Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash
We’ve been fighting the battle against racism for far too long. We need an action plan to transform our communities. Start here.
*NOTE: The following list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather a running list that I will update as I research new matters and face new challenges on this road called life. I have hopefully made each point short enough that people will take the time to read the entire list and fight for the issues that fit the needs of their particular community. The power is yours.** See Part 1 of this series. Part 2. Part 3.
FOCUS AREA #2: LOCAL EDUCATION OF OUR YOUTHS
The purpose of education is to solve problems. If there are no problems in the world then education is pointless. The question is whose problems are we preparing our children to solve; their problems or someone else’s problems? We must show our children the world as it is based on our mistakes of the past so that they can create a better and brighter future for themselves and for us. Young people have always been the engine for change, it is adults who sustain the change. All our hopes depend on the youth — it is our duty to guide them toward a brighter future.
45. Know Your School Board Members and their Plans for our Youth. School board members set the policy and vision for our children’s education and adopt the curriculum that our children study. They run the farms that cultivate the minds of our children. What is their vision for young people? What programs do they have in place to ensure that the students will be ready for the challenges of the world? Knowing the answers to these questions and more is the first step toward improving schools.
46. Join or Create a Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO). If you find that your PTO is ineffective, take on a leadership role and advocate for your positions and beliefs. If that does not work, create a spin-off with other concerned parents and community members to address the needs of your children. If you are organized and strategic, they cannot ignore you forever.
47. Demand Practical Education for our Youths. Again, education is about problem-solving. Are we teaching our children the problem-solving skills necessary to address the challenges and problems we created? Our young people face racism on a daily basis, but they have no required studies on race and cultural competency in grades K-12. Global warming is on the rise and yet students are not required to take science classes to deal with the other crisis of their generation. We have a plastics and micro-plastics problem, but we are not preparing young minds to develop alternatives. This is a capitalist market-based economy, but we do not require courses on how to start businesses, invest in the stock market, or the importance of compound interest. Everyone needs to eat but many schools have cut home economics courses that would teach young people how to cook. Time is of the essence but there are no required classes on time management, goal setting, and discipline. Everyone needs a home and has to do taxes, but we spend our time doing parallelograms and the Pythagorean theorem. There are no classes on local government, yet it impacts our youth more on a daily basis than the federal government. So please tell me: what is school for? If you are wondering why youths are lashing out, it is because we sold them a fantasy and did not prepare them for reality. They may not see it, but they can sense the con, and we need to do right by them. It is time to tell them the truth about the world in which they live.
48. Proper History Courses. Speaking of truth, young people need to understand the true history of this country. The taking of lands from Indigenous cultures, the enslavement of Africans, our failure to address the end of slavery during the period of reconstruction, Japanese Americans being placed in internment camps, etcetera. The list of forgotten histories goes on and on. Children need courses on racism and culture throughout their education. We are not teaching these items to shame our country, but rather to realize the mistakes that we have made and do everything in our power to make sure that they never happen again. We should rather have the ugly truth than to accept a beautiful lie. Only by knowing the truth can you make things right and prevent similar shameful moments from happening again. Organizations like Zinn Education Project have age-appropriate history content for all grade levels.
49. Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Program for Nutritious Meals for Youths. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fact that many children do not have access to nutritious meals unless they are in school. To make up for school closures, some states have issued EBT cards to students that are reloaded monthly ensuring that students have access to nutritious meals. During summer months, students who need it should be given EBT debit cards to ensure that they do not go hungry.
50. Year-Round Schooling. To prevent the summer slide, year-round schooling should take place. Do not be confused, they still have the same amount of days out of school each year however, they are spaced out throughout the course of the calendar year which research has shown improves learning. On the ten-month school schedule, children forget things that they learned from the previous school year and spend the entire school year playing catch-up. A three-week break in-between school quarters gives students the opportunity to stay engaged but still go on vacation if they are so fortunate.
51. Teacher Diversity & School-to-Teaching Pipeline. We need teaching to be viewed as an honorable profession. While the student population continues to diversify, teachers are overwhelming European American. This is by historical design. Research indicates that children are more successful when their teachers look like them. The workforce equity plan above (#39) also applies to teachers. We should also encourage young persons to desire teaching as a profession. Programs in our schools that inspire students to “dream to teach” and give them college credit in high school for education courses can go a long way to slowly ensuring that those who teach us, look like us.
52. Youth Programs App and Database. There are so many programs out there to tap into the talents, passions, and skills of our young people, yet there are so many families that do not know what opportunities are available to them. There are computer camps, gymnastics, martial arts, chess clubs, science clubs, and yes even sports. Cities, schools, and community organizations should collaborate and create an app for parents and youth to discover what programming and activities are available for youths. Families would input their address, the child’s interests, the number of miles willing to travel from home or school, and the desired dates of activity. With the aforementioned information, every program that is available within a certain mile radius would be displayed. An app like this would be a great tool to help keep children engaged year-round.
53. Laptops for all Students. We live in the technology age. Internet access is now considered a basic human right. Students that do not have access to computers and the internet will be left behind. Schools should provide laptops for all children. We want all of our children to excel. Homes that lack wi-fi connections should be given wi-fi hotspots to keep students connected. Community-wide wi-fi is also an option, but that is a decision for city council members.
54. Attend School Board Meetings. Once you have met with the school board members and learned the curriculum being taught in your neighborhood schools, it is time to speak out on the issues that matter to you. Introduce subject matters, curriculums, and programs that you would like your school district to adopt for the betterment of the student population. If you have built a relationship with your school board member(s), have them introduce the program or curriculum. Show up to school board meetings and keep showing up. Take your kids with you. This serves the added benefit of introducing young people to the benefits and frustrations of civic and political engagement.
Stay tuned all week for the entire series.
This article was written by Joshua V. Barr, Director, Des Moines Civil & Human Rights Commission. Connect with Joshua on Twitter or Email.