"Why don't you guys study like the kids from Africa?"
In a moment of exasperation last spring, I asked that question to a virtually all-black class of 12th-graders who had done horribly on a test I had just given. A kid who seldom came to class -- and was constantly distracting other students when he did -- shot back: "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study."
Another student angrily challenged me: "You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us." When I did, not one hand went up.
The article raises the question in my mind whether we are asking teachers to do more than is reasonable and that we need to focus on re-educating men to be good fathers:
"The real problem," says Glenn Hopkins, president of Alexandria's Hopkins House, which provides preschool and other services to low-income families, "is that school superintendents don't realize -- or won't admit -- that the education gap is symptomatic of a social gap."
Hopkins notes that student achievement is deeply affected by issues of family, income and class, things superintendents have little control over. "Even with best teachers in the world, they don't have the power to solve the problem," he says. "They naively assume that if they throw in a little tutoring and mentoring and come up with some program they can claim as their own, the gap will close."
Some fathers are making the decision on their own to do a better job:
For Junior Bailey, a senior in my Advanced Placement English class, school has never been a foreign place, a fact he attributes to his dad. "He has always been on me; it's been hard to get away with much," Junior said. He also told me that hardly any of his friends have their fathers living with them. "Their mothers are soft on them, and they don't get any push from home."
On parents' night a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to see Junior's dad, Willie Bailey, a star on T.C. Williams's 1983 basketball team, walk into my classroom. Willie told me that after seeing how the guys he grew up with were affected by not having their dads around, he promised himself that he would be a real presence in his son's life.
With more parents like Willie Bailey, someday schools might realistically talk about closing the gap between students' potential and their performance.
Hat Tip: Titus One Nine