Dads and sons rarely listen to each other. That’s why I was drawn to the first three lines in John Hubbuch’s recent column that read: “I value the opinion of my oldest son, Chris, who, after reading my two columns on the achievement gap from earlier this year, told me to give it a rest. Good advice so I took it. Until I read the ad from APPLE (African-American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education) in the May 16 edition of this newspaper.”

In his June 20 Viewpoints column, “What was missing from the APPLE ad,” Hubbuch admits he did not listen to his son. Instead, he wrote about the language in the black parents group ad that challenged the process of the school superintendent selection. Just as it is Hubbuch’s right as a former OPRF booster club president to object to this ad, it is the right of the black parents group to object to the seemingly manipulative policies connected with the superintendent selection process, and insist that APPLE’s scholarly and grassroots ideas to lower the grade gap not be ignored.

I spoke with fellow Columbia College educator George Bailey (whose bi-racial sons–Jared and Nathan–recently graduated from OPRF High School) about Hubbuch’s column, and the idea that fathers should listen to their sons. Bailey praised Hubbuch for trying to understand grade gap details. He emphasized the need for all stakeholders to “use constructive language.”

As APPLE supporters who probably would have suggested different language for the ad, we feel they have the right to use whatever means necessary to challenge counter-productive policies. APPLE advocated stopping the mad rush to hire a principal without community input (which was achieved, thanks in part to the APPLE ad), lower the achievement gap, equalize disciplinary apartheid, hire more teachers of color, raise expectations by all of the teachers for all of the students, study what’s working with successful minority students, and implement new outreach programs–not to blame parents, but help them sharpen skills to support their children. We think parents should listen to their kids. This is where Hubbuch, Bailey and I all agree.

I suspect Hubbuch’s intent was a good one. Yet there is some local history involving the murky motives of some whites, who on the one hand, encourage people of color to “get involved” as volunteers of the policy-making apparatus, but as soon as we do, some of the same whites (who represent the status quo) assail minority critics.

Again, I’m sure Hubbuch meant well–as do I. We both have had sons at the high school. We both are volunteers. We both write for this newspaper. We both cite Dr. Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, with whom I have spoken about Oak Park and other suburban communities where achievement gaps between whites and people of color exist.

Oak Park is not alone, as Hubbuch correctly points out. It’s not just a local or national problem, but also an international one. I met Ferguson through National Education Association President Dr. Reg Weaver at an NEA grade gap forum in Washington three years ago. I recently traveled to Germany because Weaver selected me to be an NEA observer at Education International’s conference in Berlin where educators from dozens of nations discuss, for example, how Paris, London, Madrid, Brussels, Berlin and Chicago suburbs like Oak Park, have grade gaps and how when people of color raise objections to the process and product of these policies, they are often criticized by the whites who create those policies. Ferguson said that was quite common. He explained the grade gap in terms of a “shared responsibility,” not as Hubbuch burlesques as “[black] victimization and white guilt.”

Ferguson spoke about new and different ways some suburbs are making progress at a time when we are not. Just this month, I had a conversation with a suburban Maryland principal, whose multicultural community north of Washington, D.C., is closing the gap. In 2004, Ferguson cited this area as an important one to watch.

Additionally, he spoke about the need to listen to students. Students like Hubbuch’s eldest son, Chris; my sons, Amman and Jordan, and other sons and daughters at the high school, need to be heard. Their views count. Their insights are every bit as instructive as the policy wonks who may or may not know the nuances and complexities of educational diversity issues that we’re learning may addressed by starting interventions with parents, teachers and kids early in pre-school and elementary school when the problems sometimes start.

Addressing low expectations by teachers (some of whom are white women who sometimes do not culturally understand boys of color and hiring more qualified teachers of color who do), providing paid staffers to visit parents and teach them more effective ways of supporting their children, plus other factors Ferguson mentioned, particularly the addressing the problematic role rap music has had instilling values of excellence and character in today’s youth. He told me ’90s rap music helped undermine grade gap gains earned in the ’80s and ’70s.

In future posts, I’ll share what students have reported. Perhaps John Hubbuch will do the same. Our kids may make more sense than us.

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