For as long as I can remember I’ve always loved to learn. Cracking open a book, speaking with knowledgeable people, watching documentaries, reading the newspaper – anything that could guarantee that I would know more than when I started, I am all for it.
Because I love learning so much, my goal is to pass it along to as many folks as possible. Every time I get a chance, I encourage my nieces and nephews, godkids, cousins and everyone else’s child I meet to use all the resources available to them to learn as much as they can.
We have to do right by them...
While I’m still looking for work, I decided that I need to make myself useful and volunteer my time with a local organization run by my cousin and one of her classmates from high school.
This program is designed for low-income children who have failed their end-of-grade tests in reading and math. Because of my background in journalism and my minor in professional English, I am working mostly with the kids who are great at math but have problems reading. Early on, I figured out their problems with reading. These kids don’t speak English.
While they are American, they were born here and have lived here all their lives, they simply do not speak standard English. When you can’t speak a language, it usually translates into your reading. If you don’t understand what it is you’re reading, you can’t comprehend it. If you can’t comprehend what you read, you get labeled as dumb, slow, stupid and in America, that translates to inferior. I understand this life. I used to live this life.
While I have always enjoyed learning, I have never been a great test taker. In working with these kids, I see why I wasn’t. For the longest time, I’ve always heard that standardized tests are culturally biased and that the only universal part is the math. Now, I understand completely. The questions are worded in ways these children don’t speak. The people who create these tests word them in ways that are confusing to not only these children but to some of the people helping them learn about these tests. Somewhere these kids, and some of these adults, didn’t get what they needed in English and language arts classes.
A lot of these kids in this program live in the very projects where I spent my childhood and as much as I’d like to say that the neighborhood has changed for the better, it hasn’t. While it has improved aesthetically, it is still filled with an abundance of undereducated people who have deemed it uncool to be smart. It’s not popular to get good grades and God forbid you try to speak standard English. In trying to help one of my students better understand what he was reading by helping him to correctly pronounce words and making his subjects and verbs agree, he was ridiculed by his peers for “talking like a white boy.” We have to do better.
Though we didn’t give birth to them, these are our kids – all of them. As much as we hate to admit it, we’re getting older. Somebody will have to run this world when we no longer can. If we drop the ball in educating our kids who the hell will take care of us when we get old? You’ve set up your 401K and your IRA so that you’ll have money to take care of yourself but guess who you’ll be paying to do it? These kids.
A lot of us have similar stories of how we grew up in poor circumstances but overcame that by going to college. These are the stories our kids need to hear not the crap about a beef between Drake and Common. I am begging you guys to reach within your families, your communities or wherever to show these kids you care and just how your education has changed your life. We have GOT to do better, y’all!