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Black Student Miseducation

Student presentation @ King-Drew Magnet

Each week, LA Progressive’s editors pick what they regard as a particularly insightful comment from one of our readers, both to draw attention to one particular reader’s thoughts and to encourage more readers to weigh in with their opinions. This week’s pithy "Feedback Friday" response comes from Joel L Parkes who commented on the article by Sikivu Hutchinson, "The Criminal Miseducation of Black Students in the LAUSD."

This is an interesting article, made more so by two things: First, I’m a white man who spent fifteen-and-a-half years teaching seventh-grade Social Studies at Audubon Middle School, then a majority-black school located in Leimert Park; and second, I have met and had a number of interesting and productive (at least from my point of view) discussions with Sikivu Hutchinson, the author of this piece.

While my long tenure in one grade and subject limit my perspective, I can say that far too many students, black or Latinx, arrive at the seventh-grade reading at a second- or third-grade level.

While there is no doubt that the black students of LAUSD are poorly served, that is true of pretty much all students of LAUSD. While my long tenure in one grade and subject limit my perspective, I can say that far too many students, black or Latinx, arrive at the seventh-grade reading at a second- or third-grade level. This is partly a District failure, but it is also a result of the economic poverty from which these students arrive at school going all the way back to kindergarten.

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Regarding suspensions and student-misbehavior, I must point out that the statistics cited by virtually everyone are skewed, as there are no schools that have equal proportions of black, Latinx, white, and Asian students. At Audubon, if twenty students got into a fight at lunch, the odds were good that all twenty would be black. The same could be applied to Crenshaw, Dorsey, and a number of other schools in South L.A. And while it is no doubt unfashionable to say so, some of the student behavior at Audubon was absolutely beyond the pale, and also beyond the ability of teachers to cope with given the limits placed on them by the District. The only time it was brought under control in my last seven years there was under DeWayne Davis, a turnaround specialist who was given carte blanche by the District for one year to suspend as many students as he needed to in order to restore some semblance of order to Audubon. Once that District support was withdrawn, chaos returned.

In terms of the African American LGBTQIA+ students, Ms. Hutchinson is absolutely correct. I received no training or professional development of any kind about this subgroup. To the best of my knowledge, none has been developed.

I don’t know what the solutions might be, but I would fully support trying the things proposed in this article. It hurt my heart to see so many of my students at Audubon shoved from one grade to the next when they simply didn’t have the skills to succeed.