Finding A Needle in A Stack of Needles: A Solution to the Racial Achievement Gap

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose

In the category of “Yes, That Makes Complete Sense,” David Kirp of The LA Times reported that scientists have figured out a 1-hour “fix” for our most disadvantaged students: encourage them while they do it. Combined with the latest article from The New York Times regarding Jump Math, this piece almost made me smack the screen. These articles are fortunate I’m typing on my Mac. Anyone who’s had any exposure to students without a fundamental appreciation for the merits of education should know that they’re going to have to do a little encouragement.

And by little, I mean every single class period.

The one piece of advice floating around from various programs is that we shouldn’t give any praise to a student’s work, instead focusing on what the student hypothetically did or didn’t do. I hate this. People who speak in these hypotheticals seem really out of touch with kids like the ones I teach. While they may “get used to it,” they also leave the class with the same frame of mind that they may or may not be able to do the work, instead of the certainty that we as a school community can provide. Getting little to no praise for a child who never hears it outside of school is akin to emotional neglect.

Kids need confidence builders. In an age where our increasingly corporate system has asked teachers to become more professional (and subsequently append jargon to any credible statement they make), we’ve lost the discussions on the fundamentals for why we do what we do. Trust, community, respect, and care form the base for any classroom, but particularly those for students who lack that self-confidence to start. We can talk about the factors that assessment, lesson planning, and inquiry (however we define that) play in student achievement, but there are all these other unqualifiables that really make the experience of learning really rich and deep-rooted for every student we teach.

Even in the midst of our protest dialogue against this privatization, I fear that our counter-narrative misses this because we’re so concentrated in arguing down the points of those who couldn’t care less about our students that we lose the opportunity to create a new narrative. It’s hard for me to say it, but one of those is mastering the obvious. Yet, some of us still prick ourselves trying to find needles in a needle stack.

Jose, who’s featured in El Diario NY today, and will link it once I find the piece …