”Hood School

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My daughter teaches kindergarten in an all black, very poor neighborhood in North Memphis. It takes a special kind of person to work there, someone who understands and is somewhat fluent in the culture. I’ll give you an example. One of her students called another student the “N” word. She is white, so she asked her across the hall black colleague, Nikita Whitlock, to deal with the situation. Ms. Whitlock asked the child, “Where you hear that word?” (In ‘Hood vernacular verbs are omitted. Nouns and objects are verbalized and everyone knows they are connected by verbs, by action. immediacy. Urgency omits the non-essential.) It is one of the bridges between cultures. Teachers are fluent in both ‘Hood and educated speech. This situation needed everyday language.

“Where you hear that word?” Nikita asked the child.
“My momma call my daddy that.” the child said.
“Tell your momma to find another word to call your daddy. That is a hate word. We don’t use it.”

There are subtle and specific skills that are required of educators assigned to schools that serve the poor underclass children of our nation. The only professional development I know of that directly addresses the different values of upper, middle and lower class people is Ruby K. Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty. The most effective training is peer-to-peer, on-the-job, in the teachable moment, when it is needed. Competent co-workers and a team approach is essential in all schools.

Last week my daughter was transferred to another school, one that is more diverse and in a multi-cultural, multi-dimensional neighborhood. (See if you can pick out which photos come from which neighborhood.) I helped her move her teaching materials the short 5 miles between schools. I could feel the weight of the ‘Hood school/community lifting and it is a good school with a good principal and competent, devoted teachers. But there is a heaviness that lifted as we drove across town to the safer, more affluent neighborhood. The old neighborhood had people hanging out on the corner, at the store, in front of the apartment building. There was an old man pushing a grocery cart full of black plastic bags down the side of the street. On the way to the new school, the lawns, homes, and people became neater. There were no boarded up windows or houses.

I began to reflect on the children she was leaving behind, the ones she did not want to leave. These are the children who are at greatest risk of failure. I see our school district pulling resources from their neighborhoods, closing schools in places where the school is the only positive thing in the environment. So the schools that do exist do important work. New teachers learn as they go. And what they teach encourages students to want to learn more…hopefully enough to graduate from high school and go on to college. Education is a road out of poverty. A teacher can communicate and inspire, can connect children with the world outside of poverty. She starts where the kids live, the way the kids talk…and inspires them to create lives beyond what they know. To connect a child with his creativity, with the possibilities, to a love of learning…that is a goal of an enlightened educator.

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5 thoughts on “”Hood School

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  2. I’ve read and enjoyed your blog entries discussing a variety of topics, from what you were reading, to your recent experience helping your daughter in her migration from one classroom in one school, to another in a far different neighborhood. All so Interesting . . . especially since, though I myself have had over 20 years of public education, I’m not someone who has taught in a K-12 public school classroom.

    But for me, well, I’m just not a believer in the “little red school house” model for teaching and learning at this point in evolution. So while I understand the points you’re making about poverty keeping people in the jail of bigotry, hatred, and ignorance, I’m not quite on board as to the solutions….

    I think that instead of political overlay solutions (your discussion of proponents for using Metropolitan Statistical Areas in educational approaches made my blood boil), or better care of the buildings that people go to, there may be a better way: that is, use already-existing hubs where people already gather, meet and collaborate to offer a way of distributing power as well as information. Now that would be the democratization of education in my mind.

    When I was tutoring through a California school-district program this last year, I was amazed at the extensive amount of nationwide, state-based, school district- “standard” defined curricula out there and available to anyone wanting to help a public-school learner. One laptop can connect numerous children to other children across the world, and provide lessons and interactive sessions with all of them at once . . . . Faith groups, local scouts, team-sport groups, stay-at-home moms or aunts, apartment building adults with children, university-based collectives, neighborhood PTAs, empty units in a local retail hang-out, a corporate-paid “office” donated for the cause … you name it, any way and area that people are already near where they can congregate and relate, that’s a place for collaborative learning (I loved your discussions several months ago about teams; I think that research is supportive of this approach) . . . anywhere one computer can help many . . .that’s where the schools should be. That way youth, parents and elders can work together right where they live and work to build community while learning with and from each other (no more “talking heads” pouring information into “empty heads,” but instead, full interactive live/Skype/satellite projects).

    This seems the only sustainable method in a time when life is mobile and multi-tasking, a world in which we so desperately need ways to get generations working together, without use of fossil fuels, limited resources and increasingly expensive redundancies that physical sites automatically cause. In my mind, given this digital and GLOBAL age we live in, no one’s portal from poverty should have to depend on whether there’s pride-based care for physical property (the school house buildings themselves, plus the teachers who stay at the school house, the insurance and lawyers and experts needed to run and “administer” the school house and its employees . . . all property driven) . . . because now lessons are literally “in the air” and teachers can work directly with families and communities by neighborhood (maybe we’re looking at a future where teachers become independent contractors who can earn what they’re worth because a marketplace of parents are invested and desire direct hiring of their children’s leaders . . .just one way, of course).

    There are a lot of ways to look at the issue and I love the TED speakers who are doing so (from Daphne Koller’s “What we’re learning from online education” and Ken Robinson’s talk on how schools “kill creativity,” to Luis von Ahn’s talk on “Massive Scale Collaboration,” Mitra’s talk on “Cloud” based schools and Geoff Mulgan’s talk on “Studio” schools).

    But you and I know the real reason that things are slow to change . . . the institutions, hierarchies, careers, companies and products/services dedicated to the way it has been and is currently done simply won’t let go of what they know (“sure” income or whatever) for what they can imagine (a passionate and effective way of learning and preparing this species for the future).

    Keep up the good work in making us think about the best we can be.

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