Monday, October 8, 2012

Brooklyn Expression

A recent article in the New York Times, Before a Test, A Poverty of Words, suggested that poor black children in Brooklyn face a 32 million word deficit by the time they are 4 years old.  They have been exposed to, heard, used, read, expressed, 32 million words less than their more middle class counterparts in their first 1,500 days.  That is a deficit of nearly 20,000 words per day.  What does that mean, to have thousands of young people who can't express themselves?

The article went on to offer grim statistics for black students and their academic futures. At Stuyvesant High School, the premier public high school in New York City, only 19 black students were admitted into the freshman class of 967 students this fall.  In New York City, where there are approximately 3.5 million black people, only nineteen black fourteen year olds qualified to get into the city's top school.  The implications of that are staggering. Unfortunately, it is not surprising. Also in New York, only 28 percent of black boys even graduate from high school.  That is not to mention that only 10 percent of all black boys in the entire city are proficient in mathematics in the 8th grade.  I would venture a guess that of the 19 black freshmen admitted to Stuy, twelve or more are female.

But what of these young people's inability to express themselves?  Language is our partner for living.  It is the vehicle by which we give life to our interpretations of the world.  The words we use and the manner in which we use them is an essential part of our identities as individuals. For young people not to have access to the words of their native language is an imprisonment. They are forced to experience life without a critical partner that is a portal to meaning and nuance. Language is necessary for them to be able to build friendships and deep relationships - to ask the questions they really want answers to in class. In the school space, students' inability to express their sense of isolation, their frustration with their circumstances, the humiliation of not being able to fully comprehend the words in transit about them, is an abuse.

The focus of national education has turned to STEM fields - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  The country, as most states, has determined that without STEM education, the future of the United States as we know it is doomed.  Perhaps, but if we don't arm these children in Brooklyn and elsewhere with language, the meaning of the United States will be lost anyway.  No one will be able to express it.



KP said...

Wow, Brother Bobb! Admittedly, I never gave much attention to language deficiencies in my own efforts to address societal/educational injustices among blacks; black males particularly. Sadly enough, I am sure I have perpetuated this issue at some point or another in both my personal and professional lives. As a former classroom teacher in an inner-city school with over 90% black children, I was highly discouraged, and often times chastised by my peers and superiors, for using above-grade level (college-level) lexicon in my instructional practices. Of course, I ignored the criticisms and chose to not only express myself with an array of words and idioms, but I also encouraged my students to do the same; you know - teach them how to use a dictionary and a thesaurus, all in the name of giving them the tools and the confidence to express themselves to any audience. I found this practice to be quite enlightening, particularly during instances when I witnessed young black children rise to high levels of articulacy. Without covering these basic tenets of intellectuality, how can we really expect these children to be mathematicians and engineers?

KP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.