Saturday, January 24, 2009

Response to NY Times Article: No More Excuses?

Charles Blow, op-ed columnist for the NY Times, wrote an interesting piece about black children's opportunities in America in the wake of Obama's election. Check it out here. And then read my response below:

Let's take it easy on Rep. Clyburn.

I am a fifth grade teacher. I have been telling my kids the same thing since Obama was elected last year. You have no more excuses. I will continue to tell them that until they leave my class in June. I have told all of my students to leave their excuses at the door even before I knew who Barack Obama was. Is the alternative to tell them that they "should" have excuses? My job as a teacher is to make sure that they succeed in life. I am responsible for giving them the tools to move forward. Obama is a perfect symbol of what they can be.

Is every student in my class going to succeed. No. I see exactly what goes on in the children's home lives. It's sad. Not all of the situations, but too many of them. Parenting and opportunity are the key and Mr. Blow is spot on with that assessment. However, opportunity is not afforded to everyone. If everyone was successful then "success" would have no meaning. If everyone was an employer then there would be no employees. And that's where the institutional aspect of opportunity begins to rear its head. This world is not designed for everyone to achieve. Someone always has to be at the bottom while others stay on top.

I know all of this and I will still tell my students to "have no excuses". They know better than anyone else how hard their lives are.


Brandon said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I'm a product of a "single parent" household..and if my mom ever slipped and let me hide behind a wall of excuses, she nor I would not have been able to do anything that we have. It has always been about personal accountability in this country in spite of the obstacles before you. Look at Oprah...she was raped and came from a broken home, and is the richest black woman..and probably woman on the planet. Maya Angelou...etc etc...

chioma said...

There’s never been room for excuses for us, given the fact that those who came before us succeeded in nearly impossible situations. But, that doesn’t mean it’s going to or it’s supposed to get easier just because one man was elected. Obviously everyone should look to the example that Michelle and Barack have set and motivate themselves to do better. But I think Blow is saying that working harder and being better will still be difficult for Black children, because children are often products of their upbringing and because as Blow indicated, children have little or no choice in the major decisions that can help them succeed in life. There’s always going to be the exceptional people who rise to the top against ridiculous odds. But if some people are going to fail and others succeed, those who succeed will often be those who had a decent upbringing. And if you’re a kid stuck with crappy parents in a crappy environment, are you making excuses if you don’t become like Oprah or Obama? I think Blow is just pointing out that it’s going to take a lot more than touting the successes of Obama if more Black children are going to succeed.