Black Heritage as Gap Closer
S.F. Alliance of Black School Educators
Willie L. Brown Jr. College Prep Academy
Friday, Nov. 6, 2009 5 p.m.
John William Templeton
© 2009 eAccess Corp.
INTRODUCTION. Our speaker has provided training for SFUSD teachers through the Teaching American History program and the Ethnic Studies development process on how to infuse the significant local history of San Francisco and California in the classroom. He’s spent the last 20 years chronicling that history in a series of books, Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, three documentaries and now the daily S.F. Black Heritage Tour. He’s also the co-founder of National Black Business Month and produces the 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology. He’s a native of Statesville, North Carolina and an honors graduate of Howard University’s John H. Johnson School of Communications.
The Holy Grail of American education is how to improve the performance of African-American children. The survival of neighborhoods and in some cases entire cities depends on the answer to that dilemma.
The Bayview neighborhood we stand in at this moment is a perfect example of how significant an issue this is.
Exactty a month ago, we hosted Robert Simms, who grew up in this community, on the Hill, attended public schools, and now is the owner of ParkSFO and Trux Cargo Shipping, two significant transportation businesses along with being a lawyer.
And this school is named for someone who migrated from Texas to become the premiere political leader of the past 50 years in California.
Clearly, when we get it right, magic comes out of African-American children.
When we don’t get it right, these very streets aren’t safe to walk on when we leave here.
For the first time, we have a President who has put the resources behind the talk of closing the achievement gap — a $100 billion bet through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that transformatton is possible in American public schools.
If it doesn’t work, who knows how long it will be before education gets that kind of support again.
But I’m here to tell you tonight that it is not rocket science. How do I know that? A couple of days ago, I was talking with a rocket scientist, Mary Spio, who will be one of the 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology that we’re announcing Monday.
By age 26, she was head of digital satellite communications for Boeing. Then she created what we are now experiencing as digital cinema in our movie theatres. She holds about eight patents.
And I’m sure like me, you’d never heard of her before.
Imagine how you’d feel sitting in a movie theatre and thinking I invented that whole process. You’d want to jump up and tell everybody.
What she did tell me was, “Seeing people who looked like me who were successful was what motivated me to go into the sciences.”
That’s consistent with my experience as author of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California. When I did the first volume in 1991, I spoke at the Los Angeles Alliance of Black School Educators monthly meeting just like this one today. I hadn’t completed the first volume yet,. I just had an uncorrected proof copy for reviewers. Dr. Bruce Gaines, who was the president, took my proof copy to his classes at Jordan High and Pasadena City College.
Just from his use of the proof book to provide lessons, he reported that his black students had an average of two grade points improvement within two months.
We got similar results thorugh IRISE up here in the 1990s, particularly with James Taylor and his faculty at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. Carol Fields told me last year how effective Our Roots has been with her fourth grade students over the years.
So we know what can happen when content is placed in the hands of master educators. According to the news last night, there are 300,000 teachers in California.
How do we make sure the vast majority of them know how to effectively reach and teach black children.
Last year, I gave the keynote for the California Council for Social Studies in Oakland and did a joint tour with the Chinese Historical Society through downtown San Francisco.
For that presentation, I conducted a research study among California social science teachers, many of whom were in San Francisco Unified, thanks to the cooperation we got from the Office of Teaching and Learning which disseminated the survey.
There is a specific term in education jargon for what I’ve been discussing — culturally-responsiive instruction. People like Carol Lee, and Michele Foster and Gloria Ladson-Billings have helped to take our intuitive sense and define it in scientific terms.
Simply, a well-trained teacher knows how to get the student to identify with the subject being taught in a way that engages their interest and perceived needs.
Juan Gilbert, chair of human-centered computing at Clemson University, is another one of the 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology. He e-mailed me last night about how they’ve designed video games using hip-hop to teach algebra to black students.
The key phrase is “To teach algebra.” Any thing you do should result in acquired skills which can be used in any context.
Our research question to the teachers was to discern their capacity to provide culturally-responsive instruction.
So we asked a series of questions about what they did for Black History Month and Black American Day. The latter was a trick question. Although March 5 was declared Black American Day in the Education Code 40 years ago to mark the death of Crispus Attucks in the Boston Massacre, I’ve yet to find any evidence that any one has ever actually devoted the entire day to the “study of the contributions of African-Americans to American history.”
We expected and got 100 percent response with a question “What is Black American Day?”
We were more surprised to find that only 10 percent of the activities described by teachers iincluded the aspect of teaching skills, particularly skills identified in the curriculum frameworks and content standards.
All the evidence shows that such topics as the black queen who gave California its name, Buffalo Soldiers, the three local black churches in the Underground Railroad or, more contemporaneous topics, like black scientists and inventors attract the interest of hard-to-reach students.
We only need to ask successful learners what turns them on. And we’re not saying that only black role models can motivate black youth. In my book Success Secrets of Black Executives, I found that the presence of white mentors was a key element for the most successful black achievers.
However, the teaching of social studies, which I’m increasingly considering the most important subject, begins with a hierarchy in the primary grades of studying one’s own family, their city their state and then their country. Black kids get handicapped in those early grades because there is very little material to help them place themselves in the picture of American history, particularly family and local history.
To address that, we propose an infusion policy for San Francisco and any other school district to create a uniform standard, just as we have for mathematics, science and social studies, for how and what we expect our learners to know about African-American heritage. This will give educators a repertoire of cultural referents, with the proper training, to hang their instruction of actual skills upon.
My study indicates that we can’t leave it up to the initiative of the teachers to pull these resources together for themselves. They have too many other demands.
A couple of products we’ve done are the result of feedback from educators. The Black Queen: How African-Americans Put California on the Map is the fourth volume of the Our Roots Run Deep series. It includes twelve themes of lesson plans. short bios on the 150 most important black Californians and a breakdown of the how the California social science framework relates to African-American history. The infusion policy we suggest basically amounts to highlighting what the frameworks already call for.
Globally, we find technology a valuable tool for supplementing existing curriculum resources. The Black Students Internet Guide annotes 400 different sites with useful content for learners of African descent, broken down by subject areas.
For instance, Ron Eglash at RPI in New York has a presentation that teaches geometry through corn rowing. Its a good way to address girls’ perceived aversion to math and science.
Our guide Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco drills down to the local level to use the entire community as a learning laboratory.
We’ve distributed copies of the proposed infusion policy. Students should not have to depend on the luck of the draw to get the instruction that all the research indicates is their right as part of a quality education.
Back in 1943, my mother, Mary Elizabeth McLelland was the first valedictorian of Unity High School outside of Statesville, N.C. and my dad, the late Clarence Templeton Jr. was salutorian of Morningside High School before he went off to the Navy to fight in World War II. As their kids, we always got set aside by our teachers, who had also taught them, and were given the hardest assignments to do. I was a National Achievement Scholar when I graduated from high school and my son scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT when he graduated.
My point is that when you turn a young person’s life around, to motivate them to follow in the footsteps of a Bob Simms or a Willie Brown or a Kevin Epps, you’re making a difference for generations to follow.
If there’s going to be a Bayview-Hunters Point in 50 years, then we can’t afford to write off any of the young people being forced out of the public schools. They will have children.
When we give them the kind of guidance that propelled us, the benefits extend way beyond the classroom.
I look forward to answering your questions and to working with you to find the Holy Grail.