Black ed­u­ca­tion tragedy raises many ques­tions

The Covington News - - OPINION - Wal­ter E. Wil­liams is a pro­fes­sor of economics at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity. To find out more about Wal­ter E. Wil­liams, visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate web­site at cre­ators.com.

As if more ev­i­dence were needed about the tragedy of black ed­u­ca­tion, Rachel Jean­tel, a wit­ness for the pros­e­cu­tion in the Ge­orge Zim­mer­man mur­der trial, put a face on it for the na­tion to see.

Some of that ev­i­dence un­folded when Zim­mer­man’s de­fense at­tor­ney asked 19-year-old Jean­tel to read a let­ter that she al­legedly had writ­ten to Trayvon Martin’s mother.

She re­sponded that she doesn’t read cur­sive, and that’s in ad­di­tion to her poor gram­mar, syn­tax and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

Jean­tel is a se­nior at Mi­ami Nor­land Se­nior High School. How in the world did she man­age to be­come a 12th-grader with­out be­ing able to read cur­sive writ­ing?

That’s a skill one would ex­pect from a fourth-grader. Jean­tel is by no means an ex­cep­tion at her school. Here are a few achieve­ment scores from her school: Thirty-nine per­cent of the stu­dents score ba­sic for read­ing, and 38 per­cent score be­low ba­sic.

In math, 37 per­cent score ba­sic, and 50 per­cent score be­low ba­sic.

Be­low ba­sic is the score when a stu­dent is un­able to demon­strate even par­tial mas­tery of knowl­edge and skills fun­da­men­tal for pro­fi­cient work at his grade level. Ba­sic in­di­cates only par­tial mas­tery.

Few Amer­i­cans, par­tic­u­larly black Amer­i­cans, have any idea of the true mag­ni­tude of the black ed­u­ca­tion tragedy. The ed­u­ca­tion es­tab­lish­ment might claim that it’s not their fault.

They’re not re­spon­si­ble for the dev­as­ta­tion caused by fe­male-headed fam­i­lies, drugs, vi­o­lence and the cul­ture of de­pen­dency. But they are to­tally re­spon­si­ble for com­mit­ting gross ed­u­ca­tional fraud.

It’s ed­u­ca­tors who grad­u­ated Jean­tel from el­e­men­tary and mid­dle school and con­tin­ued to pass her along in high school. It’s ed­u­ca­tors who will, in June 2014, con­fer upon her a high-school diploma. It’s not just Florida’s schools. Ac­cord­ing to the National As­sess­ment of Ed­u­ca­tional Progress, na­tion­ally most black 12th-graders test ei­ther ba­sic or be­low ba­sic in read­ing, writ­ing, math and science.

Drs. Abi­gail and Stephan Th­ern­strom wrote in their 2004 book, “No Ex­cuses: Clos­ing the Racial Gap in Learn­ing,” “Blacks near­ing the end of their high school ed­u­ca­tion per­form a lit­tle worse than white eighth-graders in both read­ing and U.S. his­tory, and a lot worse in math and ge­og­ra­phy.”

Lit­tle has changed since the book’s pub­li­ca­tion.

Drexel Univer­sity his­tory and po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor Ge­orge Cic­cariello-Maher dis­ap­prov­ingly says that the reaction to Jean­tel’s court per­for­mance “has been in terms of aes­thet­ics, of dis­re­gard­ing a wit­ness on the ba­sis of how she talks, how good she is at read­ing and writ­ing.”

Hark­ing back to Jim Crow days, he adds: “Th­ese are sub­tle things that echo lit­er­acy test­ing at the polls, echo the ques­tion of whether black Amer­i­cans can tes­tify against white peo­ple, of be­ing al­ways sus­pect in their tes­ti­mony. It’s the same old dy­nam­ics emerg­ing in a very dif­fer­ent guise.”

Then there’s Mor­gan Polikoff, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, who says: “Cur­sive should be al­lowed to die. In fact, it’s al­ready dy­ing, de­spite hav­ing been taught for decades.”

That’s the kind of ed­u­ca­tional phi­los­o­phy that ac­counts for much of our na­tion’s ed­u­ca­tional de­cline.

The ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem and black fam­ily struc­ture and cul­ture have com­bined to make in­creas­ing num­bers of young black peo­ple vir­tu­ally use­less in the in­creas­ingly high-tech world of the 21st cen­tury.

Too many peo­ple be­lieve that pour­ing more money into schools will help. That’s whistlin’ “Dixie.” Whether a stu­dent is black or white, poor or rich, there are some min­i­mum re­quire­ments that must be met in or­der to do well in school.

Some­one must make the stu­dent do his home­work, see to it that he gets a good night’s sleep, fix a break­fast, make sure he gets to school on time and make sure he re­spects and obeys his teach­ers.

Here are my ques­tions: Which one of those re­quire­ments can be achieved through a higher school bud­get? Which can be achieved by politi­cians?

If those min­i­mal re­quire­ments aren’t met, what­ever else is done is mostly for naught.

I hope Rachel Jean­tel’s court per­for­mance is a wake-up call for black Amer­i­cans about the dev­as­ta­tion wrought by our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem.

WAL­TER WIL­LIAMS

COLUM­NIST

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