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Last Updated: 10/31/2017
 

 Article of Interest - Cultural Issues & Parenting

Culture of Achievement
By William Raspberry, Washington Post, September 23, 2002
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Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League, has been following public education for a long time. He's now written a book on what he thinks it will take to fix America's schools.

Early on in "Achievement Matters," he tells of his first experience with the New Haven, Conn., school his children attended. "Parents . . . were really into the school," he recalls. "They flocked to meetings, meet-the-teacher nights, bake sales and assemblies." The school was far more successful than its geographical and socioeconomic neighbors.

Then the Prices moved from New Haven to New Rochelle, N.Y., and Price attended a meet-the-teacher night at his children's new junior high. "So many parents were there that night that the school had to hire off-duty policemen to direct traffic." Needless to say the school was terrific.

Price's conclusion: You can't expect to have a good school unless you have committed and active parents. Or as he told me in an interview: "The more we do as parents and as a community, including stressing to our children the importance of academic achievement, the easier the job of the educators. The more we do what we are uniquely situated to do, the more educators can do what they are uniquely situated to do. The less we do what we're supposed to do, the more we ask them to do what they're really not well equipped to do."

Price similarly taps his experience as civil rights leader, journalist, church-goer and "retired kid" to draw lessons for improving public education. His vantage point as head of the Urban League, he said, has sharpened his focus on two trends -- the increasing academic and critical-thinking demands of the job market and the persistent academic underachievement of black children. "I call it the 'preparation gap,' " he said. "Frankly, I'm a little less interested in the near term in how we're doing compared with white kids than I am in comparing how we're doing compared with what we need to be able to do. . . .

"While we have to continue to press the schools to improve, we as a people have to have a frontal-lobe obsession with making sure our children are well educated. That's our obligation as parents, as caregivers and as a people. That's the first big message in the book. The second is, 'Folks, we can do something about this.' "

Price has tried to make his book a how-to manual for involved parents. He recounts his own experience but, as important, has sought out people whose background is vastly different from his to ferret out their analyses, their secrets. "There's a lot we can do whether we're well educated or not, whether we're working hard on our jobs or not, whether we live in the inner city or not. We have to get busy doing what we need to do even as we look to the schools to do what they're supposed to do."

Perhaps the most important thing black America can do, Price believes, is to reawaken the earnest desire for learning. Too many adults -- he cites examples -- make negative assumptions regarding the academic potential of black children. Too many black youngsters assume that academic excellence isn't a black thing. And too many black parents sit helplessly by as their children succumb to negative peer pressure.

The counter, he said, is an "achievement culture."

"I mean, if the pastors would get up in the pulpit and say 'we're going to make sure that every child in this church reads; we ain't having no nonreaders in this congregation,' you've got enough retirees who can read, and probably some retired schoolteachers, and so forth, so you could organize a real effort and then honor the children who excel academically."

Finally, he says, we need to do what he did in preparation for his book: Learn from the experience of others. "Some children have learned to blow off peer pressure; they can tell us how they did it. Some uneducated parents have learned to use mother wit to steer their children academically; they can tell us how they did it. And those of us who grasp the importance of the things I'm talking about need to reach out and help bring along those who don't."

Getting our children the education they manifestly will need won't be easy. But Hugh Price's book is an excellent place to start.
 

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