he hugged the walls while walking down the hall like he was afraid all of the students were infected with something contagious. Mr. Marshall, the assistant principal was much more outgoing and friendly and accessible. I suspect he did not care about the hair length thing, or the dress length thing and I think Mr. Benner was so busy avoiding us he did not even engage with the discussions.

In the area of social mores, interracial dating was one of the primary ways some of my classmates bucked the system. For some reason this was mainly manifested with white girls and black boys. The girls would sneak into the East End to parties or go to the drive-in, ducking down in the seat until it was full dark so she would not be seen. There were a few white boy-black girl liaisons but they tended to be far fewer. I am not sure why, certainly white boys were attracted to black girls. In those days it was socially acceptable for males to let you know if you made their liver quiver so to speak and they certainly were not shy about expressing their admiration.

One of the characters that taught at XHS was Olive Houston, who at one time was also the Mayor of Xenia. Tall, thin, ghost white, wrinkled and wearing way too much make-up she taught classes like speech and deportment. She was famous for calling students out for public displays of affection. Do not let Ms. Houston catch you holding hands or even touching a member of the opposite sex or she would lope up ( later she had an injury and would limp up) and chastise you loudly.” Young lady, decent girls do not indulge in displays of public affection, it simply is not done!”  More than one student opined that someone needed to take one for the team and take the aging old maid to bed so she would quit trying to keep the boys and girls apart.I think part of the fun of the relationship was probably the sneaking. Again, it was going against the societal norms grain and that was our bread and butter at the time.

Mr Conrad, our Chemistry teacher made a habit of throwing beakers at students and telling them to catch, at the same time shouting how much the beaker cost if you failed to catch it. He also would throw chalk at you if you missed a question or failed to pay attention in class. Nothing like getting pegged with a piece of chalk because you were daydreaming! I am not sure he threw at girls, as I remember it was only boys who got hit. Gender discrimination. When I was in his class ( I was a lab aide in my senior year) we had an incident that required my father to visit the school, something parents did not do except under dire circumstances in those days. Mr. Conrad announced one day that we were having a pop quiz and that the reason we were having the pop quiz was that “one of your classmates” had asked him to help move a wooden bridge from the storage room downstairs to a truck so that it could be used as decoration for the prom and he had hurt his back during the process. Now my classmates knew I was the only person in the room on the Prom Decorating Committee, a fairly prestigious position, and that was me.

The young man behind me who I will call Hank, a large white boy, was not a good student. He was teetering between a C- and a D+ and being an athlete he had to have a C to continue to play football. “Can I push her down the stairs for that?” he asked the teacher. “Sure”, Mr. Conrad answered, no doubt presuming that Hank was kidding. He was not. I jumped out of the desk before he pushed it over and sent it crashing down the stairs. I was shaken up and went back to the class expecting some punishment for Hank. Instead Mr. Conrad, who was no doubt shaken up himself ( the noise had been impressive) told me it was my fault and instructed me to bring the desk back upstairs.  Shocked, I refused. He told me I had to. Instead I marched into the counselor’s office and told her I wanted to drop chemistry. Mrs. Haines ( I had been changed from the hateful Mrs. Hasty) was a calm , motherly white woman and she talked calmly to me and went to visit Mr. Conrad. I went home and told my father what had happened and assured him I was positive that if I had not jumped Hank would have truly pushed me down the stairs with the desk. My father did not take kindly to that and met with the principal and Mr. Conrad the next day. I received an apology from both Hank and Mr. Conrad.

Mr. Conrad was a good guy, we became good friends in my adult years and I am sure he was as amazed as anyone that Hank actually pushed the chair down the stairs.He liked to joke a lot but did not understand that some adolescents do not have good decision making capabilities.

Some of our teachers had the bad habit of getting romantically involved with students. When I was in school it was all male teacher/female student, this evolved ( or devolved) later to include female teacher/male students. Unlike today anyone 16 or older was considered to be able to give informed consent. I suppose there were laws on the books even then about statutory rape, but they must have been ignored, a music teacher, an English teacher and an administrator all dated and eventually married girls while the girls were still in high school. I do not remember any outrage, we kind of thought it was cute that those authority figures could be captured by one of our peers. Times were different.


Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Education, Xenia


Tales of Xenia: HIgh school friendships, enemies and skullduggery!

Getting integrated in the 9th grade made my high school years ( even though technically the 9th grade in Xenia then was Jr. Hi) very interesting. After I figured out that white kids were very little different from black kids, except there were so many darn more of them, I could relax and begin to look at them not as alien creatures, but as contemporaries with melanin deficiencies. There were lots of things we had in common, quite a few things we had different—it was hilarious to me to hear them call the downtown area “uptown” even when they did not live in an area when it would have been up-anything to them. They were more divided along economic lines than we were. Our sorting took other avenues, particularly whether or not you were “cool.” Cool was not something we could define, we just knew it if we saw it. I was not cool. I wore glasses, I was studious, and believe it or not, relatively quiet, I was also not allowed to do a lot of things the cool kids do, like stay out late, go to the skating rink frequently ( my first trip to the skating rink resulted in a doctor’s visit to remove a four inch splinter from my hand—the floor was wood) and I absolutely could not “hang out.” I also was not the best dancer in the world shall we say. The slow dance was no problem, hanging on and swaying after all is not difficult, and I could do a mean cha-cha and Spider and even the Social, but fast dancing as we would call it, some called it hand dancing, was not my specialty.

I was saved from social ignominy by a couple of things. My boyfriend was cool, and he had a lot of parties and he had access to a car. As difficult as it is for youngsters now to understand most teenagers in my era did not own a car. Some of them had cars that belonged to the family that they could use often though and that was almost as good. Most teenagers in my era also did not have jobs by the way, not unless your parents owned a business. My friends Sally A., whose father owned the A &W drive in and Susan C whose father owned the dry cleaners pulled some shifts , but working to support a car was an anomaly in my time.

Not to mention that one of the sorters for what group you fit into, preppy, jock, hood or other was whether or not you participated in extra curricular activities. The hoods did not, period. Hoods did not even play sports although some of them were no doubt talented, they simply did not view school as a community, more like a detention center, but then that is basically how they were treated, like inmates. In those days the idea of equal treatment for all was an alien one at XHS. If you were one of the “good kids” and this was not based on the criterion of race or necessarily income, although poor kids somehow seemed to end up overrepresented in the “bad kid” category, there were different rules for you. For example, us good kids had, if you kept a certain grade point average, unsupervised “honor” study halls. That mean the most precious commodity that could be offered during the school day, fifty minutes with no adult supervision.

Needless to say the honors study hall was a breeding ground for mischief. Several notable examples come to mind. The first is when my classmates took one of my teachers’ VW bug apart and put it back together in the lobby of the school, they did not do that in one period, of course, but the idea was hatched during the honor’s study hall. The other, meaner, incident was when several of us ( yes us) convinced one of our male classmates to take one of our female classmates who was something that rhymed with witch, to the drive-in and neck with her and then get up in honor’s study hall and give a graphic description of how far he got with her.  Do not shake your head about bullying, she was a nasty individual who reveled in saying unpleasant things about other classmates, especially girls and especially disliked people from the wrong side of the tracks. She was not a nice person. Even so, I did feel a slight pang when she ran from the study hall in tears. Remembering some of the things I had heard her say with others as the object of her scorn, however, I did not let it bother me too long.This young lady was a cheerleader and fairly attractive and was pretty sure she owned the school. I suppose youthful lack of empathy and understanding led us to arranging the dastardly deed. We believed unequivocally in an eye for an eye.

Most of our attempts at our version of justice, however, were directed towards the principal and teachers, not each other. We kind of considered ourselves to be united as victims of their oppression. Another one of the honor’s study hall plots that was hatched revolved around my classmate Peggy‘s  ability to faint on demand. Peggy, who was a very pale, slender girl with reddish hair often looked rather like she was not quite there anyway. She was quiet and kind of tended to fade into the background. Peggy was not of good family as we said in those days and ergo was not actually in honors study hall, but we decided that we should recruit her in difficult situations like pop quizzes and therefore overtures of friendship were made that might not have otherwise been made. Eager to fit in and be popular, as we all were, she bought into the plot. Our biology teacher Mr. R. was an effeminate little man, very pale, rather chubby, already balding in his early thirties,  who shared with us ad nauseum that he really wanted to be a farrier, not a teacher. he had moved to Xenia because we had a farrier school in town and he took the teaching job so he could get money to pay for his tuition at the school and to live on.  He was afraid of bugs and snakes and frogs so we did not do much dissection, mainly we studied things in books. He was, however, fond of giving pop quizzes, a practice we absolutely hated.

So Peggy was put on notice. The next time Mr. R announced a pop quiz she was to faint. One Wednesday he announced we should get ready to take a pop quiz and on cue Peggy went limp, and in slow motion slithered out of our modern plastic molded chairs with attached writing surfaces. Mr. R looked stricken and amazed. I thought he might faint too. We all made much of the incident with exclamations of “Oooh she fainted!” just in case he was too thick to get why she was lying on the floor.

After a brief period of inertia he sprang into action and after several foiled attempts at scooping her up ( she really was out and limp) he finally managed to get her into a kind of fireman’s carry situation and dash out towards the school nurse‘s office. At least that is where we presumed he went. We frankly did not care. We had accomplished our goal. We were not going to have a quiz and we had obtained our version of Nirvana,  a class with no teacher for more than ten minutes or so.  We made use of Peggy’s unique talent on several occasions, she never seemed to be the worse for wear and we always enjoyed it enormously. It was win/win. She got to be lauded for her contribution to our need for control and we got to disrupt the day without personal risk, because good kids did not get into trouble!

The same cannot be said for our teachers. One of my English teachers, when I was a senior actually, had been a fat girl in college.  After she graduated her wealthy parents sent her to a fat farm and she slimmed down nicely. Except for still having legs that did not really have ankles she was fairly slender. Her pleased parents had sprung for an impressive wardrobe as a result. Twin sets, short sleeved or sleeveless sweaters with a cardigan of the same color over them were all the rage that year and costly. Miss B had them in all the colors of the rainbow. She also had a yen for cute high school boys and could be seen flirting with some of our hunks openly in class, even going so far as to ask the young men openly what was going on and what they were going to do over the weekend.  She would evidently show up sometimes to enjoy herself with the young men, although to what extent I never was privy to. All of us females were, of course, outraged at her obvious penchant for young flesh. She would, however, get her comeuppance shortly after we graduated. She and the football coach, Coach H were caught doing the horizontal hula in the teacher’s lounge after school by my French Teacher, Mrs. L! Miss B was fired, Coach H was not and I was the beneficiary of a delightful description of the event my Mrs. L years later when I went back to do my student teaching under her direction.  ” Melva”, she breathed in dramatic fashion( she always called me Melva) I opened the door and there there were, mostly naked,  flagrante delicto right on the teacher’s lounge couch. I was appalled, I backed out, but I simply could not forget what I had seen. I had to report it! ”  Mrs. L was a very proper lady and she was truly horrified at this crude lapse of couth. I can still hear her tone of outrage and disbelief.

Ah well enough tales of XHS back when the earth was cooling.

Those were different days! 🙂


Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Education, Uncategorized, Xenia


Black Colleges and Universities: Are they doomed or just low sick?

I am the product of an HBCU. I graduated with a BS in Education from Central State University in Wilberforce , Ohio in 1971. That was long ago enough that the professors who taught me were all true scholars. They did research, they published, the first year I taught high school I taught from a book co-authored by my professor and mentor Dr. Wilhemina Robinson. The landscape of HBCU scholarship in the forty-one years since I graduated has changed dramatically. In the 1960s and early 70s true integration of higher education was still in its infancy. Most black scholars, especially those who did not live in urban areas, had few choices of where to teach. My chemistry professor in undergrad, Dr. Shelbert Smith, had worked with Fermi and other internationally known scientists, but the color of his skin meant he was relegated to a black, less prestigious and less resourced institution. It was to our advantage as students that many of our professors simply could not find work at white institutions because those institutions did not hire black people, no matter what their accomplishment or resumes looked like.

But, by the time I graduated the tide was turning. White universities began for reasons we can only speculate to decide they would not mind having black students, and that meant having some black professors to prove it was a place not alien to black folks. We could engage in a month long discussion of whether this change of heart was because of changing cultural mores or because of economics, but we will surely never know for certain. For whatever reason the HBCUs began to experience a brain drain. The most accomplished black professors were siphoned off with promises of higher salaries, more resources to support their research, and in most cases, a system that provided tenure opportunities, something many HBCUs did not and do not offer.

The HBCUS have never recovered. There are 104 accredited HBCUs in America  almost equally split between public and private. Most of them are, not surprisingly, in the South. In the South where resistance to mingling with blacks was more entrenched ( ironic since white Southerners and blacks had been used to living in much closer physical  proximity to each other for most of their history than any white Northerners, but then you know the old saying, which still to some extent holds true: In the North they don’t care how big you get as long as you don’t get too close. In the South they don’t care how close you get as long as you don’t get too big) the white population was more than willing to pay for black colleges and universities to keep black students out of their white institutions. As a matter of fact it is hilarious that some of the white  people who history has lauded as a hero of black education because of their support of black schools and universities were actually some of the biggest racists who did not want the students to have an excuse to press for admission to white schools.

In 1950 the court case of Sweatt vs Painter brought by a black student in Texas who wanted to attend law school, but could not do so because there were no black law schools in Texas ws decided in favor of the student .  This set off alarm bells all over the segregated halls of higher education and HBCUs began to be gifted with professional schools,not out of interest in providing opportunities for blacks, but to keep them from having a legal remedy to being discriminated against by insisting on citing Sweatt V Painter and being admitted to white professional schools.

Fast forward to 2012. Only 27 of the 104  black universities offer professional degrees ( JDS, PHDS, Etc) or slightly over a quarter of the schools. Fifty-two of them or half have any graduate programs. If a black student wants to become a doctor or lawyer or college professor most of the time the black college is not going to be able to prepare him/her to do so. There are exceptions, of course. There are still jewels in the crown. Most people would recognize Howard , Spelman, Meharry, Moorehouse, Hampton and a few more as excellent schools, but I am comfortable in stating than fewer than 20% of the HBCUs have any substantial, sustainable claim to academic excellence. Why this is is too complex for me to try to tackle in less than a long book, which I am unwilling to write, so I will explore a few things only here.

First, they are anachronistic. We do not have many institutions that are devoted to a specific clientele anymore. Even historically women’s or men’s colleges have, in many cases been gender integrated. Second, many of them have lost their mission. Since black people can,at least in theory, go to any college or university, what does a black college offer that a white one cannot. My answer in the 1960s and 70s when I was in undergrad was that it offered a place where the scholarship was focused on black people. You did not have to concern yourself with the possibility that someone might be treating you badly or differently because you were black, which took a huge burden off your shoulders, you could concentrate on scholarship that was often Afro-centric in nature. The HBCUs of that day championed black people. black culture, the Pan-Africa movement, Black Power, black literature, black arts, etc. They took their dual responsibility to make the black student proud of the accomplishments of his race and to teach the rest of society about those accomplishments very seriously. They were hubs of black culture and knowledge and scholarship. I am afraid today that mission has been lost.

I have only taught at one HBCU which shall remain nameless. It is small school, fewer than 5,000 students. I was called upon to teach two classes in the School of Education because I knew the Dean and he needed someone to teach the classes. Since I was already full time at one university and part-time at another I demurred at first, but upon being begged and pleaded with and promised they would fit the classes into my schedule however I liked I reluctantly agreed.

I attended the first faculty meeting that fall and found out one of the problems of at least this HBCU. The faculty, almost to a man and woman,  had great disrespect for both the institution and their students. The faculty was made of older folks who could remember the glory days of the institution and had great disdain for what it had become and of younger people who were working there because they had been unable, at least for the moment , to get jobs at bigger or more prestigious institutions. They did not seem to understand that perhaps with their efforts the institution could be returned to its past glory. Being the newbie  many of them felt compelled to warn me that I would not like the students. They were lazy, would not come to class, disrespectful and generally no count, they said. I was counseled to save myself a lot of trouble and simply put in my time. The students, they declared, were beyond salvation, academic or otherwise.There were a few faculty members who did not caution me, neither did they disagree openly with the prevailing gloomy folks, but I got the impression they did not find the students as worthless as their peers did.

I was issued a nice, large office, bringing home to me the fact that the enrollment had dropped and so had the faculty, or such a nice space would not have been given to an adjunct. I brought in my supplies and decorations from home and attacked the design of my syllabus and first few lesson plans. As I was working in my office one day before classes started the Dean strolled in with some bad news. There had been some fiscal mismanagement at the book store the year before and as a result the book supplier would not be sending any books until the bill from last year was settled. This meant that the bill would not be settled until mid-October at the earliest, or about halfway through the semester. The University had to wait for tuition to be paid before they could settle the bill, and since virtually all of the students were on financial aid that meant waiting for monies to be transferred to the University coffers by various financial aid entities. I smiled and assured the Dean that I could teach from handouts for six weeks or so, no problem. He thanked me for being a trooper and left my office.

Now I was going to have to select book chapter excerpts and journal articles I could copy. I had 43 students in each class, huge classes for the institution because the classes had not been taught for three years and the students had piled up. But, I could make copies. I knew enough about black institutions to understand most of them of that size would not have clerical help for professors who would make their copies. So I searched out my materials over the next week and presented myself on a Saturday to make my copies. There was no paper. On Monday i went to the office to ask what happened and was told the supply of paper that had been bought had all been ” claimed.” This was a theme that was to continue in my tenure there for all supplies from paper clips to staples. The supplies came in and the veterans, anticipating a shortage, hoarded them. It did not seem to occur to them that if they did not hoard them there might not be a shortage. This is one of the problems at many HBCUs, this culture of poverty, real or imagined. Even thought the people themselves are rarely poor many of them  have the attitudes of people who are sure there is not enough to go around so I had better get mine now while it is here. Some of this is engrained behavior from a childhood of poverty (I used to have a boss, a black man at a white institution, who made six figures but always asked for a to-go box so he could take food home from receptions, luncheons and dinners) , but some of it is learned behavior. When you see people grabbing reams of paper and go to the supply closet the next week to get some and it is all gone, if you want to make copies you may become a hoarder as well.Betty Smith in her wonderful novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” said that poor people love having lots of anything. Evidently even people who are not poor but are afraid things are going to run out do too.

Okay, no paper, well paper is relatively cheap. I had been promised there would be a new supply in a month, so I could spot the institution a couple of reams. i bought my paper. I went over to make copies. The copier was broken. The money to fix it would not be available for another two to three weeks. Okay. I surrendered. I went to my VP and friend at my full-time white institution job and explained my dilemma. She kindly decided that since both schools were state institutions I could use the copy shop at her institution for my copies for the month. I was relieved and guilt ridden. I was making more work for our copy shop people and sparing myself considerable difficulty and using one college’s resources to support another. I assuaged my guilt with the presumption that the HBCU should be getting more resources and this was somehow a kind of social justice. I sent my articles to the copy shop, where they were copied, stapled and delivered to my campus mailbox at the majority serving institution. Yet another contrast. Not only did we have a full supply closet at all times at the white school, I had clerical help if I needed it and several other perks to make my job easier.

When school finally started and I got to begin teaching with my lovely handouts I discovered that my  students were not lazy, they did come to class, some of them had mechanical issues with grammar and sentence structure but they had good critical thinking skills, creativity and work ethics. I gave them respect and did my best and they returned the favor. The problem, at least with that HBCU, was not the students, but the financial management and the attitudes of the employees from cooks to custodians to professors to secretaries.

The problems of HBCUs in general  are: 1) Attitude about what is possible. In the olden days of my college years my professors would not shortchange me because they made less money than the people at Ohio State. They considered it their duty to provide me with a superior education to what I would have gotten if I had attended Ohio State by making me understand not only the material but what sacrifices had been made by my people to get me to a college and what my responsibilities were to be excellent to pay back, at least partially, those sacrifices 2) The professorate at many of  the schools is broken. No tenure, no money for research, no guidance or help to publish, no money to travel, no professional development of any kind.  Standards have to be elevated and maintained. This will cost both money and time. 3) Drift from mission. What sets black institutions apart should be their ability to empower and educate their students without the distractions of racism and provide them with resources and opportunities to not only achieve, but excel 4) Fiscal issues–either the schools are under-resourced or they are the victims of mismanagement or a combination of both. This must be fixed 5) Cronyism. This happens at white schools too, believe me, I have been the victim of it at least twice myself, but there is a difference in hiring someone less competent when you have 3,500 employees and hiring someone less competent because they are your friend when you have 200 employees. I have seen the dance of the lemons at HBCUs, where people fired for incompetence at one institution know someone at another and get hired at large salaries despite their backgrounds. 6) Turnover. It costs to replace people. HBCUs have to find ways to keep competent people, this is even more of an imperative than at white institutions because learning the variables that might erect barriers to the success of students at the black institutions takes time and patience and some degree of cultural competence.

HBCUs have a responsibility if they are to survive to fill a need. That need is not to produce a spectacular band half-time show. No, everyone can not be a Spelman or Howard, or Hampton, or Meharry, but you can be excellent, ethical  and accountable.  Change my friends, change or perish.

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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Education, Race, Social Justice, Uncategorized


The Abandonment of Black Males: The sad and sorry state of public education K-12 and higher Ed and the way America ignores it

I received an invitation to a meeting about the academic achievement, or lack thereof, of “undergraduate men of color”on a nearby Research 1 University campus. The invitation seems to have been sent out broadly to student affairs types. Not sure if it was sent to any faculty. The  problems with the “undergraduate men of color” and their lack of persistence and graduation ( at this institution 70.8% of white males graduate in four years, only 49.2% of black males graduate in four years. Only 13.9% of white males fail to graduate at all, compared to 34.1% black males. Now, anyone with a modicum of common sense would look at these statistics and at least suspect that race and racism have something to do with the disparity. That is unless they are one of the delusional individuals that believe that legions of black males are simply inferior and do not do well in school because they simply do not try, or that they are intellectually inferior.

I have been engaged, at some level, with educational research for more than 25 years. One of the common comments made when you cite statistics like those above is that there are things wrong with the black males themselves. They are ( choose one or more) a) not interested in eduction b) on drugs c) from one parent families ( I am not sure what that has to do with anything, has any research been done on orphans?) d) involved in the criminal justice system at an early age and ergo doomed e) just trifling.  Much of the research that has been done targeting black males has been along these lines, in other words, ” let’s find out what is wrong with them and fix them!”

Close your eyes ( read the entire sentence first, and tell me the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the phrase, “young, black man.”  Is it positive? Is it accurate? Okay, now close your eyes and tell me what is the first thing you think of when you think of the phrase “young white man?” Is it positive? Is it accurate? Teachers, almost all of whom in k-12 and higher ed are white, are people just like you. They have the same biases and prejudices that you have. Not all of them, but enough. Do not believe me? I presume you did not see the article recently about the faculty at the elementary school in Georgia that passed out a math worksheet that asked questions like ” if Frederick, a slave, picks four apples a day, who many does he have at the end of the week?” and ” if Frederick gets two beatings a week, how many beatings will he get in a month?” Note the gender and race of Frederick.

Now, tell me if you think those teachers will be likely to encourage or even enable their young black male students to do well? Most of the problem, of course, does not lie with egregious examples of racism like that. No it is more benign, but no less deadly. I had white teachers tell me when I was doing field research that they do not give the black students some tasks because they did not want to embarrass them or have them feel bad.  Teacher expectation has a lot to do with what the academic outcomes are, pre-k-Ph.D. If the picture of young black men that society holds dear is one of a violent brute who is good at athletics if he can stay out of jail guess how much effort will be put into developing his academic skill?  It is odd that we do not extend statistical information to other groups. Who murders people in the US? Of the 15, 760 murders recorded in 2009 all but about 2,00o were done by men. Does that mean that we treat all males as if they are potential murderers in our dealings with them? Or all males as potential rapists when we are dealing with them?

I do not think most of us do, but we do treat black males as both potentially dangerous and inherently brutish and non-scholarly. I could tell you horror stories about young black men who were academically excellent and the abuse they took for that from both their white teachers and classmates and in some cases their black classmates.

There is no reason to hold a summit about the plight of the poor male of color on college campuses. I can give you the reasons and the solutions, if you really want to know them. First,stop asking people who have never taught a class and know nothing about pedagogy or public education to come talk about it. They know nothing and therefore cannot offer any relevant information. Second, change the way society views black males, not by fixing the black male but by insisting on a more accurate picture of who and what he is. Third, require all teachers from pre-k-PhD to  take regular coursework in ethnicity, race, racism and the history of oppression in this country. They do not know who they are teaching and they do not know what created him.  Fourth, stop looking at the problem from the wrong end. The black male does not need fixing.  the system that arrests him for things white boys get a warning for, sentences him to jail for things white boys get probation or plea bargains for, suspends him from school at an egregiously high rate and treats him as a disposable person in the classroom is what needs fixing.

We cannot continue to discard the black male in such numbers. Now that we have social integration the difficulties he may encounter impact more than just the black community in myriad ways, including fathering children with white women that his lack of education makes him unable to support financially. This is not a black problem it is not a male problem, it is a societal problem. Ignore it at your peril.