It has been refreshing to watch the NBC News special series Education Nation inspire a national discussion on teaching American children. Especially impressive has been hearing from the diversity of excellent educators — whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and so on — from across the country. But even as a wonderful national conversation unfolds, on some level everyone understand that any significant transformation for our children must happen at the state and local levels.
Recently, The Virginian-Pilot, the major newspaper in my area, ran a story about student-teacher racial imbalance in South Hampton Roads schools. The Sept. 17 headline, “Teacher-student racial imbalance widest in Va. Beach” honed in on that school district’s difficulty recruiting black teachers who could help increase black student achievement.
The article cited a 2004 study by Thomas Dee, a public policy professor at the University of Virginia, who found that white and black students in Tennessee tested better when they had teachers of their own race. Yes, diversity is very important but it’s not the main problem. The headline should’ve read, “Too many weak white teachers failing students.”
Whether white, black or other, excellent educators know how to teach ALL students regardless of their color. Overemphasizing diversity sends a message to weak white teachers that it’s okay to mis-educate students who don’t look like them. It lets these teachers — who are dishonoring the profession — off the hook.
Since the majority of teachers are white, this problem has, in part, been ruining generations of black and Hispanic students across the country. It almost claimed one of my children who attended high school in nearby Suffolk. During a parent-teacher’s conference, my wife and I endured a meeting with our daughter’s theater teacher that proved to be a turning point in our child’s education. She had approached the teacher for help to prepare to audition for the area’s Governor’s School for the Arts, which offers intense training to gifted students. Students attend their regular high school in the morning, then arts classes in the afternoon.
The weak teacher (who is white) gave my daughter (who is black) the cold shoulder. During the conference we asked the teacher about this. Displaying an air of annoyance, she told us that our daughter (who had been acting since age seven) had shown little to no talent. She said our daughter had no chance of getting in because the teacher’s “more talented” student (who was white) had auditioned previously and didn’t make it. In fact, no theater student from that high school had.
Recalling our own high school experiences with discouraging teachers and guidance counselors, my wife and I simply eyed each other instead of blowing gaskets. We knew who and what we were dealing with. We looked at our daughter, whose blank expression masked her fury and embarrassment. Our daughter knew it was time she stopped undermining herself and stepped up her game.
A few weeks later she successfully auditioned for the Governor’s School. Two years later she graduated (this past June) and is now away in college studying theater and psychology.
Strong teachers, whether they are white, black or other, inspire students. With hormones raging, middle and high-schoolers tend to respond negatively to teachers whom they sense don’t care. This happens too often with black and Hispanic students under white teachers who are weak or worse. Instead of saying, “I’ll prove you wrong,” like my daughter did, many of them act out (not doing homework, not studying, cutting classes, etc.), thinking that they are somehow getting back at the teacher. After it’s too late, these mis-educated students realize they’ve only hurt themselves.
Black, Hispanic, and low-income students of all races are being suffocated each year. It’s near hopeless if their parents are deadbeats or otherwise unable to actively engage. Unless the student has an internal drive to achieve and or has family support pushing him or her, one teacher, one authority figure, with one discouraging word, can strangle their will to succeed. Likewise, one teacher, one authority figure with an encouraging word can inspire a student toward greatness.
The article noted that Virginia Beach has had trouble finding black teachers — despite major HBCUs Hampton University and Norfolk State University being in its backyard. To provide some context, Virginia Beach has 440,000 residents with a 20 percent black population, but the city has never had a black mayor and just recently appointed its only African American on the city council. Sadly, the community can’t seem to shake a racist image linked to a clash between police and black college students at Greekfest in 1989. The incident drew unwanted national attention.
But Virginia Beach is not alone. Other districts are having trouble finding black teachers as well, as many black graduates are pursuing higher-paying careers. The promise of fatter paychecks is likely not the only reason for their disinterest. I suspect the bad experiences many of them had with teachers in middle and high school is also at the root. People often choose careers because someone inspired them. Why go into a field in which you had to overcome discouragement? Perhaps as black students have better experiences with strong teachers in middle and high school, more of them will aspire to teach after college.
Diversity can help, but it’s not the cure. There are also many black and Hispanic weak teachers who have low expectations of students who look like them. In the article, Professor Dee offered the solution: “We need teachers who are flat-out good and who we can train to be good for all students,” he said.
Gospel singer and songwriter Jessy Dixon died at home in Chicago Monday, September 26, the(AP) reported. The 73-year-old succumbed to an undisclosed illness, his sister Miriam Dixon told AP.
Dixon wrote songs for Cher, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole, and Amy Grant, but was best known for popularizing gospel outside the United States, AP reported, and for his collaborations with Paul Simon, according to an article in the.
“He was a man of God, he loved to praise the Lord,” Miriam Dixon told the Chicago Tribune. “He had many opportunities to sing other music, but he loved gospel.”
“Dixon was born in San Antonio, Texas, and began singing there. In Chicago, he connected with gospel great James Cleveland and over the years performed with a number of gospel groups,” the Tribune reported.
An obituary on Dixon’s website says that he authored more than 200 songs, including the gospel classics “I Love To Praise His Name” and “He’s The Best Thing … To Happen to Me,” but was perhaps most known for his 1993 hit “I Am Redeemed” a song that “impacted audiences worldwide, and held a top-ten position on the gospel charts for over five years.”
Dixon had been “a cherished fixture on the Bill Gaither Gospel Hour television series and concert tours” for the past 16 years,” the obituary said. He also received numerous Dove and Grammy award nominations, earned five gold records, and was a 2008 Christian Music Hall of Fame inductee.
“Jessy Dixon was a great influence on me personally,” Grammy-winning gospel recording artist Donald Lawrence told the Sun Times. “He was a great representative of the city and defined the sound of Chicago gospel and introduced that sound to audiences all over the world. Jessy was the ultimate sophisticated gospel singer-songwriter.”
He is survived by a brother and sister. His website says a “Homegoing Celebration” will be held Monday October 10, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. at the Family Christian Center in Munster, Indiana.
A disturbing trend has subtly crept into the American family, and its onslaught was so insidious that it went unnoticed for 40 years. It’s called the absent father. Fatherlessness affects more than 25 million children in America. Emotional fatherlessness affects millions more. Absent fathers are the root cause of children who are oftentimes abused, live in poverty, and suffer psychological distress, which produces: 63 percent of youth suicides, 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children, 85 percent of all children with behavioral problems, and 85 percent of all youth in prisons. Children without a father become the statistics of every negative report and they most often live with a mother burdened by the stress of a lack of support for her children.
Alex and Stephen Kendricks (creators of Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Flywheel), realizing that fatherlessness has grown to epidemic proportions, prayerfully went about crafting a movie that would rivet our focus to the urgency of this problem. The brothers have written their fourth movie called Courageous, which addresses the issue of absent fathers. A Provident Films and Affirm Films production, Courageous depicts the lives of five men — four urban cops, and their newly found working-class friend, who through a series of tragic events are forced to look to God for guidance as fathers and husbands, as well as keepers of the law. Not since Will Smith’s portrayal of Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness has a film made a more vigorous plea for fathers to take their parenting role seriously. The intended purpose of this film is to challenge all men to have the courage to step outside their comfort zones or bad histories, and to have enough integrity to put away their excuses and be the fathers they’ve been called to be.
The actors in Courageous aren’t your dime a dozen, glitzed and spritzed glory seekers — but they are ordinary Christian men and women called out by God through the Sherwood Movie Ministry of Albany, Georgia. They have nurtured wounded spirits, jumped from moving cars, run for causes, and have sounded the trumpet call to all fathers who are out of their children’s lives in any sense, to come home and step up their game as the leaders, lovers, providers, and protectors of their families.
UrbanFaith spoke to two actors from the Courageous movie, Robert Amaya and Ken Bevel. Amaya, a Latino, plays Javier Martinez, a family man who was laid off from his blue collar job and is facing the challenge of providing for his wife and children with very few resources. Bevel, an African American who’s also an ex-Marine, plays the role of Nathan Hayes, an urban cop struggling to forgive his deceased father for not being there for him and his mother. His greatest ambition is to be a better husband and father than his father was.
Addressing the absent father issue in the Latino culture Amaya said, “The second most violent area in the world is Latin America and this violence usually comes from men or women raised without a father.” He offered that, violence due to absent fathers is not only a problem for Latinos, but it’s a blanket problem in America and in the world across the board, because every father leaves a mark on his child. What Amaya along with the makers of the movie are hoping to accomplish through Courageous is, “To let all fathers, Latinos included, know their responsibility under God, and reconnect them to the Lord so that they can be at home with and engaged in, their children’s lives, because it’s the father’s responsibility to call out the men in their sons. In other words, to teach them how to be men, and to show daughters what they should be looking for in the men of their future.”
Amaya, the father of a 2-year-old daughter, says, “Since working on this film, I have found that it is not enough to just listen to my daughter say her prayers at night. I must live before her and teach her the principles of the Bible that we are to live by through Scripture memory, stories, and family time that stresses the values of the Bible.”
Though Amaya’s character Javier shows a gentle, lovable man who doesn’t overtly embody machismo (a Latino concept of masculinity and power), Amaya says of Javier, “Under the light of machismo, he shows that he’s not a weak guy. His strength lies in the fact that he loves the Lord, he loves his family. He shows that men can be gentle and loving to their families, gaining the loyalty and love of their wives and children. When men are great leaders they are also loving leaders. God calls us to be the men in our families but to also be family men who don’t have to be domineering and harsh.”
Statistics show that 28 percent of white children are in single-parent homes, while 35 percent of Hispanic children are in single-parent homes, and the figure is equal to the combined totals of white and Hispanics for African American children, at 63 percent.
Phillip Jackson, the executive director of Chicago’s Black Star Project, told Reuters, “Father absence in African American communities has hit those communities with the force of 100 Hurricane Katrinas. It is literally decimating our communities and we have no adequate response to it.”
However, Bevel feels that Courageous will offer a message of motivation and hope to African American men on the importance of fatherhood and throw a lifeline to those men who are ready to change. Like the character he plays in the movie, Bevel says, “I grew up without a father — loving and yet resenting him, because I didn’t have him to give me leadership and wisdom at those critical times in my life, so I kind of fumbled my way through being a youth into being an adult — not really knowing how to treat my wife, not really knowing how to treat my family.But I determined to depend totally on God to put some strong men in my life to show me how to be a man, and He did.”
Some of the same issues affecting fathers and children today were highlighted in the film, such as physical and emotional absence. Bevel believes Courageous will show men that they can return and not only be good fathers, but great fathers, if they follow the plan God made for them as found in the Bible.
“There’s something about this movie that will cause men to see that it’s the responsibility of the fathers to guide and raise their kids. Nobody wants to have children and be a bad father. Nobody wants to go into a marriage and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to divorce my wife five years from now.’ What’s lacking among African American men who grew up without fathers is guidance, and this movie provides a model that shows them: this is how to love the Lord, this is how to follow his Word, this is how to love your wife, and this is how to love your kids.”
Bevel, the father of a 3-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son said, “When I saw the last scene in Courageous, the man in me stood up. It caused me to want to do greater things for God, and to lead my kids and my wife in every aspect of our lives. I wanted to lead my family in Bible study, to be intentional about what we watched on TV and how we spent our time together — to be careful with what I said in their presence. I wanted my children to hear me praying for them and see me studying the Scriptures, so that they would imitate their father.”
Both Bevel and Amaya, with help from their wives, worked out an intentional plan of leadership, guidance, and love for their children with amazing results.
If you are a father who is out of touch with your children, just pause and reflect: Where will your son learn how to treat women? Who will teach your little girl her true worth? Where will they learn to stand up for what’s right? Who will instruct them on the value of an education? Where will their work ethic come from? Where will your child learn about the importance of abstaining from substance abuse and illicit sexual activities? Where will they learn to obey authority? How will your children learn to love and respect God, others, and themselves, if you don’t teach them?
Dads — please don’t turn away. The bravest thing you could ever do as a man is to be present. Your children need you. Now.
Courageous opens Friday, September 30th, in theaters across the nation. Watch the trailer here.