“Everybody has asked the question. . . “What shall we do with the Negro?”; I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us!”
These words written by legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1865 spoke to the challenge that our nation faced concerning more than 4,000 newly freed slaves. America was torn as it tried to discern the next steps about its liberated Black population, regarding those that still wanted slavery, and those that had bravely fought against it. Douglass represented the mindset and the collective resolve of the latter. “Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us,” he continues. “Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall!
I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!”
This was a reminder that many took heed to, despite the narratives. Even then, Douglass and many others understood, that If Blacks were to succeed, it would be due to their not being helped nor hindered, but simply allowed to do so.
On to 2022.
Countless policies and programs from numerous politicians have come and gone, promising to lift the status of Black people, claiming equity as the goal, only to find that those plans did more harm than good.
Current case in point:
On May 26th , Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF) board members decided to implement a plan known as “Transformative Education Professional Development & Grading.” According to a report in the West Cook News, this plan will, “require teachers next school year to adjust their classroom grading scales to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students.” Without question, such thinking clearly reflects the “equity components” mentioned in CRT and other racially based curriculums. The subsequent reading of the story is even more disconcerting:
“Teachers and administrators at OPRFHS will continue the process necessary to make grading improvements that reflect our core beliefs,” the plan, set to begin in the fall of 2023, says. The article notes that according to the Illinois State Board of Education, 38 percent of sophomores fail the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The failure rate was 77 percent for Black students, 49 percent for Hispanic students, 27 percent for Asian students, and 25 percent for white students.
That’s quite the difference!
Margaret Sullivan, associate director at the Education Advisory Board, which consults colleges and universities, said teachers have to recognize when “personal biases manifest.” “Teachers may unintentionally let non-academic factors, like student behavior or whether a student showed up to virtual class, interfere with their final evaluation of students,” Sullivan said.
Fiorenza called for the changed after releasing a report that showed a spike in “F” grades in the 2020-21 school year. “OPRF’s administration will adopt language that makes and keeps the system visible and continues to name racism as a complex interconnected structure,” the report said. “We must recognize the unique challenges faced
during the pandemic intensify the need for a systemic approach to confronting the racial and socioeconomic discrepancies often experienced by our underrepresented student population.”
There are those of you that might suggest that this isn’t a real problem or simply a non-issue. After all, what’s the harm if a Black kid from a rough neighborhood gets a leg up because he or she is Black?
Let’s consider for a moment Frederick Douglass’ position.
Unlike most Black leaders in history, Douglass had been a slave for more than half of his life at the initiation of the Emancipation Proclamation. As such, he understood more than most the trials that Black faced in pre and
post slavery America.
He also recognized the realistic possibilities that they could and would succeed if given the chance. In other words, even with Jim Crow, Black codes and the KKK as ever-present threats, success for those determined to achieve it, while certainly facing hinderances, were without limitations. However, these Chicago students under the direction of Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning Laurie Fiorenza would never understand that level of resolve.
According to the report, “OPRF will order its teachers to exclude from their grading assessments variables it says
disproportionally hurt the grades of Black students. They can no longer be docked for missing class, misbehaving in school, or failing to turn in their assignments.” This and other dangerous policies will further ensure that students of color in Chicago and elsewhere will be judged by the color of their skin, rather than the content of their character.
Putting Into Practice
One of the hardest things to do as parents is to let our children ride a bike alone (minus training-wheels) for the first time. Many of us grappled with simply the thought of initially loosening our grip, because we knew in some
small way that we had started the process of sending our children into eventual adulthood. Nevertheless, we let them go.
Why? Because we recognized that our job is to prepare them to do-and allow them to do so. Until institutions like OPRF, as well as politicians and like-minded organizations understand the value of allowing all persons-including students, to succeed(or fail) based on their own merit, these individuals will never reach or achieve their true potential, let alone realize for themselves the empowerment that comes from succeeding. Not with a handout or a hand up- but simply the access with to the open door.
What’s the solution?
It is easy to jump to the front of the line, when those in the line step out of the way, or winning a race becomes simple, when the other runners are restrained. There are, however, few things greater than knowing you got the position, the promotion, or even simply won because you gave all you had to make it happen-and it did!
At Seekingeducationalexcellence.org, we strive to inspire. In addition, we provide our youth with the opportunity and tools to succeed and point them in the right direction. With critical thinking, a strong resolve and boundless
desire, the sky is the limit. Being judged by the content of your character, not the color of your skin?
Dr. King, I do believe you were on to something.