Living Life Purposefully

Where Purpose Meets Passion

Tag Archives: Education

Progress! (#31WriteNow)

Pour it up! Pour it up!

Watch me fall out.

I have finally narrowed down my list of programs to apply to. Oh, y’all didn’t know? I’m applying to PhD programs for the Fall of 2014. 

This is an update. 

I count this as the post for today. lol

*Don’t judge me…I may do a whole update in the future but heavy, heavy stuff has been going on.

Help Youth in New Orleans by Voting for Project Excel in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge

Project Excel is in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge.

Project Excel, a youth tutoring and enrichment program focused on the long-term academic success of youth in under-resourced areas of New Orleans, is an organization that sprouted in 2008. In the wake of school-restructuring post-Katrina, a Ninth Ward church organization, Compassion Outreach of America, decided that their community needed to gather volunteers to staff the nearby elementary and high schools, to provide tutoring, hallway monitoring and cleanup, teacher appreciation, and other services. Between 2008 and 2010, the program provided on-site tutoring services to Frederick Douglass High School and off-school site services to Charles Drew Elementary School.

Currently, we (Project Excel) are facing restructuring efforts ourselves that started with the hiring of a new Program Director. We are moving in a new direction while maintaining our grassroots approach to youth development and academic support to make an impact in struggling New Orleans schools.

Now Project Excel wishes to continue to make a difference by building a multimedia arts center for youth in the 9th Ward of New Orleans…and we want YOUR help!

Here’s what you need to know:

Project Excel is in the $50k group.
We are hoping to receive $50,000 from the Pepsi-Cola Corporation but they only award 10 of these a month. With our $50k, we’d use the money to renovate a building, lease the space for a year, and purchase the much needed supplies. The great thing? You can vote once a day EVERY day for our idea.

Make Sure You Vote Every Day!
Voting takes place from September 1, 12 pm ET – September 30, 11:59:59 pm EST with finalists being announced on October 1st.

Ways to Vote!
For the next 25 days, you can vote one of three ways!

  1. Vote online at by using your FB login. You can vote every day!
  2. Text 108737 to 73774 (remember that standard rates apply for this method).
  3. Buy specially marked Pepsi bottles and give a power vote to Project Excel by entering the code online. This method is called the power vote method and can give us 5 to 100 extra votes!

You can help us reach our momentous goal by voting for us in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge and we sure hope that you will!

~Project Excel

For more information on Project Excel, visit us at: Project Excel NOLA

America Is Getting Dumber…I Blame De-Segregation

The Glaring Issue

On yesterday, a relatively controversy piece made its way to CBS News (watch the video here). In a piece titled, “Study: Celebrity trumps news for women,” reporter Taryn Winter-Bill took to the streets to engage young college-aged woman and found them to be more knowledgeable about celebrity gossip than current events. After, CBS News legal analyst Lisa Bloom spoke to Erica Hill about the study.

Before I go any further, I’ll mention that this “study” was done after daring claims were made in Lisa Blooms’ new book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. She found:

  • Women could not name the three branches of government, wars we are currently involved in, and one major international news headline
  • More wanted to be famous over winning the Nobel Peace Prize
  • More wanted to be hit by a bus than to be fat
  • Many believed we’ve made significant advances in women’s rights YET few knew that we are one a few “Western” nations that has never had a female head of state

What’s sad is that NONE of this surprises me. While an undergraduate and graduate TA in very different university settings, I found students in BOTH places to be relatively unaware of what was going on around them. Largely, their interest was only ground in events they could directly relate from. Sure, they knew all about a crisis overseas BUT it was only to advance a personal agenda.

And that’s fine. That’s what the United States of America has come to stand for. If it’s international and doesn’t relate directly to me, then I’m just going to watch the latest reality show until I find something (read: the news highlights something) that does.

Who Suffers The Most?

But the question is now: WHO SUFFERS FROM THIS? Well folks…it isn’t the poor Black people in urban centers that everyone wants to save.

It’s young, White women.

That’s right folks. It’s those young white women that have the most to lose from this. Let’s look at a few facts shall we.

  • In 2007, White college enrollment constituted 64% of total college enrollment. Source
  • Approximately 60% of Whites graduated with a bachelor’s degree or it’s equivalent within 6 years (the only group to outperform Whites in this area was Asians/Pacific Islanders). Source
  • In both public and private not-for-profit 4-year institutions, the 6-year graduation rates for females were higher than the rates for males. Source
    • In public institutions, approximately 58% of females graduated within 6 years versus 52% of males.
    • The percentage of females graduating within 6 years at private not-for-profit institutions was 67% versus 61% of males.
  • While examining race and sex, the NCES found that in 2007-08, 62% of Associate’s, 56% of Bachelor’s, 62% of Master’s, & 55% of Doctoral degrees were awarded to white women. Source

But Why Blame De-Segregation?

Well, folks, it’s simple. That’s when our education system as a whole went to hell.

Of course, the legislation brought about in Brown v. Board of Education (and other similar cases) were to ensure that people of color finally had the chance to receive an equal opportunity at a well-rounded education. No longer would racial and ethnic minorities be relegated to attending struggling and dilapidated schools on the outskirts of town where books were outdated and the building was falling apart. No! They would have the chance to attend the schools that had come to represent the beacon of beaming light upon a hill.

Except…over time, White people left. And with them, money.

Now with my background in education, I was also surprised to learn the other part of desegregation — the moving of teachers of color into white schools and vice versa. But with the money and the apathetic attitudes, white parents moved their white children to white suburbs where they could ensure that white teachers would teach in white schools. They built up schoolhouses whose “Keep Out If You Aren’t Like Us” rule has trickled down to even today. These schools, while better than urban schools aren’t all that great. It’s true, they look awesome when compared to urban schools where less than 50% of any given freshman class makes it to graduation and successfully matriculates into college. HOWEVER, these schools look like the runt of a puppy litter when compared to our global competition. Those AP courses your child takes as a Senior, I’m pretty sure a Chinese kid whose about 12 could pass…or at least carry their weight.

What ultimately has happened is that America has NOT stayed a force in education. We continue to fall in the educational ranks of developed nations and our students as a whole continue to struggle on standardized tests. Gone are the days of challenging curriculum and parents siding with the teacher. No, we’ve hurriedly ushered in an era where children are doted on and our challenging curriculum isn’t all that challenging. Our standards are low and our children are apathetic, spoiled brats…

All because someone in your family a while back didn’t want their child to be a kindergarten desk buddy with a Black kid and our government did nothing about it.

So to all of my White Ladies, Women, Chicks, Feminist Friends (whatever), you’re getting dumber….and it’s your grandparents (or great-grandparents) fault.

The Best Interest of the Child

Today, I came across an article about a woman who’s homeless and had been arrested for using her son’s babysitter’s address to enroll him into school. She was arrested and she’s out on bond. She’s now awaiting trial (or whatever they are going to do next). For me, this is more than about a woman who is criminalized because she did the best that she could with what she had. Granted, I don’t know the details of the story but from what I can gather, it is a miscarriage of justice. Read the story for yourselves.

I’m upset because this story is about much more than education. For those of you that don’t know, I have a BS in Psychology and a MA in Urban Education Policy, which means when I see stories like this in the media, it never is just about the issue at hand. In this case, people are concerned because they feel a woman (she’s not even a Mother at this point) deserves to be made an example of because she stole education for a child.

Let’s break this down —

The biggest concern of the school (not even the district) is that a woman stole education. Education in this country is guaranteed, which means that in my mind, you technically can’t steal it. To go from this idea that everyone is “guaranteed an adequate education” to the idea that it’s okay to prosecute marginalized constituents because they sought an adequate education for their children is ludicrous. For me, this directly highlights the issue of the “Us” versus “Them” that we desperately struggle with in our country. In this case, the “Us” happens to be those who look like they can afford a $15,000 education, while those who are identified as “Them” happen to be any one person who could mess up that image. At this level, it’s really about stereotyping and presenting an image.

The second thing that truly bothered me was that no one is concerned with the identity and development of the young boy in question. We live in a country that tramples on the rights of the child daily. We read and hear about children who are arrested for simple infractions that become blown out of proportion because of Zero Tolerance Policies. We hear and read about children who are abused daily, yet their parents/caregivers remain free because people operate under the best interest of the adult while promulgating that they are concerned with the rights/best interest of the child. As someone who studied (somewhat seriously) development in youth, a child being suddenly stripped from an environment they may have thrived in, especially if it concerns education, is alarming. No one saw anything wrong with disrupting this young man’s emotional, physical, mental, and educational development? That’s an issue for me.

Finally, the question that no one is asking is what happens to the people who have now become criminalized? Will the Mother have the opportunity to get a job (I’m not sure if she had one in the first place but if she did, I hope she didn’t lose it)? What about the woman who was evicted from her public housing unit for allowing them to use her address? Where is she staying? Is she now a member of the homeless population? For those that don’t know, when you commit a crime or you happen to be an accessory to a crime and you live in public housing, should you become evicted from your space, you’re no longer eligible for said assistance. Then there’s always the question of cyclical poverty AND imprisonment. Let’s operate from the stance that the Mother didn’t have a record. Now she does. Statistics show time and again that children whose parents have been incarcerated are much more likely to become institutionalized/imprisoned than their peers who haven’t? So have we set this young man on a path of destruction now? What about his future? What are the implications there?

The Problem of Public Education

The hot topic of today, without question, has been that of Education. Not just any education but the education of (primarily) urban youth and closing the Achievement Gap. It’s interesting to me to note that many of the people who have been invited to speak on a national stage concerning this issue have what seems to be an undisputed amount of influence, be it fame or financial. There is no doubt that the conversation surrounding the education of the nation’s most vulnerable youth is highly politicized and many people should understand that this forum being used to highlight the issue probably won’t lead to large scale improvement in the area of educating our low-income youth. This is not to say that those who have been invited to speak on the issue are not doing justice to these youth; I simply mean that we must be careful when speaking about these issues because of the emotional tone being lent to them.

Historical Lens

The U.S. at once boasted a world-class system of education. It was the first nation (at least that I know of) where the commoner was educated. This allowed us to train and produce more technical professionals than countries that largely kept their underclass uneducated. This is not to say that our nation produced scientists and mathematicians at all levels of society; but the idea and intent behind “educating every citizen for the good of the nation” was a novel one. From this, we were ranked first as a nation in literacy because nearly all citizens had the opportunity to at least learn to write, read enough to understand who they were voting for, and do basic math. Again, this idea is a novel one because many countries (especially those of European influence) relied heavily on the feudal system and maintaining the wealth of the crown.

If we continue to examine the history of public education in our nation, we’d see that it was wrought with issues from the beginning, particularly between genders and classes (but that is another discussion for another day). Continuing on, we see that Boston has been credited with providing its citizens with the first public school, meaning that taxpayers paid into a system of education that benefitted all of its constituency. We see that people were educated based on their social group identification due to the racial stratification in our country, and that this practice continued on without much interference until the Chicano Movement and their efforts surrounding education (student walkouts at the high school level and lobbying for culturally sensitive educational practices) and the historical Brown v. Board of Education ruling. It was only then that we saw a shift at the political level in what was determined to be “equal education for all.”

What’s Been Discussed?

After reviewing the historical record and taking note of current educational statistics, we still see that our nation has had much trouble in educating those who are largely identified as people of color and those who live below the poverty lines. We are largely concerned with our international ranking in literacy, math, and science (15, 24, and 21 respectively) and many agree that the fastest way to improve our standings would be to educate our poor students better (and there we go blaming those who have the least).

Of course, many people have said that charters are the answer. Geoffrey Canada, Founder of Harlem Children’s Zone which in fact boasts on the best schools in the nation, has been found saying that charters are the only educational tool that you can research and evaluate due to the autonomy that many of them possess. However, as a trained and budding researcher, many of my professors have told us that we must be careful about statements such as these because they can be misleading. In my opinion, charters are NOT the answer. We can point out as many charters that are failing as we can that are succeeding (but no one wants to do that) and even the research is tough to conduct (this would lead into a discussion about true experiments, control groups, and the such). We must remember that charters are still public schools and that many people don’t want to be transparent about their practices within these buildings. So we should take heed with touting this as the antibiotic that would cure the virus of unequal education.

Longer school terms have also suggested. Many people highlight that students in the United States go to school less often that students in the top-ranking countries. I always find this argument interesting because the underlying argument is that “if kids go to school longer, they can learn more; therefore they would become smarter.” It isn’t so much a problem that our kids don’t know enough, it’s that they aren’t given the necessary time to learn, practice, possibly relearn, and implement the lessons that are currently being taught in our schools. As an advocate of After-School Programming, I can’t tell you how important it is that students are given the extra time to learn certain concepts. I also have a problem with this argument because it suggests that all students have the same resources OR that even those who don’t have the necessary resources would be able to learn these concepts because they had more time to process it. As a student, I went to elementary and middle schools that was largely under-resourced. To this day, I remember my surprise at seeing a real Erlenmeyer flask and thinking to myself, “This looks nothing like the 2-D pictures that we practiced with in middle school.” That’s food for thought.

There have definitely been more ideas discussed surrounding this issue; however, many of them still call to mind that people truly believe you can throw money at the problem and fix it. We must certainly move away from this ideal.

Where Should We Go?

I’m of the opinion that we must examine our commitment to our most forgotten brethren in society. I’m also of the opinion that we must have a critical discussion about our biases and why we feel the way we do concerning the education of our most humble (wo)man. The stinging reality is that education will continue to be unequal so long as we believe in the fundamental tenets of this nation – wealth building which in my opinion, comes at the expense of those we can most easily forget: the poor, single parents (largely mothers) with children, the elderly, the homeless, People of Color, etc.

If you want to improve education (especially for those poor kids), then give them an infrastructure that they can thrive in. Give them shelter that is fit for a human. It is sickening to go to some of our most destitute communities and realize that more money is given to the care and facilities concerning animals than that of humans. Build these communities economically. Invest in a workforce that doesn’t continue to replicate a class system in our nation (after all, we believe that we will only succeed as a country if we invest equally in all of our citizens). No more should we think it’s okay that the only commercials concerning “higher” education in Urban communities are those which tout certification programs to be some assistant to a well-paid professional (think DeVry). Sustain these communities with good food. Have you ever gone grocery shopping in a poor community? Juxtapose that to a shopping experience in the “nice” area and there is a stark difference in quality of food (I promise, I can’t make this up). This sounds simple but it must cause a pain for many entrepreneurs because they’ve yet to do it. I mean, I could really go on and on and on about the simple things that cities can do to say, “Hey, we care about you, we really do,” but I won’t. This is long enough and I won’t go on to beat the proverbial Dead Horse.

At some level, our nation must begin to be honest with the striking similarities between “post-racial” America and the America that was described as “Separate But Equal.” I am of the opinion that it is futile to simply look at largely European countries and say, “Hey, this is what works there; so let’s just do it here!” Also, we can’t continue to take money and dump it on the problem. Targeted interventions that WORK for that community must be implemented that rectify many of the ills our society still faces. We must call on the Intellectual Capital that all communities possess and move from this idea that “experts” who have nothing to do with these communities we want to save KNOW the answer and can actively tell us how to fix our “problems.” Remember, these children that we are trying to save have lives outside of the schoolhouse that often dictate how they perform in school.

Take care of what has been seen as the “Necessary Evils” in our society, and we will no doubt find ourselves boasting of a world class educational system once again.

The thoughts included in this post are the original thought of the author (as presented), except where cited.

African-Americans & The Myth of Mental Illness

This series on mental illness began with my story. I wasn’t sure of the approach that I would take for this post, but I’ve decided after very recent conversations to state (simply) why African-Americans should worry about Mental Illness.

Mental Illness? That’s a “White” thing!

This phrase is what started it all. By “it,” I’m not only speaking of this series but also why African-Americans are less likely to seek services that deal with behavior and cognitive issues. Given our history in this country, it isn’t difficult to understand the apprehension behind getting professional help (counseling or whatever). Historically, science was used by the “Majority” as a justification for the maltreatment of non-Whites. The study of evolution was used to justify the separation of racial/ethnic groups, as well as the subservient status of non-Whites (a theory known as Social Darwinism). Those who were associated with these theories were the leading voices in biology, eugenics, medicine, philosophy/psychology. Additionally, the United States has a notorious history behind using African-Americans for trial studies, health, and social experiments (see the relatively unknown Tuskegee Experiment; Human Experimentation in the US). This has led to a distrust of those outside of our community, as well as the thinking that what affects “them” can’t affect “us.” With respect to Mental Illness, this can’t be further from the truth.

Mental Illness Has a Look

Unfortunately, many of us seem to believe that you can look at someone and tell if they need psychiatric help. We believe that if you are well put-together (your hair, clothes, and shoes look nice), drive a nice car, live in a nice place, and have a job, then you are happy and have no problems.

 This can’t be further from the truth.

Mental health agencies (such as National Alliance on Mental Illness) acknowledge that as a group, African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to experience social circumstances that increase their chances of developing a mental illness (source). We need to be aware of the indicators and risk factors that lead to mental illness as it has been shown that a mental break can be a culmination of life experiences (sudden onset of a disease are often triggered by a major event but experiences increase susceptibility to disorders).

What does this mean?

Besides the obvious “any one of us can suffer,” it means that we need to be aware AND actively work to change the stigma. Some facts to be aware of:

  • tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support, rather than turning to health care professionals, even though this may at times be necessary.African Americans
  • Across a recent 15 year span, suicide rates increased 233% among African Americans aged 10 to 14 compared to 120% among Caucasian Americans in the same age group across the same span of time.

  • African Amemicans comprise 40% of the homeless population and only 12% of the U.S. population. People experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of developing a mental illness.
  • Nearly half of all prisoners in the United States are African American. Prison inmates are at a high risk for developing mental illness.
  • Children in foster care and the child welfare system are more likely to develop mental illnesses. African American children comprise 45% of the public foster care population.
  • Exposure to violence increases the risk of developing a mental illness; over 25% of African American children exposed to violence meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.


As a community, we need to move towards a mindset of acceptance and open communication. Rmember that mental illness exists and it can happen to anyone.

Thoughts On The Label Militant

I’ve never liked that label. If you really know me, then you know why. I remember my first encounter with being called “militant.” I was in the 8th grade and a teacher asked me what influential Black (African) American I looked up to. So, I spouted off a few people and my list included:

Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sonia Sanchez.

*Actually, my list was entirely women but that’s a trivial matter.

This led to a string of questions and I answered them all to the best of my 13-year-old ability and was then called “MILITANT.” Sheesh…I managed to go ONE week without a teacher saying something sideways and three weeks, THREE, before graduation, I’m called a militant by my Social Studies teacher.

I was heartbroken.

I knew that folks got a sour taste in their mouth when they said the world. I knew that militants were looked at as troublemakers. I’d heard that people felt militants didn’t shower and that they just wanted to shoot everything and everyone down in their path (I was 13, highly impressionable, and had cousins who took advantage of that). I knew that folks did not like militant people and I wanted to be liked.

Besides, I didn’t believe in the use of guns (although I feel you SHOULD have the right to protect yourself). I didn’t believe in not showering (if there were ever to be an 11th Commandment, “Thou shall wash thyself daily” would be it). I was an Honor Roll student, not a troublemaker (unless you count the fact that I dropped pencils and knocked stuff off of desks because I was clumsy).

So I couldn’t be militant! There was no way I was a militant.

Well, I went home and I thought about my arguments. I pulled out my encyclopedias (yes…we had these because I begged my Mom to buy them) to look up the platforms that they stood on. I went to the library the next day (on Saturday) and I did more research on the people that I looked up to. I read archived newspaper articles and I even wrote a mock “Press Release” about them.

*My teacher knew I’d do something like this…he told me later. lol

I wrote up my findings. I even made him a nice poster, so he could understand exactly what I was trying to convey. I had a little speech and everything. *I was a trip.

Sidenote: I can actually remember my presentation.

So, on the next Monday, I found him on my lunch hour and asked if he had any time at all because I wanted to talk to him. He waved me into the room and said, “Sure Ms. Lawrence (that was my last name then). I set up my materials and I cleared my throat. (Now, we were required to do weekly presentations on the materials we learned in Social Studies to our class, but I was nervous. It was just this big dude who loved History sitting in this empty classroom. I could even hear the heating system kicking on and off).

I started with, “This country was ‘built’ upon principles of equality and fundamental rights that spoke to our humanity.” <— I should be someone’s speech writer. My teacher sat back in his chair and began to smile.

I continued with, “The historical record shows that only one group has ever benefitted from the system as it was structured — White males. Groups that have been seen as militant were often just arguing for the system to be restructured, so that they too could participate as full citizens and enjoy the liberties that have been set out in our country’s most important documents.”

At this point, I put down my paper. I didn’t care about what else I’d written down. Then I whipped out my poster board. On it, I’d placed major movements, political parties, and people and the things they asked for.

The heading, “What Makes A Militant.”

The byline: “I’m Militant Because…”

This is what my poster actually said:

*I will choose to exercise my right to vote, remain informed as a citizen in this country, and hold my politicians accountable.

*I believe that every child has the right to a healthy start, decent housing, adequate nutrition, and EQUAL AND FREE education.

*I believe that we all have the right to healthcare.

*I want economic stability in my community and I believe that we should have the opportunity to be business and homeowners, as well as shareholders in corporations.

*I believe in the rights of humans, which includes women, GLBT, children, and communities of color that have been oppressed.

I ended my presentation with: IF this is what makes a militant, I’m fine with that. I just hope that other people realize that what’s being asked is ONLY radical because we’ve been duped into believing that our resources are SO STRAPPED that competition has become a necessary evil in our society. Everyone COULD have the same opportunities to succeed here…if the powers that be wanted us to.

My teacher was proud of me (Sucka knew I’d go home and do that). Said that I needed to remember all that I stood for. A lot of people were going to question, point, laugh, and demean me BUT I had to remember these things.

So I do. I wonder if he’s around still. I hope so, kids today need an influential presence like him.