Sunday, September 10, 2006

Back to School


School started up again last Tuesday. I wasn't dreading going back, but neither was I jumping up and down with excitement.

My little brother Isaac is a freshman at my school this year. I told him I have spies all over the place that will be sure he gets to class on time.

I have to admit I am a little worried about what his high school experience will be like. We attend a large public school in the heart of our city. I love it for a lot of reasons. There are many opportunities to challenge yourself academically, and for all the bad teachers I've had, there's been an equal number of teachers who are truly dedicated and passionate about helping their students become successful. However, I know my experience has been sheltered to an extent because I fall into the "privileged category". When teachers look at a blonde haired, green eyed, white girl, they tend to assume "good student", or at least not a trouble-maker. When they look at Isaac they will see a young, African American male, which often brings to the surface a lot of negative connotations (whether they are conscious or sub-conscious). Despite the enormous diversity of our school (or maybe because of it), there are a lot of layers of prejudice, especially based on race and socioeconomics.

When I walk into the media center, the librarian barely glances at my pass and I go about by business. However, I've noticed that this isn't the case for everybody. If you are a student of color and/or dressed a certain way ("ghetto"), I can almost guarantee that not only will your pass be scrutinized, but there's a good chance the librarian will call the teacher who signed it to be sure it wasn't forged. I see this same type of treatment throughout our entire school. Granted, there are kids who have a thug mentality, and have no interest in learning, but there are also students who have a genuine desire to learn, and have been failed by the school system throughout the years.

Up until last year, our school had a program specifically for the kids in the neighborhood. The majority of students in this program were African American, and many came from low-income families. The program was an absolute disaster. Little was expected of the students, and they all knew it and responded accordingly. The graduation rate was terrible, and those who did graduate were sent out into the world without the skills needed to succeed in a post-secondary education. Those who wanted to learn were unable to, because others were allowed to be so disruptive. Challenging courses were virtually non-existent, and little was done to recruit these students into the Advanced Placement courses offered in the other magnets. It was institutionalized racism at its finest. The administration finally woke up this year and the program was eliminated. Now those students will be merged into the other magnets offered at our school. I feel for the juniors and seniors who will have to adjust to a whole new set of standards and expectations. I pray that teachers will be sensitive to their educational history, and work with them instead of against them.

But I digress...

My main concern is Isaac. He has already been accused of stealing and he's only been at school for a week. We have two lunch lines at our school, and after not seeing anything that looked appetizing in one, Isaac tried to leave that line and go in the other. A hall monitor (who is an African American male himself) stopped him and asked "What'd you take man?". Isaac explained his intentions, but was still grilled for another couple of minutes before he was allowed to leave. Poor kid, he was already nervous and vulnerable considering it was only his second day in a school with almost 2,000 people. I have switched lines on numerous occasions, and have never been asked what I stole.

I'm frustrated and concerned. It's gonna be a long year...

4 comments:

Susy Q said...

Hi,
We were using Wide Horizons but have decided to switch to Children's Home Society (we've really only been waiting eight weeks) since the wait times are so much shorter. Did you like that agency?

Thanks!
Susanna

Bek said...

I have been reading your blog for a long time ( I am glad you are posting again!!). I have an AA son and an AA daughter..as well as a bio daughter. I have learned so much from you.

I worry about these same things. i want the world to treat my son (and your brother)like the smart and kind boys that they are and not thugs or criminals. I know it won't and it makes me sad. How does Issac handle this? How does your mom handle this? How can we change things?

I hope my daughter is as good of a sister to her siblings as you are to yours.....

KelseyChristine said...

Bek,

Isaac handles situations like these a lot better than I think I could. He basically keeps his cool, is respectful, and explains his way out of things. Afterwards he will let out more of his anger as he relates the story to other people. My mom talks to him about the history of racism in our country and and the more subtle ways it is seen today. She advocates for him in school and is quick to meet with teachers/administration if there's a problem. She has had to be much more involved in his education than mine (or my bio brothers). It is frustrating that he has to be taught things like how to respond if a police officer pulls you over (there have been too many times where a black man has reached for something like his wallet but police assume it's a gun, and they shoot). It helps that he has people around him (friends, mentors etc...) that experience the same things and that he can vent with. As far as how we can change things...good question! I really don't know... I know it has benefitted Isaac to have my mom on top of things going on at school. It's easy for teachers to base their expectations on what a student looks like. I haven't figured out how to make a significant change on a less personal level though...

Any ideas?

Bek said...

I think I would just just what your mom does....and pray his sister keeps an eye on him like you do. I know kids don't tell their moms everything.

Since my son is only 2...all I have are theories...until he gets older I just need to learn as much as I can......

:-)