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Saturday School

Writing in last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Grutter v. Bollinger affirmative action case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor surmised that in 25 years race-conscious affirmative action won’t be needed because disparities in educational performance between disadvantaged minorities and their White and Asian American peers will have been eliminated. Her conjecture on the exit strategy for race-conscious affirmative action in higher education prompted considerable discussion among the editorial staff at Black Issues.
We began speculating about the necessary changes in American schools, communities and families that could propel African American and Latino students to a place where their competitiveness unquestionably wins them broad admission to the nation’s most elite colleges and universities. We didn’t simply talk about elevating enough people to gain representative entry into the most elite schools, but discussed how critical it was to boost the educational experiences of all Black and Latino students and to create an environment where Kenneth Gibbs Jr., the Meyerhoff scholar featured on our cover, would become more the rule than the exception.
Gibbs recalls his father, an accountant, making him do arithmetic on Saturdays. Imagine that — math on a Saturday. Not early morning cartoons, or afternoon basketball, or evening bouts of PlayStation 2. Not that these more recreational activities were discouraged, in fact, they very well might have been performed as well, but Gibbs, when assessing the reason behind his current academic success recalls arithmetic on Saturdays.
Such parenting techniques are crucial to eliminating the academic achievement gap, according to several scholars in our cover story, “What Will it Take?” Along with an intellectually stimulating home environment, experts point to issues of teacher quality and school accountability as well as overall notions of culture and social practices in the African American and Latino communities. The question of culture and the role it plays in the intellectual development of Black and Latino children, in particular, has sparked controversy among education advocates. While some point to culture as a reason for underperformance, others question the usefulness of the argument. At the very least, the tension suggests that it is an issue that will not just go away.
In the meantime, Washington Post columnist William Raspberry recently launched a program in his hometown of Okolona, Miss., that deals directly with remedying certain cultural attitudes. The program, “Baby Steps,” also featured in this edition, equips parents with the tools to become more compassionate, engaging and confident in guiding their children’s learning. “Some of these parents didn’t succeed in school themselves, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love their children and want them to succeed,” Raspberry says.
The bottom line is that we all want our children to succeed. The Black Issues editorial staff hopes that this edition will provide some tips, tools, and insight on how to bring about that success, or at the very least, how to move toward making that success the rule rather than the exception. As Harvard economist and social policy expert Dr. Ronald Ferguson argues, closing the racial achievement gap is not an agenda for a few years, it is a generational agenda, and it is our generation’s time to do our part toward achieving that goal.

Robin V. Smiles
Associate Editor

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