Posts Tagged ‘minorites in education’

We’ve afforded these families and these kids all sorts of opportunities to lift themselves out of the appalling circumstances of their lives, yet they seem never to be grateful of our efforts; nor do they take advantage of the education.  They’re late for class.  Their homework is not done, or done poorly.  Sometimes it is done but never handed in.  They are disruptive in class – shouting out inappropriately, standing up, walking around, interfering with the other students who are trying to learn, intimidating the students…just overall disrupting the flow of the educative process.  We call the parents.  They either don’t come, or they yell at the teachers.  They, themselves, seem complicit in the whole thing and call us racist.  Or other times they don’t even call us back!  Look, just yesterday the principal tried to break-up a fight between two of them in the corridor and got smacked in the face for her efforts.  Come on Doc.  This is your area.  Tell us; what do they expect us to do?

In one form or another, this scenario has played itself out in at least eighty-percent of my meetings with principals or staff, or at seminars in which I am presenting.  The “these families” that they are alluding to are generally “African Americans.”  Although I am called in to deal with other ethnic and social minority populations, challenges with the African American population seem to more-often-than-not rise to the top.  These emotional sharings occur most frequently during round-table discussions rather than in the large group settings.  It would seem that there is greater comfort in these smaller groups – particularly if you allow a few minutes for ice-breaker activities and initial processing before joining them. 

But that’s not the point.  The point is, “How do you respond to that?  What do you do?” 

There is neither a single nor an easy response to this.  If there were, we wouldn’t be still dealing with this fifty-five years after Brown vs Board of Education. 

The first thing to recognize is that the approach to dealing with this issue is different relative to the age of the population (pre-primary, primary, middle, high), their history in the community (are they new immigrants or do they have a long history), the social grouping (lower, middle, high), the integration of that grouping (Is there a mix of lower and middle class, or is it a predominance of one class), the training of the teacher (has the teacher been trained to deal with that population or is it this one class he/she did) , the training of the principal, the readiness of the school district (particularly the Superintendent) to lead on the issue, the relationship between the Superintendent and the Board of Education (is the Superintendent a leader of a manager), and the level of integration of the families into the social fabric of the community.  

Those questions (above) must be answered first because it is from that knowledge and insight that the plan of intervention is developed.

The frustration you hear many teachers speak of is normal.  If you have not been trained to work with a population, and the population is relatively new and not yet integrated into the social culture of the community…this is expected.  Plus, let’s be honest about it, this is no way to be a successful teacher.  You cannot expect a teacher to do his or her best work if this is the situation he or she is walking into every day!  It simply won’t happen.  Additionally, without addressing the situation, you are offering those less-than-stellar teachers and easy “out.”  They just blame the parents, blame the school, blame the District…blame, blame, blame. 

Yes, that may be only 10% of your teaching fraternity, but do you know how many teachers ten percent is?   I have met and worked with many terrific teachers and principals, psychologists and social workers, but I have also worked with my fair share of those who seem to have a standard complaint stuck in a desk drawer waiting for just the right kid to pull it out.

This challenge goes both ways. 

Once we recognize and accept the fact that this challenge goes both ways (distrust, fears, concern, labeling, perceived targeting, etc.), our very next move is to get away from the emotional discussions and from the discussions of emotion.  Those take us nowhere. 

Frankly, it gets us into a game of emotional ping pong where one person serves and the others either deflects of tries to slam the ball back to the other side.  The parents never win those games.  They don’t have big enough rackets.  So they retreat, or they don’t answer the phone, or don’t come to meetings, or become very belligerent when they do come.   So we retreat to our corners in the same frustrated state that each of us came to the table with. 

This is a multilayered challenge that demands a multilayered response, the first part of which is “Understanding and Normalizing the Challenge.”  If you truly want to shift it, and that truth is different in different schools and in different school districts, you must first understand and normalize the challenge.

The story below attempts to explain and normalize one aspect of this enormous and historic challenge.  Follow it slowly.  It is written in very simple language but has profound parallels to our current conversation.  Remember, this is a multifaceted challenge.  This story simply takes one sliver of it and attempts to help you make sense of that aspect of the challenge.   When you’re done reading it, you are simply supposed to say, “Okay, now I understand.”

Read it.  Re-read it.  Then let’s talk. 

Spots On My Carpet

 Once upon a time there was a pretty little lady

Who had a pretty little house.

And a pretty little car

A pretty little sofa

And a pretty little chair

The pretty little lady had a pretty little dog

Who had a pretty little bed

A pretty little bowl

To put her pretty little food

She had a pretty little bone

and pretty little toys

A pretty little collar

And a pretty little leash

To take her pretty little walks

In her pretty little neighborhood

They were such a pretty little pair

They took pretty little walks

Around the pretty little park.

They were so happy.

One day they thought –

“Wouldn’t it be nice to share our pretty little life with another dog?”

So off they went in their pretty little car to the pound.

In the pound they saw so many dogs.

They saw big dogs

Small dogs

Fat dogs

Thin dogs

Smiling dogs

Frowning dogs

Each dog in want of a good home.

They chose one dog to share their home with.

And off they went in their pretty little car with their new friend.

He was so happy.

He got his own pretty little bed

And pretty little bowl

Pretty little collar and pretty little leash

They went for pretty little walks

Around the pretty little park.

They were such a pretty little family.

One day the lady went to work leaving the two dogs at home.

After a long day’s work

She returned to her pretty little house.


There’s a spot in my carpet – she screamed.

Oh my goodness!   What a mess!

Toys were strewn everywhere.

The place was in such a mess.

Who did this?


But why?

Didn’t I bring you from the pound?

Didn’t we share our pretty little home with you?

Didn’t we share our pretty little food with you?

Didn’t you have your own pretty little bowl and pretty little toys?

We brought you in as part of our family!

Is this how you repay our kindness?

She was so hurt!!!

Her pretty little house was ruined

And there was a spot in her carpet.


Moral of the Story: Do not expect me to change my behavior simply because either my geography or my social status has shifted.  It takes much more than a change in environment to precipitate/encourage/support a change in behavior.


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Breaking the Egg


I lived first in a little house, I lived there very well

The world to me was small and round, and made of pale blue shell.

egg2Nestled 80 miles Northeast of Madison, the capital, and 82 miles Northwest of Milwaukee, the largest and most diverse city, lies the sleepy lumber town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 

 The City of Oshkosh first came to prominence after the great fire of Chicago.  Oshkosh was one of the primary sources for lumber used to rebuild that city, and grew to become the third most populace city in Wisconsin.  In 1972, one of the children’s overalls made by a, then obscure, clothing company called Oshkosh B’Gosh gained notoriety when it was advertised in one of the more prominent magazines of the day.  Oshkosh Trucking was one of the largest and most beloved employers within the Fox Valley, and paper was king. 

 That was then.  This is now.

 Much of Oshkosh’s manufacturing base has disappeared exposing a large un-transferable labor force.  In an effort to rebuild a sagging economy, the Oshkosh Correctional Institute which was built in 1986 expanded its rated bed capacity in 1996 to receive 1,800 inmates.  This, plus Oshkosh’s history as a “low crime” community had resulted in a dramatic shift in its demographic make-up.  Within the span of one decade (10 years), Oshkosh’s African American (AA) census population ballooned to a near four-fold increase over its original numbers….almost exclusively lower socioeconomic.    

Although a large percentage of this immigrant population came from Chicago, Milwaukee, Racine, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Ohio also accounted for sizeable portions. 

 One of the largest challenges came in the education of this new group.  This population had neither a long history in Oshkosh, nor did they come from similar inter nor intra-geographic environments. The challenge was one of understanding this new population, bringing them together, all while trying to educate them.

 I recently held a conversation with eight (8) African American middle school students.  Each of these students was attending the same school.  Many had classes together.  Not one of these students was born in Oshkosh (0/8).  Only three of the eight (3/8) were born in Wisconsin.  And only two (2), a brother & sister pair attended primary school in the District.

 How do you acculturate a group of students into “how things are done here,” when the only secure cross-cultural connection they have is race/color.  They do not even know each other sitting in the car, yet our expectations are that they move forward toward a shared goal/purpose. 

Just think of it – we have dramatically increased the belly of our population through immigration (increased jail population), loss of jobs (closure and exit of manufacturing), and lack of transferability of employment (trained to do one thing, and have done it for years). 

When you sit within a culture that has lost jobs, has a population retention rate of 79% (79% of the population remain or return), a 29% bachelor degree or above rate (71% high school and below), and has a proud steeled cultural and social history, you must expect these changes to breed and harvest strong grief reactions!! 

 Not dealing with it does not make it go away.  But (a) know that is one aspect of grief, as is anger, and (b) change may need to be mandated.  It is not going to happen organically. And it is not going to happen without financial challenge. 

 We can sing the song of social change how much we want.  The words are nice.  You feel like hugging and offering the sign of peace afterward.  It will not change without a shift of market forces.  You either reward me financially for making the changes, or charge me financially for not making the changes. 

 I will not be happy.  I will not make them willingly.  I will be very resentful.  I will try to make perfunctory shifts, like moving the furniture.  But, with insistence, I will make the changes…if only because I want to retain my job.

 Then comes the, already readied and primed, social movement.  When changes are being forged, you must have a readied and primed social movement to support and enact that change.  Those are the people who do the work and place the moral cover over the mandate.  Eventually, we get to a new sense of “normal.”    

 This is not as simple as I’ve made it seem from this brief statement.  (See the challenges of our new Black president or a new Black principal) These are countervailing forces; change versus defense of change. 

 This challenge is nowhere near brief.  It is, has been, and will be with us forever. 

 As human beings, we identify, generate, re-identify and re-generate ourselves through difference.  We group.  And as we group through culturally similar identifiers (age, ethnicity, language, schools we attend, music we like), those identifiers themselves become the seed of separation. 

Even a kid with 12 earrings hanging onto or out of each orifice, identifies with another kid similarly adorned, all while arguing against society’s lack of individualism. 

Don’t expect it to be different because this is 2009.  That is simply another day, another year, another date. In many ways we are still basic and base animals in beautiful clothes and nice smelling cologne.

 If we are, however, to steel/steal the best of us, we have to figure this one out.  We are losing some great talent.

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Engaging is the beginning...Diversity is not a dirty word.  Nor is multiculturalism.  It is simple.  The world has changed before our eyes and we need to change, too.

I am Dr. Al Felice.  I am a Doctor of Psychology with a specialization in ethnic and social minority cultures.

Multiculturism is an invitation to embrace diversity.  Diversity of thought, shape, color, culture, attributes, character, race, gender, and abilities.  At best, multiculturism is a dream for the beloved community- an inclusive community where everyone can have a meaningful role.  It may be a Utopian dream, but if we do not dream it, and practice it in small steps, we will fail as a species.

This blog is my exploration of that dream and its mandate.  I invite you to challenge me, offer ideas, express your frustration and share your delights. 

In my homeland of Trinidad, West Indies, we have a saying:  All of we is one.  Despite the pain we cause each other, I hold this to be true.

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