Is It Okay To Use Different Academic Standards Based on a Students Race?

I was honestly shocked the other day when on the local news I saw a report that the Florida Board of Education, just passed a new race-based standards of academic acceptance which will affect all of the 2.6 million students that are in the state’s public school system.

I was shocked because I don’t remember hearing about this, and yet it has passed. Apparently there was no vote on this from the public and I was even more shocked to hear what the standards are.

The new academic standard says that by 2018, 90% of Asian students, 88% of white students, 81% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students are to be reading at or above grade level.

It also states that 92% of Asian students, 86% of white students, 80% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students will be at or above their math grade level.

Really?

Now some people will say that this is a part of Affirmative Action, but I’d like to argue against that. This is part of goals required from Florida’s waiver of No Child Left Behind. State officials say that these new standards take into account the performance numbers of current students of color.

I say that this is a way the state can take the blame away from where it really should be, and that is on failing schools, inequality of schools and teachers in different communities, poor teachers, bad parenting and failing community services and supports.

It is unconscionable to me that we would expect less of a child based on his or her race/ethnicity. All kids have the ability to learn regardless of race or ethnicity.

It is true that often things such as socio-economic status and parental educational background have a lot to do with a child’s academic performance, exposure and experiences, but to dumb down the expectations of a child based on their race/ethnicity is really backwards.

And where is Florida getting this idea from? Virginia! No offense to Virginians, but Florida is following in Virginia’s footsteps when it comes to educating their students. Some say it’s so that black and Hispanic children won’t feel bad when they don’t perform as well as their white and Asian counterparts. Really?

When I was in high school I had to pass a competency exam to graduate, my race/ethnicity played no part in this. I was expected to get the same passing score as everyone. They same went for the exit exams I took in undergrad and graduate school.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush even said that this would send a “devastating message” that Hispanic and black students aren’t as capable as other students.

Palm Beach County School Board Vice-Chair Debra Robinson said she’s “somewhere between complete and utter disgust and anger and disappointment with humanity” because of this.

We do a disservice to our kids when we are basing academic standards on race/ethnicity. We will be placing a black mark on the high school diplomas of every black and Hispanic child.

It would be better to track students individually and not group them by race/ethnicity, but that would cost the state too much, so it’s easier to just make generalized, in my opinion, racist academic standards of achievement.

A long time ago I read a book called The Bell Curve and thought it was the most racist piece of garbage I had ever read. It was largely about whites intellectual superiority over blacks. This isn’t much different.

How can black and Hispanic children feel good about their academic achievements if they are held to a lesser standard, especially in elementary, middle and high school where these poor standards are setting them up for future failure?

In elementary school I always made the honor role until one day I got a “C” and cried. My teacher consoled me by saying “C’s are good for a boy”. After that day, I never made the honor role again until the 11th grade. I was happy with “C’s” and it was only until the end of my sophomore year in high school that I started making all A’s and B’s again.

What changed? I did, not the academic standards, or even the school or teachers, but me.

I learned that “A” stood for excellent, “B” for good, “C” for average, “D” for poor and “F” for failure. I told myself I was above average and aimed to never get below a “B” and from that point on in high school, through undergrad and graduate school, I didn’t.

With Affirmative Action, yes it helps minority students get into college with lower exam scores than whites and Asians, but once in college they are expected to keep up or get out. There’s a difference between that and this.

If we tell our kids it’s okay to be below average because of your race/ethnicity, I think it will have the same affects. Kids won’t try harder, they will accept poor performance as “good for my race/ethnicity”.

Those black/Hispanic kids that are high achievers, will never feel the pride they should feel.

We already have a problem with black/Hispanic kids being stereotyped as “not as good as” whites and Asians, but this is almost like making it official.

We all learn differently and EXPOSURE and EXPECTATION go a long way to defining a child’s self-efficacy. This is not the way of solving a problem, but creating one we all will have to deal with in the future.

Politicians are always saying that they want our nation to be at the top when it comes to math and science, but I guess that doesn’t apply if you are black/Hispanic. We should be encouraging, educating and encouraging all students, regardless of race/ethnicity, to do their absolute best, and not a percentage of what is considered the absolute best.

edit: My 16 year old niece, who is black and attends a predominately black school, just got accepted into the National Honor Society for having a grade point average of or above a 3.5. Imagine if the criteria for the National Honor Society was lowered for her just because she was black. I doubt she would have the same sense of pride and accomplishment she has today. 

Support Groups for College Students

College can be a huge transition for students that usually leads to personal growth, but at times may lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression.

Many students who I’ve worked with in high school and have graduated and gone off to college, have kept in touch, expressing at times their struggle to adjust or to stay balanced.

Usually I’ll give these students some words of advice or resources I think will help them get back on track, but sometimes they need more attention than I can provide and that’s when I often refer them to a support group on their campus.

There are usually support groups for almost any and every issue a college student may be dealing with including:

Depression and Anxiety

Sudden independence, academic pressure, financial worries and adapting to a new environment are all things that can lead to stress and anxiety, especially among freshman.

Stress and anxiety can lead to depression which can cause a host of other problems including dropping out of school and substance abuse. Most college campuses offer groups such as “Personal Growth” or  “Transitioning into College”  to serve students with these needs.

There are also grief and loss support groups for students dealing with the loss of someone.

Self Esteem

In college, people often start discovering new things about themselves, things they may like, dislike, feel uncomfortable with or are not quite sure of  how to deal with their feelings. This is also the time some people have their first sexual experiences either with the opposite sex or with the same sex.

Some may feel like they don’t fit into the student body on campus for various reasons.

These groups help people suffering with self-esteem and identity issues figure those things out in a safe, confidential environment.

Most college campuses offer support groups, for example, for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and for people who have been sexually assaulted. The University of Central Florida, for example has a group called Sister Circle, which gives support to women of color.

Recovery

There are also groups for students dealing with drug and alcohol problems in order to help them stay on the track of recovery. In recovery, it’s very important that a person has a good support system, which is what these groups attempt to provide.

Here is an example of support groups offered at the University of Central Florida and similar groups are found on most college campuses:

  • GLBQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Questioning) Growth & Empowerment
  • Sexual Assault Survivors
  • Transgender Bender Group
  • Authentic Connections
  • Women’s Group
  • Creative Connections
  • Exploring your Family
  • Grief and Loss
  • Sister Circle
  • Building Social Confidence

Generally once I’ve connected a student to a support group on campus not only do I feel relieved, but they also tend to improve and make new friends. I’ve always been a proponent of support groups for everyone in need because I know the positive affects they can have on their members.

Rethinking Resiliency In Relation To Teenage Girls: Part 1

Working with inner-city teenagers, I always want them to defy expectations often put upon them by society, their community and even themselves.

Those expectations usually include:

  • getting pregnant
  • dropping out of school
  • being promiscuous
  • abusing drugs and/or alcohol
  • never getting out of the low social economic status they were born in

Resilience is the strength and stress resistance to defy those expectations and to achieve ones dreams.

These are the things I always try to instill in the youth I work with, after all I have faced many of those same societal expectations growing up as an African American male including:

  • going to jail
  • being violent/angry
  • being on drugs/alcohol
  • fathering multiple children with multiple women
  • being lazy and uneducated

Time and time again, especially when it comes to teenage girls, I seem to be facing an uphill battle when asking them to be resilient. Not that I don’t face the same battle with boys, just that the girls often seem to have it all together and then quickly sabotage themselves.

An example of this comes from a 3 year longitudinal study of poor, inner-city adolescent girls called “Understanding adolescents: A study of urban teens considered to be at risk,” directed by Jill McLean Taylor and Deborah L. Tolman.

“Anita” was an African American girl who who stated that she wanted to be a lawyer, and acknowledged in the 8th grade that the only things that could stand in the way of her dream were “kids, kids, kids”.

It’s amazing, that as early as the 8th grade, she realized that having kids that young was a possibility.

In the 9th grade she is still passionate about her goals and dreams to become a lawyer because she felt that there was a need for good African American lawyers, and states “I ain’t going to let nothing get in the way. The only thing that could probably happen is a baby.”

Once again, despite her passion and determination, she is vividly aware that getting pregnant was a real possibility. After all, she had probably seen some of her friends and family members get pregnant at her age. Her mother also had children in her teens.

In the 10th grade she seems even more determined to be a lawyer, stating “there’s a lot of people that I  know that don’t want a Black kid to be somebody.”

That year she still has concerns that a baby might get in the way of her dream, but seems less worried about it. Unfortunately, she also tells the interviewer at this time she has been sexually active and hasn’t been using protection.

By the fall of her 11th grade year, she becomes pregnant and drops out of school.

How could this happen to a young girl that seemed so determined and resilient?

Well, for one, perhaps asking her (and other poor inner-city teens) to be resilient and defy expectations, was also asking her to be different from and possibly even disconnect from people that mean the world to her, including her mother.

Anita and her mother were very close; “(she) is a part of me and I am a part of her… we have trust in each other and rely on each other… we are not that different.”

Her decision to have a baby brings her closer to her mother, although it moves her farther away from he dreams, even if they were dreams both her and her mother shared.

That’s what makes reaching out to poor inner-city teenagers so difficult.

How can we expect them to make better choices, take positive risks and reach for something different and better when doing so also puts them at risk of disconnecting and alienating themselves from important people in their lives.

It’s all mostly subconscious, but I see it all the time. A motivated, successful student gets pregnant and starts missing school more and more to stay at home with her mother, who is not working and is at home with either her own children or one of her other children’s kids.

It is a complex psychological dilemma. On one hand by reaching for and achieving their goals, they may isolate themselves, and betray cultural and family connections. However, by not following through on their dreams and goals, they will be betraying themselves, and possibly the hope and dreams of their family and community.

Asking them to “break the cycle”, is in some ways asking them to distance themselves from people they most love, admire and identify with.

Preteen Sex: Do We Really Need To Have This Conversation?

A lot of times we like to think that sexual activity and behavior doesn’t become a topic for discussion until kids reach their teenage years.

As a matter of fact, I found it frustratingly difficult while doing research on this topic, to find good scholarly information, demonstrating the lack of attention this topic receives.

However, from personal experience as a counselor, I know that preteens as early as 9 years of age are engaging in sexual or precursors to sexual behavior in ways that either often go unnoticed or are overlooked as normal play and socialization.

Preteens at times can be just as curious to what it means to be in a relationship, mature, or desired, as their older peers.

They are often exposed to a host of sexual behaviors either through watching their parents, older siblings, older teens or of course, the media and unfortunately, sexual molestation, usually at the hands of a family member, older teen or adult.

They are often curious about themselves and each other, especially the opposite sex. They often sit, fondle or cuddle in ways that may seem harmless, but are at times precursors to future sexual behaviors.

A lot of preteens I’ve worked with are already “making out” with boys and sexting, two very good predictors to early sexual activity. I’ve met preteens that have already voluntarily engaged in oral and even vaginal sex by the time they were 12 years of age.

Early dating, overly strict parenting as well as lack of parenting are all predictors of early sexual behavior.

Here’s another tip: preteen girls who have a lot of male friends are more likely to be exposed to drugs and alcohol and are much more likely to engage in sexual behaviors.

Also, men 18 and over are responsible for 50% of the babies born to girls 17 and under.

Sure many of these teens grow up in unstable houses, have poor self esteem and are looking for acceptance when they stumble into the world of sexual behavior, but many of them also are just curious, precocious children that have no clue what they are really doing.

Preteens, just like teens, are much more likely to not use any type of sexual protection, so they are at higher risks of being exposed to STDs and pregnancy.

Yes, some preteens can get pregnant. Puberty can happen as early as 9 in “normal” girls and as early as 6 in girls born with abnormalities that cause them to go through puberty extremely early.  In my research, girls as young as 6, 7, 8 and 9 have given birth to children, usually after being molested by a family member.

Parents of preteens and teens need to be proactive and honest with their children about sex. Educate your child and take the mystery out of sex, puberty and love.

Having this sort of talk with your preteen may be uncomfortable, but it’s better to have this educational, proactive talk now than to have it when it’s a little too late and you discover that your child is either pregnant, has an STD or is engaged in sexual behavior, much earlier than you ever expected.

Try to be the type of parent that gives your children all the answers they could ever ask, as detailed and as often as needed, so that they will always get the best advice (at least as much as you have educated yourself) and they don’t have to learn it from their peers or by making huge mistakes.

No parent is perfect, and neither is either child, but through communication you’ll be more likely to help your child make wise and healthy decisions today and for the rest of their lives.

 

Presidential Election Stress Disorder

The morning after the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, I got a long text message from a very good friend saying that she was extremely stressed about the debate and all the negative things being said in the press about President Obama’s performance.

This friend asked me to give her some encouraging, professional advice. I was a little stunned because I have never had anyone tell me that they were so stressed out about an election that they wanted professional advice to help relax.

Soon afterwards I had an older woman tell me that she couldn’t sleep the night after the debate because she was so stressed and she also watched the cable news channels incessantly.

This got me to start paying more attention to presidential election stress and noticed it was all around me.

At work, coworkers vented about their frustration either with the President or with Mitt Romney. At the barbershop, the car wash, at the grocery store… everywhere I went I seemed to over hear people stressing in one form or another about the upcoming election.

Some people are engrossed in the election almost every waken hour. They are glued to CNN, MSNBC, FOX, or whatever channel. When they aren’t watching television they are online either reading articles or engaged in back and forth bickering in cyberspace.

Even when they aren’t doing those things they are either talking about the election, or spending too much time thinking about it.

If this seems a little obsessive, that’s where presidential election stress goes from normal to presidential election stress disorder.

Even my mother told me that she was stressed about the election and of course her television seems to be stuck on the cable news channels as well. She’s had trouble sleeping because she is worried about the upcoming election and talks about it endlessly to whom ever will listen to her so I gave her the same advice I gave my friend.

1. Disconnect– sometimes we have to turn off the television and get off the internet where we are too easily bombarded by campaign ads, political arguing or other things that can trigger our presidential election stress.

This includes Facebook, Twitter and other social sites where it’s easy to get pulled into political debates. At the least, watch something funny, silly, or interesting that has nothing to do with the election, and the same goes for websites.

2. Get out of the house– exercise, go for a mindfulness walk and appreciate the moment of now. Look at flowers, breath in the air, close your eyes and listen to what’s around you, shutting out all other thoughts about the past or the future, only the present.

3. Focus on you- get back to doing things you enjoy doing such as reading, writing, drawing, knitting, whatever it is you enjoy doing that can take your mind off of the election.

This upcoming presidential election is extremely important, I agree. It makes since that so many people are personally vested in their party or candidate of choice. It’s okay to be passionate, but it’s not okay to be angry, stressed, or depressed over the election and if you are, it’s time to take care of your self and take a break.

On Teenage Suicide

Suicide is definitely one of those unpleasant subjects that many people would like to pretend doesn’t exist or at least can’t happen to someone they know and love.

As a matter of fact, one of the most depressing and yet helpful books I’ve ever read was entitled: Psychotherapy with Suicidal People.

On Suicide

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between 14 and 25, and about 30,000 people in the United States commit suicide each year.

Since I’ve been working in the mental health field I’ve counseled literally hundreds of people who have either attempted suicide or have thought about suicide seriously enough that they needed hospitalization to keep themselves safe from themselves.

I’ve also assisted in crisis counseling at various schools. It’s extremely depressing to walk into a huge auditorium filled with grieving students and staff after a young person has taken his or her life.

Why Do People Commit Suicide?

This is a question I get asked very often and the answer is simple, yet complex. According the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 90% of people who commit suicide had a diagnosable mental illness, but there are other reasons including:

      • Psychological Disorders (i.e., depression, bi-polar disorder, agression, schizophrenia)
      • Bullying
      • Stress
      • Work
      • Money
      • Relationships

For teenagers, bullying seems to be an increasing reason to why teens commit suicide. It’s truly tragic that we live in a society that today is so connected that bullying takes on a whole new life.

Kids are now not only getting bullied at school, but in cyberspace where everyone can see, and yet no one seems to be doing anything.

On December 27th, 2011, Amanda Cummings, a 15 year old, stepped in front of a bus and killed herself after being tormented mercilessly by her bullies. A suicide note was found in her clothes.

I recently starting counseling a teenage girl who’s 20 year old brother hung himself with a dog leash last week. I didn’t know him, but from what she’s said it sounds like he may have had some struggles with depression.

He had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend and told her he was going to kill himself, something he apparently had threatened many times so she didn’t take him seriously. They found him less than an hour later hanging from a tree in the backyard.

And not too long ago here in Orlando, a man killed himself after getting in a fight with his girlfriend, telling her he was going to kill himself, and then drove the wrong way on the interstate killing himself and another motorist in a head on collision.

Other times, there may seem to be no precipitating events.

Two years ago I went to assist in suicide counseling at a high school where a popular and seemingly happy lacrosse player took his own life.

His friends and family were all blaming themselves for not knowing that he felt so sad and alone, but there weren’t many signs as far as I could tell, he seemed to be hiding his emotional pain and struggles very well.

However, in most cases there are signs to look at for.

Suicide Warning Signs Include:

      • withdrawal from friends and family members
      • trouble in romantic relationships
      • difficulty getting along with others
      • changes in the quality of schoolwork or lower grades
      • rebellious behaviors
      • unusual gift-giving or giving away personal possessions
      • appearing bored or distracted
      • writing or drawing pictures about death
      • running away from home
      • changes in eating habits
      • dramatic personality changes
      • changes in appearance (for the worse)
      • sleep disturbances
      • drug or alcohol abuse
      • talk of suicide, even in a joking way
      • having a history of previous suicide attempts

Sometimes the reasons people don’t recognize the signs of suicide is because they are in denial, especially when it comes to those close to them. When dealing with suicide, denying that someone is in need of help can cost them their life.

Suicide Prevention

If you know someone who is thinking about, talking about or you think may be at risk for suicide don’t ignore them. Often times there is a misconception that people who talk about suicide don’t end up killing themselves, but this is untrue.

Many people who end up killing themselves have mentioned suicide to someone directly or in directly, so take them seriously.

If you believe there is an immediate threat call 911, they may need emergency hospitalization. Otherwise they can seek individual and family therapy and there is always the suicide hotline (1-800-SUICIDE).