When Did Being Smart Become Acting White?

The first thing that struck me when I walked into my
into my
college prep high school was the
It smelled of new paint, new carpet and
new books.

Books so new that they had never been used yet.

In fact, I stopped by there last August
and it still retained that new school smell. Creepy.

The public middle school that I came from?
There wasn’t anything particularly NEW about it.

The biggest difference between the schools were the money
spent on each student and the students attitudes towards learning.

Regarding the cost difference, the public school was “free”,
but we all know nothing is free. The prep school was $10K/year.

Regarding the students, there was a mixed bag.
Some dudes, came to play, get at girls, and the young ladies did the
same. Others guys came to both learn and socialize as well.
And then there were some known d-boys just passing the day
by until the could grind when the sun went down.

Now that I think about it, it was kind of bugged out to be in
middle school, with cats that were known to sell cracks,
but then again, thats Oakland/Chicago/Philly/Newark/DC….

I thought of this contrast in experience when I read the new
Will Okun post where he discusses being a teacher
and the frustrations that go with the territory

Full disclosure. Will reached out this morning and requested
feedback on his post. I started writing an e-mail response
and before I knew it, I realized that it was way too long,
and that it would be a better blog post instead.

He used Dead Prez’s song, “They Schools”, to
illustrate his point.

Will goes on to quote a veteran teacher speaking
on what it feels like to teach middle schoolers.
She states,

?We are not teaching them about their lives or their communities because it is not in the curriculum. Instruction is driven by standardized testing. We are teaching testing, not knowledge. No one hears these kids, nor do we try. There is absolutely no respect for these students. These middle schools are like prisons where the spirits of our children are slowly crushed, and I have been an unwilling participant in the destruction of young lives. Simply being witness and not speaking out daily makes me feel the soulful guilt of a thief,?.

Almost every school that I have been in since high
school has been small-
350 to 450 students.

(In fact, that probably underscores why law school, which
was approximately 1500 people, was so difficult for me).

My experience in small school settings has taught me that
only when the school is small, will the transformative, soul bending
learning that needs to take place, actually occur.

I don’t cosign on the notion that children can’t learn
in environments where there are 1499 other students.

I just know that it is a formidable and damn near impossible.

I also know that publicurbaneducation
isn’t designed to create critical thinkers.

People say, kids need to learn, “In my day…I walked
ten miles…blar, blar blar.” I always respond to those statements
with, “If it were YOUR daughter in that school, what would you do?”

In fact, I have often wondered what schools would
be like if state or federal charters required that teachers and
administrators to live in the cities that they taught? What if
they were required to enroll their children in public school system
in which they worked as well?

Can we say “skin in the game“?

Black teachers and administrators had skin in the game
prior to integration. (The other side of That coin is the seperate
but equal learning
that was taking place, damned if you do…)
I always think of this when people talk about our fear of
being told that we are “acting white” if we are high
achieving. Prior to integration, there was no one saying that
“being smart was acting white”. There were no (or few if
any at all) white students in our schools for us to be compared to.


Skin in the game and educational systems.

Acting white as a consequence of integration?

Nice combo, eh?

Oh, and I REALLY like the phrase “soul bending learning.”


Why Do Mainstream Folks Have so Much Rage Towards Teen Mothers?

When I am reading about how parents are portrayed in the media
I put on my critical lens.

Needless to say, any mention of Black
parents and I have the hawk eye on.

Will Okun’s latest blog post has images of Black folks that you
never see in mainstream media.
In fact the shots could have easily been stills from a Juve Video,
or stills from your cousins photo album.

There were also quotes from students stating what they were greatful for.

Real talk. Go get the kleenex.

?We are not out on the streets but in a house under a roof.? ? I.D.

?My family is getting together for a celebration and not for a tragedy.? – D.S.

?My Aunt Ethel and my grandmother who have stepped in as my parents after my mother died. These two women are so powerful and have so much wisdom. They are all I have.? – R.B. ?I am back in school. It took me a year to realize the streets aren?t everything.? ? L.A.

And finally, one of the MOST powerful ones.

?I met my father this year.? T.E.

I was really taken aback by the image of the teenager,
with her
tight turquoise top on, standing diagonal towards the camera,
so as to emphasize her roundess,
face full of pride.

The commenter’s were taken aback by her as well.

The tone of your entries make me sad, Mr. Okun.

You silently condone into every community and self-destructive action by these students since you are afraid of seeming racist, judgemental or both.

So you don?t say a word when a young girl gets pregnant. In fact, you posted a picture in this entry of a pregnant girl who couldn?t be more than 15.

Keep tiptoeing around that giant, self-destructive elephant in the room – your idealism is not manifesting itself in any meaningful action. And by idealism, I mean the vague notion you have of saving black folks from themselves.

? Posted by Dale S.

Notice how old boy started of his comment with how HE felt.
You noticed how the comments by the students were joyful, thankful,
reflective and appreciative.

I found this to be interesting because it reminds me of gangster rap
debate, which revolves around the notion of at what point is
depicting something, artistically
condoning and perpetuating it.
And furthermore, WHOSE interests are being served by the mere
of such music, and for that matter THESE PHOTO’S
that are appearing in The Times.

Oh, here is another comment.

Dale S., Will Okun made it clear in an earlier column that he is angry, saddened, and horrified by teenage pregnancy.

? Posted by kaleberg

I can see angry, saddened or even disappointed.

BUT HORRIFIED. Why should someone be HORRIFIED by a
Black Teenager that his pregnant?

Teenagers Black, White, Latino, Asian, have been getting
pregnant since er, forever.

Teenagers have been having sex since forever.
And prior to the recent advent of “The Pill”, horrible abortion
killed us, or we dropped out of school, moved to
our aunts house in another state
had our babies, who were
then left to be raised by an aunt, uncle, god mother.


Why the rage towards Black teen mothers?


Will Okun, Black Students and the New York Times

What is it about Will Okun’s column that gets white folks so riled up?
I have an idea of what it is. See. He is a white man working with
Black students.

and sees through other peoples sh*t talking about them.

Whenever we read a book by a black author about black culture or the ?black experience,? I feel disingenuous leading a class discussion about issues tied so directly to the lives of the students. What do I know of racism? What do I know of systematic poverty? What do I know of hunger? What do I know of a (perceived) limited future? What do I know of struggle? What do I know of gangs and random violence? What do I know of fear?

These are just ideas to me, facts and stories that I have studied in a book or observed from the safety of my own privileged distance. What can I tell them about their own lives? Can I or should I teach what I have never experienced?

I wonder if my students feel like I do when I am at a mandatory teacher training facilitated by a person who is not a teacher. Teachers stare angrily at one another as yet another educational expert pontificates endlessly about how we can better educate our children. How dare these academics or bureaucrats advise us when they themselves are not fighting and struggling in the classrooms on a daily basis?

As anyone who ever attended graduate school knows, the theory and the practice of teaching are worlds apart.

And he speaks, honestly, about what it means to HAVE
Black or White have the courage or
passion to do what he DOES
let alone write about it.

Okun’s latest piece on weather Black or White teachers are better
equipped to teach Black students. Some of the students felt that
white teachers had it on lock, while,

“…the other half of the class disagreed vehemently and argued that a teacher?s race plays a crucial role in the classroom. These students wrote about the importance of a ?shared experience.? Mildred explained, ?Black teachers know better where black students are coming from and so know how to better teach and explain lessons and ideas.? Darrel wrote, ?Black teachers want more from us.? Anthony agreed, ?Black teachers are harder on you. White teachers give up on you quicker.? Albert opined that ?black students feel like they are being judged by white teachers,? and so ?we will not ask or answer as many questions in a white class.? Ciarra concluded, ?Black teachers just know how to relate better; they make the class more important to what is going-on in your life.?

Man. This dude says things that so many of us feel but our, ahem,
platform is a little bit different.

Most of my readers, I understand, have some higher ed, OR
are in the process of pursuing it.
Presuming that some of you
are Black and many of you are not
I would like to know what
you think about the distinction between
learning from someone
who “looks like you”, and someone who doesn’t.


For Black children, especially, Urban Black children, do you think
it matters whether they learn from White teachers or Black
And because statistic show that most teachers in
“urban schools” are
white women what can we do to support
them in teaching our children?

Peace to Yeye and his momma.
Real talk. I wonder what effect this will have have on his desire to
get married and/or procreate.


My American Gangster.

I understood Ridley Scott’s point about gangsters when
Denzel murked Idris and then promptly returned back to
the diner to eat with his family and discuss what it means
to be loyal and faithful. To have a code.

The muder scene was almost comical. And it was meant
to be based on the
expression of some of the actors faces
after witnessing the murder.

I was also disturbed by the scene because it made light
of the fact that A MAN could be so powerful so as to feel
comfortable murking another man in broad daylight and
was sure that those who saw the event take place KNEW
better than to talk to the police. It was as if he presumed that
the witnesses would remain silence, so ?I can do what the
f*ck I need to do.?

I have been thinking about the general premise of American
Gangster. The notion of the benevolent COKE/CRACK dealer
who REALLY loves the hood and it dovetails nicely with
Will Okuns latest piece in The Times about his students who
are members of gangs.

He points out that having had conversations with his
students that there are four reasons why students join gangs.

He also talks about the intervention he attempted with a kid who
was murdered recently.

I asked my classes if gang members feel any remorse when an innocent bystander is killed. I asked if this type of tragedy forces gang members to at least temporarily question or reduce their own violent actions. I asked if gang members feel regret that their community expresses outrage that their ?children are too scared to play outside.?

To all three questions, the students answered with a resounding no. One student volunteered, ?That kid was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.?

It is easy to write off gang members. In my school, they are often hard, violent, disrespectful, indifferent, ignorant, hostile, agitated, boisterous and confrontational.

But sometimes you get a glimpse behind the steely fa?ade and realize that many of these gang members are just scared, angry teenagers who have raised themselves and are trying to navigate an adult world on their own. Both their support system and their safety net in this chaotic environment are disproportionately small.

You just want to grab them and yell, ?Stop! Life does not have to be this way. You do not have to be this way. I can see who you really are. It is not too late to change.?

When I first came back to the bay, my cousin told me I could
earn $60K starting, annually, working at juvenile hall. I was like,
?why does it pay so much?? He said the work was hard. I told my
dad about it, and he said that that not only was the work hard,
but that it is very difficult to watch people fail.

Okun?s recent article reminded me of this.

Back to American Gangster. I also thought about Russels
observation that ?some people just don?t want to stop
drugs from entering the country? so many ?laywers,
correction officers, judges? would lose their jobs. And to
that I say salute.

Where is the economic analysis of the number of jobs
created by the sheer volume of Black/Brown men and
women who are in jail violent AND non violent drug
offenses. How would our economy be impacted if
these offenses were no longer prosecuted at the current rate?

What would happen to said our economy IF those
prosecutions ceased?

I ask these questions to get us in conversation
about whose interests are being served by having such a
robust prison population.



You seen American Gangster?

What is your feeling on “humanizing” a Drug Dealers?

Why isn’t the same level of scorn directed towards Ken Lay and
Jeff Skilling of Enron? Is it the white collar/street crime distinction?

Is it way of looking at an individual or does it constitute going soft when
what you really need to be is critical?