Be Bold, Don’t Wait for a Superhero.

No, this blog is not about shutting the Disney Princess down inside of all of us (or just telling her to shut up and stop playing with her hair)…

Lately, a lot of women (wearing strict hair-buns, like Matilda’s principal) have been coming by the teen center for their children (or grand).  And a lot of them keep asking me if most of the boys here are in gangs.  This, along with my relatives telling me to start carrying mace, is why I’ve decided to write this blog today.  Plus, human development has finally got the best of me.  In Monday’s class we watched Waiting for Superman, a movie about the way education is ruining the lives of our children, when it should be saving them.

The trailer and related clips can be found here.

It’s also a promoter for Charter Schools.  Although I don’t believe Charter Schools are the only answer to our education crisis… (and yes, since I’ve decided to become an educator of young lisp-speakers, four-eyes, and mean girls with pure intimidation in their pores, I’ve become much more politically aware of the way educators are treated by society, and the way education takes a back seat when the senators can’t cover their bills.  More on this on another day)….I do believe that we have an obligation to our future, and to the good of America, and to the good of all of those too-sweaty, too-loud, too-much, teenagers to make sure all of them are educated to the best of our abilities.

There’s so many arguments I can make after just two classes in the education field, BUT that will be in another blog, I’m sure.  Or another book since it is so much to write.  I just want to talk a little bit about adult expectations.

When I signed on to work at the teen center a lot of people laughed in my face.  “You’re just a little white girl, how are you gonna stop a fight,” or my personal favorite, “who’s gonna walk you to your car at night,” like I’m going to be working with some kind of criminal body.  Which by the way, I have the confidence to do, and it seems that everyone who got into Vanderbilt Creative Writing has worked with prisoners through poetry workshop.  THIS is the complete wrong way to look at the teens I work for anyway.  Yes, I had to earn their respect (just like every other teenager in the world who wants to zone you out and pencil horrible things about your teeth into their diary), and yes, I had to prove myself to not be someone who is just going to enforce rules without enforcing care and love.  Not everyday is great, someday’s they want to play Scrabble, or Apples-to-Apples, and other days they just want to zone into their WWE wrestling and get a good thumb workout.   All eyes ablaze, their still safe in the teen center German chairs.  But, the point of all this is, that these are good kids.  These are kids I’ve come to care about; who talk to me about their 4foot9 facebook girlfriends, discuss their favorite NBA players, have sat with me in a bathroom during a Tornado and are constantly hungry (even after they eat all of my donut holes).  They also have particularly smelly feet and I am usually spraying the kitchenette around five o’clock when they all cook microwave noodles.

My expectations of them are to get A’s and B’s on their report card, just like the private school kids down the road.  If they tell me they fail a class, I remind them that not only will their mother’s beat them, but I may use the ruler as well.  However, the neighborhood expectations and the local expectations and even the expectations of my friends and family of these kids is totally belittling.

I think my favorite line on the Waiting for Superman website that envelopes everything I’m trying to say is, “A child’s destiny should not be determined by his or her zip code,” (or his or her mother, or where he or she is born, or what kind of neighborhood exactly they are from – one with a family on food stamps, or one with a family who can always print their homework.  I literally heard a girl at the teen center today say “that’s not a problem in my family” when one of my teens told her not to waste paper.  Any waste of paper is a problem, it’s called recycling and managing our materialistic nature, ugh).

I know just recently that we’ve been having a lot of debates over how to place children in the Wake County District.  A lot of the argument is over placing children in school’s by neighborhood, and now it has inevitably turned into a race fight.  I am (obviously) not for segregation, but I’m also not for teens having to bus two hours in order to get to a school that can be racially diverse.  I don’t think certain neighborhoods should be sent to schools that are failing, or are known to be a “drop out factory” and that, my friends, is definitely not an “equal education,” like our forefathers expected.

Here are some facts:

  • Among 30 developed countries, US schools rank 25th in math and 21st in science.
  • Approximately 7,000 kids drop out of school everyday.
  • Effective teachers and principals account for 60% of whether or not a child succeeds.
  • Two-thousand schools across the nation are considered “drop-out factories” where 40% of students quit between 9th and 12th grade.
  • By 4th grade, African-American and Latino students are, on average, nearly three academic years behind their white peers.

I don’t want to sit here and list the reasons why these are truthful statements and how much we are failing every child who has dropped out, or who isn’t ready, or who can’t read by high-school, or heck, by freakin’ second grade, but I will say that we need to change our expectations.  If I hear one more woman come in here and ask me how many gang members I have at the teen center, I’m going to look her straight in the eye and explain…I’m an English major, I graduated from NC State in creative writing with a minor in history, and yet this fourteen year old boy (who looks like a turtle) just beat me numerous times in Scrabble Slam – a spelling game that he has become innovative with, making up words and expecting me to google them.  I can assure you ma’am, that that child is not in a gang, he just knows water color from teen art class and can spell.”  I’m just so sick of the expectations placed on my teens at the teen center.  These kids are brilliant, they work on their homework within the computer lab, they actually read All Quiet on the Western Front, when spark notes are available (believe me I used them) and they can beat me at most card games once I teach them how.

Why is it that we can’t believe that children actually are our future?

Why is it that we set them up for failure by our own fucked-up-fake-commitment to them and their education?

Don’t ask me, ever again, if I carry mace because every night I have numerous teenage boys walk me to my car, “just in case” they say.  This is not the definition of a “blood” or “crypt”, but many, many gentlemen.

For Fourth of July, I was in Kure Beach, NC and I had the opportunity to traipse around a few antique stores in Southport.  Lucky for me, I came across The Painted Mermaid and not only did I get a good glimpse of the mermaid-hairstyle that I’m so desperately trying to pull off, but I also got to see this fabulous sign.  I think after my rant on education, and expectations of local teenagers and teenagers who may not be in the best living situations – this is a perfect picture to remind everyone of their beauty (the electrifying beauty of a human).

Also, here are a few links I think make the point (probably better than I do, and some are for literacy, others are for education):

The Waiting for Superman website:  http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/action/     

A blog on the education-debate in Wake County:  http://nortonbooks.typepad.com/everydaysociology/2010/09/the-educational-equality-debate-in-wake-county.html

Young adult fiction Tumblr (thanks Bess): http://effyeahyoungadultlit.tumblr.com

Boston Book Bums (my favorite Biblio-dorks): http://bostonbookbums.com/

6 thoughts on “Be Bold, Don’t Wait for a Superhero.

  1. Miss GOP says:

    I love your passion for education. You have the best attitude I’ve seen in a while. The defeated and bitter attitude of so many teachers (and I know many of them) is so heartbreaking.I haven’t seen Waiting for Superman yet, but I plan to soon!

    I’m so glad to have found your blog.Thanks!
    -Miss GOP

    • Cassie says:

      Well thank you very much. I think it’s more my passion for books that makes education such a crucial thing in my mind (and of course, literacy). And I COMPLETELY agree with you about the washed-up and defeated teachers who skate-by yearly on tenure – I hope I NEVER become one of them.

      I look forward to reading your blog as well! The last post about critique was dead-on. :)

  2. Brenda says:

    Cassie – Ditto what Miss GOP says time two. You know that I am a mom, so you know that I wish there were more of you out their teaching, but at the same time I see kids that have potential but somehow they lose interest in learning early on. I don’t understand how that happens. Does it start early because of lackluster student/teacher interaction, or at home where a child is set in front of a TV? Either way it breaks my heart to see this happening. My daughter when through a rough patch as a freshman (she end her school year with a 1.7 GPA, but when she graduated HS this past June, she finished with a 3.8. Let me just tell you now she always had it in her, but it took me doing what I could do to help her help herself… I’m sure there were times I was NOT her favorite person on the planet. Anyway, I am rambling.. wonderful post.

    • Cassie says:

      Brenda – You’re daughter obviously just needed some pushing and she’s lucky she had you as a mom to do just that. I think if we believe in our children (whether it be parents, teachers or other adult mentors like coaches) it creates a much better environment for learning. Here I am, a totally dead poet’s society Robin Williams teacher, who almost has too much passion and not even realistics, but I believe in my teens at the teen center. I haven’t actually taught yet – just getting my license now after getting my bachelors in creative writing (not teaching), but it’s all about our belief in them. I think if you read with your child, you’re doing something right, but we do at a young age…educate learning right out of our children. Now, I love to read, in high school, I used sparknotes the whole way. Education shouldn’t just be about getting ready for a standardized test, it needs to be about learning values for life. Too many teachers, now-a-days are in unions or have tenure and are just sitting back ignoring the potential of all of their students. Every child, every single one has potential and sometime we smush it right out of them.

      Tell your daughter congratulations on graduating – and with such a high GPA, she can do anything in the world if she sets her mind to it!

  3. Kara says:

    Cass, you might be my hero. I wish that everyone I know would read THIS blog of yours. I saw that movie for my sociology class and it was one of the most powerful things I have ever seen. It makes me so sad to think that kids who actually want to get an education are denied one, and ones that don’t want an education are allowed to fail themselves. I am so thankful for people like you who make a difference in kids’ lives :) You rock!

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