Tag Archives: Education

INSIDE OF A BOOK: THE PERFECT PLACE TO HIDE IMPORTANT THINGS FROM AFRICAN-AMERICAN MALES

While discussing the difficulty that I was experiencing regarding my students non-desire to read anything of substance, an acquaintance shared a remarkably sad story that verified my complaints in an unusual manner. The story went as follows, “I know a brother who recently had his house broken into. And I am telling you that these thieves ransacked the place trying to find a hidden stash of money. It would be an understatement to say that they destroyed everything in the place. Unfortunately for the thieves, they never found the stash because the brother hid his money in the least likely of places, the books on his bookshelf. Incredibly, the only thing left untouched were the bookshelves and the books that they held.” At this revelation, I mused, “I guess what they say is true, ‘If you want to hide something from black folk, put it in a book.’”

Although these events led me to shake my head, however, as an educator and writer I must tell you that this event holds far more meaning and significance than one could imagine. Experience has taught me that we should not be so quick to dismiss the age-old statement of “If you want to hide something from black folk, all you need to do is put it in a book.” I have come to understand that it is increasingly rare to meet African-Americans, particularly males, who read classic black literature; black females are not above criticism in this regard as the vast majority of them have never engaged writers such as Alice Walker or J. California Cooper, however, they are extremely familiar with Zane and the filth they call “urban fiction.”

The decline in literacy within the African-American community is a crisis that has gone largely unnoticed. The decrease in literacy, particularly among African-American males, is only the calm before the storm. The alluded to “dumbing down” of African-American male students is as pernicious a danger to their existence as AIDS, police brutality or even the Trump Presidency.

Consider for a moment the following indicators that highlight the dire straits of African-American male literacy.

  • The average African-American (male and female) 12th-grader reads at the same level as white 8th-graders.
  • The 12th-grade reading scores for African-American males were significantly lower than all other racial/ethnic groups.
  • Only 14% of African-American 8th-graders are proficient in reading.

For black males, the absence of literacy promises a future devoid of any understanding of African-Americans past struggles and extreme difficulty securing employment sufficient to take care of themselves and any offspring they may produce. There is absolutely no doubt that each of the above variables is crucial to African-American males’ maturation into adulthood. Obviously, there is no other path to satisfying the demands of African-American females possessing the desire to marry a black man than to grow them within our community via proactive socialization and the development of what can be best termed a black economy that rivals those of other groups.

A crucial aspect of every uplift effort within Black America rests upon literacy, the process of engaging information, synthesizing it, and then making logical decisions regarding how it can be best used to benefit our group. Until we get this simple process down, we will continue to experience the same frustrations that have seemingly dogged us like an ominous cloud.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

HOW A GROUP OF EIGHTH-GRADERS FROM ARNOLD MIDDLE SCHOOL REMINDED ME OF WHY I DO WHAT I DO

Like everyone else, I am susceptible to growing weary while performing the mentally straining and emotionally exhausting heavy lifting required to provide the next generation of African-Americans even a remote possibility of succeeding in a society where their inferiority is an absolute given. There are periodic moments when one’s will to continue this never-ending fight is nearly extinguished; without fail, a symphony of doubt, frustration, and questions regarding the seeming futility of the struggle appear as the weary blues. The only balm to the mental and emotional exhaustion mentioned above is the occurrence of some event that reminds you that it has not all been in vain. Unfortunately, the alluded to validation cannot be ordered on command; instead it arrives via unexpected sources at opportune moments.

Recently I was approached regarding my willingness to aid The Collegiate 100 — a subsidiary of the 100 Black Men of America — an organization of extremely impressive African-American collegians that are simultaneously positioning themselves for success while lifting others as they climb the ladder of success, via addressing a group of 8th Graders from Arnold Middle School during a scheduled campus event. Mentors selected these 8th Graders for a host of reasons. During my adolescence, they would have been labeled “at-risk youth,” a term that indicated more about environs than intellectual capabilities and prowess. I knew such a group very well as years ago I carried a similar label. I accepted the assignment without hesitation.

As usual, I arrived early to the 9:30 event and busied myself researching topics for future blog postings, however, slightly before the scheduled start time, a cadre of students, the majority of them currently enrolled in one of my History courses arrived and began their preparations for the young scholars’ arrival. Within minutes our “guests of honor” arrived, took their assigned seat, and were listening to my presentation regarding issues such as self-responsibility, planning, and the development of a familial educational legacy. Put simply; my address sought to inform these young people that they are the primary determinant of their success and the future of this entire nation was resting upon their broad and sturdy shoulders.

One of the promises that I made to myself as a student was that if ever provided the public speaking opportunities that I would never replicate the droning and draining lecture style of orators who operated out of an old authoritarian style of I lecture and you passively listen to my brillance. Put simply; such characters left no room for interaction with by the end of their address was an auditorium full of inattentive listeners. Hence, I always consider it essential that I interact with my audience via a “Question and Answer” segment.

As previously mentioned, the desperately needed jolt that re-energizes those who have grown weary of the Herculean task of uplifting Black America invariably comes at an opportune moment from unexpected sources. I am proud to relate that I received a much-needed jolt from this group of 8th Graders who dared to betray a steely silence that always accompanies persons of their age by peer pressure. To my delight, this group engaged me in an unusual manner that simultaneously displayed their brilliance, intellectual curiosity, and previous exposure to success formulas resting on personal accountability. Their mentors are to be applauded as these children demonstrated an unusual ability to answer an array of issues presented to them in a manner that betrayed their youth. Their superior intellect was displayed at every turn except when I queried “Where do you plan to be five years from now?”

After several questions regarding by background, my alma mater, the degrees I have earned and books that I have written, most were shocked to learn that I was a first-generation collegian. As expected, the conversation turned toward questions surrounding why they should attend a Historically Black College or University.

The question, poised by a brilliant young lady on the left side of the auditorium, was a particularly piercing one of “Since you have been to a white university and now work at a Historically Black University, why should we come to an H.B.C.U.?” Although I have much love for my alma mater, THE Ohio State University, to the best of my ability I explained to this attentive audience that at a place such as Prairie View A & M University “You will not only be invited into, but also joining and embraced by an esteemed tradition of black thinkers, educators, and professionals who are dedicated to aiding you in traveling down a road that they created for your success. You matter mightily at this place from the moment that you make the decision to enter and well-beyond your exit. You are going to find that we will nurture you, challenge you, and guide you every step of the way as you pursue your dreams, goals, and aspirations. At this place, we are serious about producing productive people.”

By the end of our interaction, the vast majority of these individuals had expressed their intention to become Prairie View Panthers and vowed to keep in touch during their high school tenure. As I gathered my belongings and prepared to exit the venue, one young man rushed up to me and related the following, “I thought about where I will be five years from now. I am going to be sitting in your History class right here at PVAMU.” I could do nothing other than smile at him and respond, “Sir, I’m looking forward to it. And I truly mean that.”

As I ended my exchange with this obviously brilliant young man, one of the chaperones for this youth group approached me and stated the following. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was one of your students.” I searched my mental Rolodex for him, yet came up empty. He continued, “I looked different back then. I had a big Afro and gold fronts (teeth). However, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all that you did for me. I am assuming an Assistant Principal position next week.” I could do nothing but laugh at the fantastic news and responded, “From gold fronts to Assistant Principal?” We both shared a hearty laugh at the development.

One thing was sure, as I exited the building, I knew that these young people had made an indelible impact on me; an impact that re-charged my emotional state and simultaneously reminded me of why I do the work that I do.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

Treading Water: Why neither Education nor Hard Work Solves the Racial Wealth Gap

If it takes a big man to admit that he was wrong, at this moment, I should be considered a colossal human being. As with so many other educated African-Americans, I have believed that the path to individual and collective economic improvement, if not liberation, was found via some combination of the following steps.

  • Securing an education that paved a way to a career
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Gainful employment
  • Obsessing over one’s Credit Rating
  • Being fiscally conservative
  • Investing
  • Homeownership

In many ways, my embracing what a recent study titled The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap (Brandeis University & Demos) asserts are pervasive falsities is excusable as I had much company on that path to nowhere.

Trust me when I say, that one of the most common behind closed doors conversation occurring among accomplished black professionals are the pervasive financial difficulties that they are experiencing despite their adherence to traditional economic uplift strategies. The alluded to policies that well-meaning parents, mentors, and family members have traditionally propagated entails for succeeding generations of African-Americans to:

  • Secure a college education
  • Develop a career
  • Save their money
  • Purchase a home
  • Seek investment opportunities

According to the study mentioned above, even a strict adherence to tried-and-true advice regarding the path to economic prosperity will not result in the closing of the extreme wealth gap between blacks and whites.

Make no mistake about it; the wealth gap between black and white households is significant. For every $1 of black wealth, the white median household has $13 in their possession.

The study conducted by Brandeis University and Demos (a public policy group) make several assertions that should make every African-American using traditional paths to economic freedom cringe. According to the referenced study, the following is true.

  • Attending college does not close the racial wealth gap.
  • Raising children in a two-parent household does not close the racial wealth gap.
  • Working full time does not close the racial wealth gap.
  • Spending less does not close the racial wealth gap.

Consider for a moment that although the securing of a college education lessens the black/white wealth gap, it fails to eradicate it. Educated whites wealth is over seven times that of college educated blacks.

From a non-emotional view, it is understandable that not even African-Americans most fervent attempts to work around long-standing economic principles such as time’s positive effects on the growth of investment portfolios and the maturation of real estate investments. Such realities should not shift African-Americans focus away from securing an education; educational achievement does lessen the wealth gap.

The alluded to study has proven that the one major advantage whites have over blacks in regards to the development of capital is the benefit of a significant inheritance (life insurance, homes, real estate property, businesses, or land). Study results indicate that not only are whites five times more likely to receive an inheritance, but also this infusion of currency is usually much more significant than that received by blacks. Brandeis researchers posit that the alluded to funds “can be used to jump-start further wealth accumulation, for example, by enabling white families to buy homes and begin acquiring equity earlier in their lives.”

It appears that it is an infusion of monies, not college degrees and fiscal management, which serves as the springboard for the wealth gap between blacks and whites.

As with most maladies facing the African-American community, it is our failure to plan that dooms our future. Hopefully, this study will encourage our people to not only pursue a life that will allow them to leave a sizable inheritance of some kind to succeeding generations as it is a crucial part of financial prosperity. So the next time that you see our people raising money to bury a deceased individual, I hope that you will view this apparent failure to plan for an inevitable death as a failed opportunity. Make no mistake about it, this pattern of living a life that makes you a burden and not a credit to your loved one’s is not only selfish but also guarantees that the wealth gap between black and white will exist for yet another generation.

We have got to do better if we ever plan on achieving economic liberation.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

Unqualified and Inexperienced: Why Betsy Devos’ Nomination Must Be Blocked

I remember the statement very well for one simple reason; it made so much sense to me. The alluded to statement came from a gentleman who painstakingly explained to me that he considered himself neither Republican nor Democrat. Instead, he preferred to “look at the issue for myself, evaluate how it will impact my loved one’s, and then make an educated decision based upon my priorities. Anyone who is voting along party lines is often working against their best interests.”

I have noticed that the older I get, the less likely I am to experience moments when logic converges with common sense. I partially attribute this fact to my increasing understanding of political matters. However, I also believe that the rise of illogical individuals who often work against their own interests can also be partially attributed to a decline in the American educational system.

Unfortunately for  American schoolchildren, a partisan fight between the Republicans and Democrats regarding the confirmation of Betsy DeVos has placed their access to a quality education in further peril.

In a classic case of what more could go wrong with American education, the future of U.S. schoolchildren is close to being placed in the hands of Betsy DeVos, a person that persons on both sides of the political aisle agree lacks any of the necessary qualifications to become the Secretary of Education beyond being a billion-dollar donor for the Republican Party. There is no other explanation for the nomination of this candidate other than the fact that she has proven willing to reach into her

There is no other explanation for this candidate’s nomination than the fact that she has routinely reached into her deep pockets to aid the Republican Party. One would think that a person nominated to lead the Department of Education would possess some form of education experience. Frighteningly, DeVos has never taught a class, run a school as a administrator, or even led a PTA club. The alluded to lack of experience was prominently displayed during a recent hearing that not only displayed her lack of understanding regarding all things education, but also devolved to a point that her Republican supporters shut the much needed debate that highlighted for the nation her lack of knowledge regarding all things education and set the stage for a quick vote.

One would think that a person nominated to lead the Department of Education would have some form of prior experience with the American educational system. Frighteningly, DeVos has never taught a class, run a school as an administrator, or even led a PTA club. Devos’ lack of experience was prominently displayed during a recent hearing that not only displayed her lack of understanding regarding all things education but also devolved to a point that her Republican supporters shut the much-needed debate down and therefore set the stage for a vote regarding her nomination.

It is frightening to see so many politicians allowing financial campaign contributions to shape their perspective on a matter as important as education. At this moment, it is crucial that American voters, regardless of their political leanings, send a definitive message to their elected officials that when important matters such as the education of American schoolchildren arise that partisanship must be muted. Failure to take such a logical step not only marginalizes American schoolchildren in the present, but also handcuffs the nation’s economic future.

It is with the best interests of our children in mind that we must do all that we can to urge elected officials to display their concern for American schoolchildren and deny Betsy DeVos this crucial position.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017.

 

 

What President Donald Trump’s Belief that Frederick Douglass is Still Alive Reveals About the American Educational System

There is a wise saying that says; it is “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” I am always amazed when people possessing enough power and resources to have a cadre of individuals around them make avoidable missteps in public. Unfortunately, I was not surprised when America’s Commander in Chief, Donald Trump, made an inexcusable intellectual stumble.
Just in case you missed it, this is what occurred during a recent Black History Month celebration. America’s ‘can’t get right’ President attempted to once again prove to Black America that he is on their side by delivering a Black History Month speech that included him reading a list of African-American heroes from a sheet of paper.
Now I am confident that you are wondering what could go wrong with the reading of a list of names from a prepared speech. Unfortunately for Donald Trump, he apparently became too comfortable and unwisely choose to insert impromptu comments regarding these esteemed individuals. During this rather awkward moment, President Trump began discussing Frederick Douglass, this nation’s greatest Abolitionist voice. Of course, there is nothing wrong with President Trump speaking about such an esteemed American historical figure. However, Trump’s remarks regarding Douglass were spoken in the present tense as if he believed that the famed Abolitionist was still in the land of the living. It was evident that the Commander in Chief had no clue whatsoever that Douglass died February 20, 1895. Hilariously, Trump made it seem as if Douglass would be leading the next Million Man March.
On the surface, this public misstep is little more than a representation that President Trump knows absolutely nothing about African-Americans or their protracted struggle for politico-economic liberation in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. From a deeper view, Trump’s ignorance of African-American History, albeit we will remember this moment of ineptitude forever, places the spotlight on an American educational system filled with persons who know as little as Trump does about the African-American experience. Unfortunately, African-Americans from every walk of life, including educators, are included in the population mentioned above.
I previously used this space to tell a humorous story regarding a discussion among a group of African-Americans, each possessing a Ph.D., who wanted to bring in Richard Wright to deliver our keynote address for Black History Month in honor the 65th Anniversary of his epic tome, Black Boy. Although I was stunned that such ‘learned’ individuals had no idea that Richard Wright died fifty years prior, I did my best to hold in my laughter as these people pledged thousands of dollars to a pot with the intention of bringing the noted author to our campus. It was at this moment that I asked a member of the committee, who was also a Reverend, the following question.
“Do you speak to God on the regular?”
He responded, “Absolutely Brother Jones, is there a lamentation that you wish for me to deliver to the Lord?”
“Nah, I’m good on that front. However, there is one thing that you are going to have to do. Now he is still in the miracle business isn’t he?”
He nodded his head.
“Well, tonight when you talk to God, please tell him that he is going to have to reach into his old bag of tricks and breathe life back into Richard Wright as he did with Lazarus. And while he’s at, have him bring Malcolm and Martin back as well. Richard Wright has been dead since 1960. When was the last time you saw him on television? What was the last Richard Wright book that you read?”
Obviously, those ‘educated’ people around me had not only never read a Richard Wright book, but also had no idea of who he was or what he accomplished during his life.
Despite our hesitation to admit it, the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of our people emanate from the same educational system that produced our genius of a President. And without a serious infusion of “blackness” into our personal educational curriculum, we will be just as ignorant as our Commander in Chief regarding matters affecting our people.
I hope that we can agree that being ignorant is one thing, however, being “Trump dumb” is inexcusable, particularly when it comes to African-Americans. I hope that we each use this year’s Black History Month as an opportunity to not only raise our consciousness but also apply that knowledge toward the uplift of our community “By Any Means Necessary.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017