As early as I can remember, my mother hounded me about my education.
Before I was allowed to hang out with friends at the J.W. Blind Boone Center or Douglass Park , I was told to "hit the books." To this day the phrase “do it while it is fresh in your mind” brings a smile to my face. Although back then I would roll my eyes and sigh because my friends were waiting outside for me but I would not be available for at least a couple of hours. Every now and then she would compromise and allow me to complete 20 of my 40 homework problems. But as soon as I stepped foot in the door from hanging out, I had to complete my homework, sometimes before eating dinner.
I share these stories as anecdotal evidence of a single black mother, living in public housing, on government assistance, still valuing education for her children. My mother understood that one of the few ways that black children would have a chance at living a more successful life than their parents was through education. Yet for all of her zest and zeal for my education, my mother never made a parent-teacher conference or attended a back-to-school night. But I can assure you that she still wanted what was best for me with regard to education.
My mother is not alone. There are many black mothers, fathers and other caregivers who want their children to get an education. Even during the ugliness of slavery, black parents understood the liberating value of education as a tool for opening windows and doors of opportunity. During the Jim Crow era with separate and unequal opportunities in this country, blacks still learned to read and write and black parents still encouraged their children to get an education.
Some people seem to believe that times have changed and that black parents like my mother don’t exist anymore. But I can assure you that these notions are false and without merit. There have been many times when my wife and I are in the grocery store or church and black parents begin talking to us about the problems that they are having in schools with their children. They say things like the teachers “don’t listen to me” or “I feel like I am being ‘ganged up on’ when I walk into a meeting and there are 10 school staff and I am there by myself.”
Yet despite all of this, these black parents encourage their children to put away the Playstation 3 and do their homework. These parents understand that in this modern day of the rapid changes in technology and with many industries shutting down to operate cheaper outside of the borders of the United States, gone are the days when manufacturing jobs that did not require a lot of education are available. In today’s job market, an applicant’s educational level is a key factor.
It is for these reasons and more that we have started the Black Parent Association of Columbia Public Schools so that parents do not have to feel “ganged up on.” The goal of the organization is to provide a visible, viable and vocal presence of black parents and support for black parents in Columbia Public Schools.
As a doctoral student in the College of Education at MU, there have been times when my instructors and colleagues who are aspiring school administrators utilized jargon and acronyms while engaging in class discussions. In response to this, I raised my hand and respectfully asked them to explain the acronyms and jargon. So I can imagine how parents like my mother, who does not have a high school diploma, feels in meetings with teams.
Our goal is not to be exclusive but to provide an avenue for more inclusion of black parents and their allies that want to see the educational levels of black children rise to the levels that Columbia is accustomed to. As a product of Columbia Public Schools, I recall most schools in the district receiving some type of national recognition for the quality education provided to all children. We want to support Columbia Public Schools’ efforts to return to excellence for all students by supporting our children, their teachers and their schools, keeping in mind that sometimes support means pointing out erroneous thinking and problematic issues.
Lastly, it is important for educators and administrators to understand that parental involvement comes in a variety of forms. Some studies suggest that effects are moderated by demographic characteristics. According to a study in American Education Research Journal, for example, that parent involvement, defined as parent-teacher-organization involvement, monitoring, and educational support strategies, had more beneficial effects among affluent European-American students than among African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American students; students from families of low socioeconomic status; and students from single-parent households.
Nathan Stephens is a co-founder of the Black Parent Association. The group's Web site is bpacps.ning.com.