Andre Perry, Ph.D. | Why better test scores won’t fix society

Granted, we all want to cheer for any successes we have in an area as significant as education reform. But when we remove our eyes from the higher standard of community, we also remove our personal responsibilities for improving it. Given the magnitude of our community problems, everyday citizens must unlearn how we made disengagement an acceptable behavior.

One way of beginning to define the values that strengthen the community—the sense of belongingness—of a school, or a neighborhood, or a city, is to ask the participants—the members of the community—for their advice. Although students are the principal participants in the community called school, their advice is seldom sought or regarded. Yet here is what one student, Corey Campbell, has to say about building community at his school, Sophie B. Wright, a charter high school located in Uptown New Orleans. Campbell says:

Without respect, teachers consciously or unconsciously belittle students. Teachers earn respect through their command of the subject, and how they take charge in a classroom. Some teachers are experts, but they don’t have the virtues that would make them an authentic teacher. A virtuous teacher adds a positive role model in students’ lives, which makes us strive to be more like the teacher. 

When we have faith in community, we will begin to understand fully that we can’t fire our way to academic excellence.

When teachers make demands without virtue, they are just mean. Being mean makes kids feel bad and it affects their self-esteem. There are a few teachers who just aren’t good people. But most teachers who become mean do so because they don’t trust the students.

“Trust is the positive expectation of something.” Trust is difficult, especially when you don’t really know someone. But good teachers have trust for their students. Students will return that trust, which leads to a productive student-teacher relationship.

I have a teacher by the name of Robert McGriff who has made a positive influence on everyone who has taken an English class with him. Mr. McGriff has a very mannerly way of speaking to his students. He relates to them by using real world examples and humorous jokes. The day I started his class I asked him, “What is the criteria to get a good grade in your class?” He looked at me and said, “Give me the respect I give you, and you will get a good grade.” I respected him for telling me the truth, but respecting Mr. McGriff also means putting in the work that he puts in. Mr. McGriff will pull you to the side and tell you if you are doing something he doesn’t like, and remind you of the consequences of not learning the lesson.

McGriff doesn’t expect you to be able to turn in all the assignments you are given because he realizes that you have other classes, but he does expect you to learn the lesson. Sometimes teachers give major assignments that are all due on the same day. McGriff makes adjustments so we can understand the material. However, don’t take his kindness for weakness. If you don’t take any interest in his teaching, he will enforce the rules to ensure that you attempt to pass the class. Meaning, if students aren’t really trying to do their work, they will fail his class. 

Considering what makes an authentic teacher, why can’t police officers act more like Mr. McGriff? I didn’t like the new curfew rules because they are basically saying “We don’t trust kids.” I also didn’t like them because it’s students like us—African-American males—who get taken to jail. The people who make policy changes should explain what the new rules are and why they changed the rules. That is the respectful thing to do. Police can start meeting kids at our schools and teach students what the rules are. If they got to know us, then maybe they would begin to trust and respect kids who just don’t know the rules. 

Setting high expectations doesn’t mean you have to lose respect for kids. When you learn, you become. When students learn the rules, they won’t just stop acting out, many will want to become police officers. 

I recommend that the police department get training from authentic teachers like Mr. McGriff on how to respect kids and set high expectations. Maybe if the police were more like schoolteachers, we would have a safer city.

Focus on community shows the interconnectedness of problems—and solutions

As this young man points out, when we remove our eyes from the higher standard of community, we don’t see the interface among community problems. When you’re community-focused, you can’t be vigorous about school reform without being spirited about prison reform. When you have faith in community you understand the costs of not reforming the police department.



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