Andrea and Kevin each speak eloquently from the heart and from the reality of their experiences. As a white male, I lack that first person perspective.
Andrea and Kevin each speak eloquently from the heart and from the reality of their experiences. As a white male, I lack that first person perspective. Until my very recent retirement as a school superintendent however, I have been working with others to overcome negative stereotypes by creating spaces for celebrating Native American culture within the public school setting. As a result, Native parents and students now feel that the school is their school. We begin each day with an assembly featuring Native values and culture. By word of mouth more and more parents come to those assemblies to support their children. Elders and tribal leaders come to participate. Gradually, parents and students feel safer about speaking up because they feel they will be heard. The school entry, with lots of positive Native examples says "my culture is important." The morning assemblies say "my culture is important." Students can be themselves, Native American, and be good students. They don't have to choose one or the other. 150 years of distrust and negative stereotypes – profiling if you will – are gradually being replaced one day, one interaction, at a time.
Where do young people find their motivation and resilience today? If they seldom see other students like themselves doing well in school, if virtually all of our teachers and principals look different then they do, if most of our community, political, and media leaders look different than they do, where do they look for motivation? And if just one comment by one staff member indicates a lesser belief – a profiling - a hesitation or an inkling that the student may not be able to do difficult work, then those historical negative stereotypes are reinforced on both sides. The teacher believes that the student can't do difficult work. The student may blame the teacher, but even more damaging they may blame themselves. They may very well conclude that students like me don't succeed, can't succeed ... so why bother, why try?
That is what current research is telling us. In schools where every adult goes out of their way to demonstrate belief in students ... and actively stamps-out all evidence of negative stereotyping ... students of all colors find the motivation and resilience to work hard, grow their brains and excel. In schools that tacitly accept the soft bigotry of low expectations – profiling – believing that some students are less capable than others, students live down to those expectations, stop trying, struggle in school and far too many drop out.
This divide in our nation threatens our future. Soon more than half of our nation's students will be students of color ... the students that schools struggle the most to serve well. Ideally, schools are our beacons of hope, collaboration and building bridges across our cultural differences. In a society however, where meaningful dialogue between Rs and Ds is increasingly fraught with tension ... in a society where we pin our hopes on charter schools for the privileged and spend less on schools that serve students of color ... we threaten to reinforce the cultural divide in America.
Trayvon Martin is one visible, visceral example of the need to overcome cultural stereotypes and build bridges of hope and understanding for our young people. Our youth, each and every one, deserve to grow up in safety, security and in the hope and true belief that if they work hard they can become anything in life ... even President.
Acts of courage shape human history.Each time a man stands up for an ideal,or acts to improve the lot of others,or strikes out against injustice,he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.~ Robert F. Kennedy