Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween and Surrender

There is no end to the discussion about the failures of No Child Left Behind. A lot of it centers on the systemic failure and persistent underachievement of black children. The President and his men have reconstructed the education debate so that it revolves around metrics and statistical trends on meaningless standardized tests. Ironically, it is the disguises of Halloween that reveal the real damage that society has inflicted on black children. Multiple sets of black kids came to our door on Halloween night trick or treating. Several of the encounters demonstrated the degree to which black children have been reduced.

My wife and I were eating dinner with a too cute “biting scary cat” when there was a loud pounding, not knocking, on the door. The biting scary cat dropped her broccoli and flew to the door screaming, “the trick or treaters are here, the trick or treaters are here!" When we opened the door there was a group of six or seven black kids ranging from about 3 to 13 years old. None of them had on costumes. One of them boldly and gruffly said, “trick or treat” and they all extended their plastic bags. I said, “But hold up, none a yall have on costumes. What’s up with that?” The biting scary cat had the bowl of candy in her hands and turned to my wife and me and asked, “how come they don’t have on costumes?”

“Cuh we broke.”

I was instantly crushed. Creativity does not cost. On the contrary, it supposedly flourishes in the face of limited resources. Apart from that, listening to this little girl look us straight in the face and say, “cuh we broke,” hurt. What I heard in her response was, “because we’ve surrendered.” They were not bothered by their lack of effort. It did not seem to occur to them that they ought to be uncomfortable, if not embarrassed, to be asking for candy on Halloween at a stranger’s doorstep without a costume of any kind. The compounding weights of low expectations and poor education are not only stifling their creativity, but are undermining their pride in themselves.

When my wife told the biting scary cat to give them some of the candy they grabbed handfuls each and we had to tell them not to take it all. They turned to start down the steps without a word. The biting scary cat looked back at us again and said, “Mommy, they didn’t say thank you.” On hearing that, one of them threw a thank you over her shoulder as they continued down the steps.

I turned back inside in a combination of anger and sadness. My wife suggested that we take the biting scary cat trick or treating to some of our friends in the neighborhood. As we turned up our block we saw the same kids riding in a car with the radio blasting 8Ball & MJG’s, “Alcohol, Pussy and Weed.” A three year old in a car listening to alcohol, pussy and weed? How does that happen? and what does it say? In my mind it says the same, that we have surrendered.

And the night got worse.

When we came back, the biting scary cat returned to a little girl and went to sleep around nine o’clock. At about ten o’clock I was watching HBO on-demand boxing, Manny Pacquiao versus Marco Antonio Barrera, when there was another pounding on the door. I couldn’t believe it. This time, there was a young brother maybe 14 years old with a little boy that was either 3 or 4. Again, neither of them had on costumes. From the same bag of gruffness as the other girl he said, “trick or treat.” I said, “Yo!! You don’t have on a costume and its 10 o’clock.”

He smiled and said, “I’m a crook.”

“What do you mean you’re a crook?”

“This is how crooks be looking, I got on a black T.”

I think its surrender.



luvlife0702 said...

contrast that with my experience.

child has idea for costume beginning many weeks ago (its the last time she gets halloween party at school so she's going out big).

we go to value village and Jo's craft supplies to search for the ingredients to this concoction of "Miss Halloween, 2007 (don't get me started on the beauty pageant aspect but i wasnt tripping.)

so we and write and glue and stuff with scissors and ribbons and what not. My input was minimal. This was like a class project for her. Motivation +! which is good cuz i am an import negro and didn't grow up with this rotting teeth nonsense.

upon completion of costume and arrival of d-day, this mommy picks up 3 a-costumed girls from school, who are all in the black beauty category of costume, and take them to the commercial strip in our very high income urban environment, which sponsors a halloween event every year where stores give out coupons along with their candy.

the street is crowded with costumed hordes of infants (in front packs and back packs), dogs (yes! costumed dogs), parents and sundry teenagers (even the Radio Flyer and the strollers had costumes). by end of 75 minute stroll up and down both sides of the street, said girls are awash in candy.

three girls go to base camp and eat pizza and then daddy from base camp takes 2 of hte girls (the other lives in the urbs and had to go home with nanny), to get more candy and in my daughter's case $21.79 to UNICEF. (she said no to a check but next time she'll know better)

When they keep talking bout color i'm hearin them but the class issue ain't no joke at all.

Hill Rat said...

K - While I agree that No Child Left Behind is a disaster, the long slide to surrender started way before Bush43 took office. Black kids are told to surrender every time someone tells them to "keep it real", every time they speak properly and are told they sound "white", and too many other heartbreaking situations to recount here.

Bush43 is a convenient target for our ire as Black people, but that's all he is, a convenient target.

Bert said...

Maybe it's the lower-middle class white boy in me, but I have to agree with hill rat. I don't think the No Child Left Behind hasn't done anything to help the situation with any of the children who go to the lowest 1/3rd of school in any school district. Standardized tests only reveal something that we already know, that the schools in the lowest income areas of any district have the toughest time attracting & keeping teachers that have the best chance in engaging students.

At the same time, I see some strong pop cultural forces at work here. The thug life, gangster, hardcore mentality where you take what you want in life because you feel it's owed to you, with little to no remorse for what is done in the process, and with no pride in the struggle you had to go through in order to attain a goal. This mentality isn't isolated to any one race or class. From the silver-spooned punks who Mommy & Daddy spoil in the hopes to become their child's friend, to the lower-class kids whose parents spend more time at work in order to scrape by an existence, the pop cultural influences of rap, TV, and media (not the least of which is the video game series Grand Theft Auto -- a series I actually enjoy playing) overwhelm the senses of kids as to what real life should be about. Without the input from parents, the kids join the heard mentality of living out the thug gangster life of their friends & peers without stopping to think about what's right or wrong because the pop culture enforces those stereotypes. If young kids watching the Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Nartuo run around acting like martial artists, then what are we to expect from kids listening to 8Ball & MJG's "Alcohol, Pussy & Weed?"

So, how do we correct this? It's clear the Government doesn't care what happens so long as we continue to vote to keep them in power, continue to pay their salaries, continue to pay out taxes while they spend more of our money on their own interests rather than what's good for their constituents. It's clear Hollywood doesn't care. They want to put out the most shocking stuff so you'll part with your money to watch what they produce. The record industry isn't interested, unless you're illegally downloading music from an artist they represent, then they want to squeeze you for every bit of cash they can get. The media doesn't care. They want to turn the suffering & scandals of everyone into 24-hour marathon coverage.

So what about us? Do we care? Obviously, or otherwise we wouldn't be trying to find a way to insulate our kids from the nasty reality of the world around us before they get a chance to grow up & recognize what the real world is all about. But that's the catch, how do we as individuals stand up against the heard mentality?

NikkiJ said...

"But that's the catch, how do we as individuals stand up against the heard mentality?"

By jumping into the heard. Become an educator, a volunteer for an after-school program, an encouraging voice to a single mother. Let the heard know that you see them, and that you care.

"I think its surrender."

Everybody wants to be loved. And for some if the loss of this love seems even minutely possible then the individual goes back to the heard. Children must be taught that they should love themselves, value themselves. I'm glad the trick or treating crook has you living in his neighborhood. The next time you see him you can tell him that he doesn't have to settle for being a crook, and if he's interested you can tell him why.

kamau said...

i don't suggest that the no child left behind is the cause of the problem, rather that it exemplifies it. the incessant focus of standardized performance overlooks the quiet human decay that is taking place behind that wall of testing and alleged evaluation.

i agree that jumping into the heard and mixing it is up the only way. the logical end of that argument though is that, "each one teach one." while i don't knock that idea and i have and continue to mix it up in the heard, i have always felt that isn't enough. of course it means the world to the individual young person when someone takes an interest in them. it means the world to me, when someone takes special interest in me. but...when i walk from one block to the next, from one neighborhood to the next, from city to the next, it continues to bear down on me that the limit as each one teach one approaches saturation is incomplete.

and...even with an individual i am still not sure how you fight surrender. how do you instill the mentality that says, i stand up straight and battle at every turn?