Elevating Students: One School Thinking Outside the Box

The Charlotte Mecklenburg School (CMS) system is exploring the idea of a separate K-12 school for Black males. A task force given the job of addressing “ongoing issues dealing with African-American males in CMS” suggests that an academy of this sort “would build leadership, business and academic skills for black male students.” According to a potential student, other benefits would include not having the distraction of females to fight over, having the opportunity to “just get along and relate to each other,” and having a safer school, without having to “worry about insults and racism.”

I applaud CMS for their willingness to think outside the diversity box and consider the possibility that people might be better able to accomplish the necessary tasks of learning when they are doing it with people who are like them. It does give me pause, however, because it does sound a lot like segregation. And Charlotte has a long history of battles over segregation.

Charlotte is my hometown and I graduated from the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system in 1976 (Olympic High School, if anyone is interested.) I was there when they desegregated the schools in Charlotte. I remember the court battles. I remember my fear in sixth grade that they were going to make us change schools right in the middle of the school year and I would be bused to a school right next to some not-very-nice projects. I remember being bussed to the junior high school right next to that school for seventh grade. I remember my first Black friends and I remember some Black girls that scared me to death. I remember changing schools three more times in my secondary school career as the administration kept redrawing attendance lines to maintain that magical 70/30, white/black balance that the courts told us was essential for everyone to receive a good education.

Was it all a lie? Do we actually learn better when we are separated into like groups? Was my constantly disrupted school life all for naught? Probably not, according to a number of research studies, many of which show gains in school performance for minority students without corresponding drops in performance for white students. For many, however, those gains were not really worth what they lost – neighborhood schools, favorite teachers and administrators, and control over their children’s schools.

CMS is understandably concerned about the plight of black male students in their schools. One would think that they might be concerned about achievement, graduation rates, college admissions and success, and job placement, but the only concerns I have found mentioned are discipline-related. “In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district during last year alone, 20,000 black males were given short-term suspensions while 3,000 white males were given the same punishment.” I am truly thankful that they are not taking the position that they just need to increase the short-term suspensions for white students to make things fair, but are looking for more creative and effective solutions. Perhaps an all-Black male academy will give them the freedom to deal with these unique discipline issues in ways that will provide structure and motivation for students to learn.

In their quest to provide a quality education for all, I think our educational experts have become overly focused on “fair” and “equal.” Any thinking parent of more than one child knows that “fair” does not necessarily mean “same.” I have four children, whom I was blessed to home school. Even before we got to the schooling stage of life, I recognized that I could not treat them the same, because they were not the same. It would not have been fair at all to expect the same things from each of them at the same ages. I had to parent each of them differently, and when it came time to school them, I had to use different approaches and different timelines for each child.

I am thrilled that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System recognizes the value of different educational approaches for different types of learners. I hope that they, and other educators, will expand that concept to consider more than race or gender. The one-size-fits-all approach, currently being writ large by the federally-mandated Common Core Standards, fails many types of learners. Our government system of education promises an appropriate educational setting for each individual student, but that is a promise it cannot keep under the current system with the current rules. Even the leaders in the Charlotte schools acknowledge that the Black male academy they are discussing is probably not even legal.

If we believe that every child deserves an educational program designed with his or her special abilities and needs in mind, then we need to junk the current top-down bureaucratic government-controlled monstrosity we have allowed our public schools to become. We need to allow teachers and others with gifts in the educational arena to develop programs to meet the unique needs of young learners. We could have schools that focus on the arts, others that focus on athletics, and some that make sure kids have the basics of reading, writing and ‘rithmatic before they go and learn a trade. There could be schools that are especially challenging for the academically gifted, schools that deal with specific learning disabilities, and schools that address the needs of students that come from families who really don’t care about learning, so that they could be in an environment that helps them see the value of education and motivates them to succeed. The current system, with its attempt to be all things to all students, cannot provide for individual learning styles and differences the same way that a large variety of choices would do.

Whatever we want to call it – free market education, school choice, vouchers, dollars follow the student – we need something different to motivate and assist students in learning and achieving at the highest appropriate level for each individual. We need to rid ourselves of factory-style schooling and the goal of turning out one sort of product at the end of thirteen years of schooling.

Thank you, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, for recognizing that all students don’t benefit from the same educational setting. You were a leader in desegregation and educational parity for all races. Now, can you be a leader in advocating for and opening up opportunities for parents and students to have many more appropriate educational choices? Do you support educational freedom?

Katie Abercrombie

Florida PolitiChick Katie Abercrombie, native of North Carolina and a long-time resident in Florida, is a 20-year homeschooling veteran. Now that her four children are grown, she continues to indulge her love for teaching and learning by tutoring, substitute teaching, and teaching writing classes for homeschoolers. She earned her BS degree from Florida Southern College and her MA from Rollins College. BC, or Before Children, she served as the Director of Youth and Family Ministry at her church and has continued to be active in ministry and leadership in her current church. Homeschooling afforded her many opportunities to be politically active and she recently retired from a term on the Orange County Republican Executive Committee. Like Katie's Political Page on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @aberaussie.

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