State, national columnists

Educating today’s kids requires different skills

By From page A8 | March 24, 2014

At first, the title of a lecture spelled out on a big screen at the University of Arizona seemed as if it had an embarrassing grammatical error: “Stakes is High: Educating New Century Students.”

But it was borrowed from hip-hop group De La Soul’s album “Stakes Is High” to show how schools are failing to prepare kids for the future. It’s a failure on many fronts, said Gloria Ladson-Billings, a University of Wisconsin-Madison urban education professor who spoke at a graduate student colloquy on compassion in education.

We’re repeatedly told of an achievement gap with students of color trailing their white classmates. But that casts the blame on minority students, parents and teachers.

Ladson-Billings referred to the gap as “an education debt.” She defines it in historical, economic, social, political and moral inequities affecting communities of color. The debt includes it being illegal to teach slaves followed by 100 years of unequal education for black children.

Even after the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court ruling ending legal segregation, 90 percent of black and brown kids attend hyper-segregated and unequal schools. The debt is economic because of “persistent underfunding of schools” for minority youths. Children of color live in areas where property values don’t generate enough revenue to provide the well-funded, quality education available in white communities.

The social and political debt involves centuries of minorities being denied the vote, though they fought in every U.S. war and provided free labor as slaves. The suffrage problem continues with voter ID laws and the exclusion of voting rights to felons disproportionately affecting minorities.

The number of black teachers has dropped from 10 percent about 30 years ago to 5 percent today in public schools, Ladson-Billings said. This means the majority of kids will never have teachers of color.

That’s a social and moral debt when student diversity is up, but minority kids have less access to college, Ladson-Billings said. It’s a tragedy because “educating our children is the most important task we face.”

With each point, Ladson-Billings repeated “the stakes is high.” Smartphones and youths’ use of them has helped close the digital divide, but schools fail to incorporate kids’ use of social media in schools. Kids are tech-savvy and information rich but have little respect for plagiarism, intellectual property and copyright rules. They haven’t been properly taught.

“The new digital divide is that which exists between generations,” Ladson-Billings said. “Teachers are unable to keep up.”

She played a video of a student rapping about physics and said young people as new century students don’t fit traditional boundaries of race, class, gender or national origin. Hip-hop is their common culture for teaching and learning.

Worldwide, hip-hop is used to describe everything from the injustice involving Trayvon Martin to the Arab Spring.

“This is a new way of thinking about culture and thinking about students,” she said. “Young people are not slackers.”

They are engrossed in learning, innovation, creation and implementation. She said about half of the kids into hip-hop want to be teachers, “but they can’t stand teacher education programs.”

Change has to happen for young people and the country to have a future.

“We have to take some risks,” Ladson-Billings said. “We have to be willing to say this isn’t right.”

Ladson-Billings said she has hope in today’s youths.

“Kids can turn their lives around because they are finding a way to express themselves through art,” she said.

Adults just have to anchor them with history and boundaries to respect so they can soar into a great future.

Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board. Readers may write to him at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or by email at [email protected].

Lewis W. Diuguid


Discussion | 4 comments

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  • The MisterMarch 24, 2014 - 7:45 am

    It's about the dumbing down of America so that we will tolerate and then accept the control of government, international bankers, and mega-corps. "They" can't physically imprison us all (though they've got a good start), but they can dumb us down and make us tolerant of the process and the results. The general reason for "students of color" trailing "white" students is that people "of color" have been targeted more and are more susceptible to and controlled by government and mega-corps (like the music/entertainment industry). But never fear, it is just as obvious that "white" students, in general, are being dumbed down too in the 13 years of mandatory government indoctrination camps. Even the author of this article shows that these mandatory government indoctrination camps that you call schools have failed to educate students... but then of course their mission was never to educate students but to make them smart enough to run the machines and stoopid enough not to question their masters.

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  • CD BrooksMarch 24, 2014 - 8:07 am

    Arts and sciences are important and have contributed mightily to our history but first things first. Kids learn at home. Parenting is really pretty simple if you have some sense. Don't teach your kids r*cism, phobias and hatred. Teach them manners and respect then practice them yourself and be available physically and emotionally. Be in charge stand for something and stop blaming, all that is hype and a load of crap. Kids respond to positive training and follow up they must learn that responsibility and accountability matter. Laziness and alleged blockades are garbage, grow a pair communicate. It works.

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  • Teach5thMarch 24, 2014 - 8:44 am

    Let's see - what wasn't included in this article that tends to blame others for some kids of color not getting an education? Well, there's the fact that 150+ years ago black slaves weren't allowed an education. Then, there's voter ID laws and not allowing felons to vote that are contributing. Next, we have not enough black teachers, followed by those kids of color who make it to college not being able to stand teacher education programs. Finally, there's not enough use of social media in our schools because teachers can't keep up. The author states that ...(it would be wrong to blame) the minority students, parents, or teachers. Who, then, is left to take responsibility?

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  • Rich GiddensMarch 24, 2014 - 9:11 am

    There is no competition in education because of the Education Marxists that are running horrible States like California and New York. The problem with the underclasses starts with parenting, yet Government wants more of the same Rx that's not working to advance upward mobility and education.

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