A Gates Millennium Scholar and DeKalb grad: Find Superman within yourself

DeKalb scholar Mpaza Kapembwa believes students hold the key to their success. (Photo/Cross Keys Foundation.)

DeKalb scholar Mpaza Kapembwa believes students hold the key to their own success. (Photo/Cross Keys Foundation)

Mpaza S. Kapembwa is a freshman at Williams College, studying on a Gates Millennium Scholarship, among other scholarships. Mpaza is a 2011 graduate of DeKalb County’s Cross Keys High school.

Williams is one of the nation’s most prestigious liberal arts colleges, ranking first in U.S. News & World Report’s 2011 list of Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the nation.

Mpaza sent me this piece, which I know that many of you will applaud.  If you want to read more about this remarkable young man, an immigrant from Zambia, please go here and then click here to see a TV profile of him.

Here is his essay:

In the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” dejected students in a public school stumble through classes in a failing school, which contributes to a failing neighborhood and an overall sense of impending disaster. Everybody is waiting for Superman to appear, although everybody knows he never will. Thousands of high schools across the country today are called “dropout factories.”

The Superman narrator points out that, “We’ve tried money, passing laws, and the latest reforms….” but nothing works. The documentary concludes that our public school system is broken and needs fixing.

Enter the reformers. First, the Radical: Michelle Rhee, until recently the D.C schools chancellor, argues that teachers have failed to produce “results for kids.” In her first year on the job, Rhee closed 23 schools, fired 36 principals, and cut some 121 office jobs. She cited under- enrollment and incompetence of officials as reasons for the moves.

Then the Visionary: “We won’t let your kids fail,” declares Geoffrey Canada. “We will get your kids into college.” Since 1990, Canada has been president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York.

I am on board with such reformers, but teachers can neither “get results” for student nor “get them into college.”  They can put us on the path to attain good results and get into college, but it’s all up to us. We have the most responsibility when it comes to our education.

I want to challenge reformers to look my peers and me in the eye and tell us that we need to work harder. I challenge parents to tell their kids to work harder before they turn to blame the teachers. I am not convinced that we students are doing the best we can, while our teachers are not doing their part.

Some teachers are incompetent, sure, but more students do not take their education seriously. We expect to be spoon fed. We go to school, fill up with knowledge, go home and not study — and expect to get educated!

We are more products of our expectations than we are products of our environment. If we expect to succeed, nothing will stop us. My teachers never motivated me. They didn’t have to. I was motivated by the fact that paying bills in the house was a constant struggle. I was motivated by the fact that students like me were supposed to end up in jail and not at an elite college. I was motivated because the closest my mother will ever get to a college education is reading newsletters from my college. Every time I try to tell my fellow students that we are the Superman and we can pilot our own education, they counter with endless “what ifs” and “buts.” Nothing can ever be accomplished with that mentality.

While PTAs and school boards can be great instruments in advocating for students, they often focus on the school administration, faculty, budgets, and long-winded policies. They overlook — or at least under-emphasize — the responsibilities of the student.

Students cannot dodge their responsibilities and point fingers at their teachers. Parents cannot dodge their responsibilities and think the public school system alone will educate their children. Education starts in the home — everything else is just a supplement.

So I say to my fellow students, stand up. Get in that phone booth and pull on your Superman suit. Take off into the future — your future.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

53 comments Add your comment

Ernest

March 6th, 2012
5:39 am

“We are more products of our expectations than we are products of our environment. If we expect to succeed, nothing will stop us”

A student taking personal responsibility! As adults, we do need to remind students that the only lifelong obstacles they encounter are the ones they perceive are there. Some may take longer to overcome than others but if there is a strong desire, a solution can be found.

A great article from another great student from DeKalb. Best wishes Mpaza! Make sure you come back to help inspire your peers as it can be done.

Lee

March 6th, 2012
5:55 am

So, a black immigrant comes to America with the clothes on their backs and little else and is able to succeed. Sorta blows the Pavlonian excuses of “residual effects of Jim Crow and slavery” along with “low SES” out of the water, doesn’t it?

Reminds me of the adage “Every man is self-made, however, only the successful admit it…”

God Bless the Teacher!

March 6th, 2012
6:03 am

“Education starts in the home — everything else is just a supplement.”

Amen, and AMEN! I teach because I want to teach…I’m one of those who feel called to teach. I hope that what I do and the relationships I try and build with students will encourage them to at least “one up” the previous generation and set a positive tone and direction for future generations. However, I don’t perceive myself as students’ savior (as some teachers like to think of themselves). Parents and students (and politicians and the media and the Bill Gateses of the world) many times expect teachers to be miracle workers and pass students without students (and parents) being held accountable for student success. Our culture does not require children to find and/or develop an intrinsic motivation to succeed (however the individual may define success). I’m waiting for Superman, but he’s not yet “at home.”

redweather

March 6th, 2012
6:16 am

Personal responsibility is a wonderful thing. I wonder how long, however, the excuse makers will show up here and start blaming everyone and everything in sight.

redweather

March 6th, 2012
6:17 am

That should read “before the excuse makers . . .”

More Parent Bashing

March 6th, 2012
6:22 am

This is just more parent bashing. Why would we expect anything else? Bash the legislators, bash the parents but never ever put responsibility on those who are paid to teach students.
(yawn)
gm

d

March 6th, 2012
6:23 am

Sometimes I almost feel between the proverbial rock and hard place- students want to be spoon-fed but complain that that is boring…. so I challenge them and they don’t want to do the necessary thinking to do the assignment. It’s not a lack of capability on the part of the students either. By the time they become seniors, they have been drilled so much now for tests that they don’t really know how to ask the questions, how to think, how to really learn. Is that the fault of the public education system? No…. it is the fault of the people who think they know how to fix education just because they managed to graduate from high school themselves and somehow get elected. Let educators take charge of education and results will improve (although some people may actually learn how to think and question before they go into the polling station).

redweather

March 6th, 2012
6:44 am

@d, Education is definitely about learning how to learn, there’s no question about that. But it’s also about wanting to learn. The young man who penned this essay has a very practical reason for wanting to learn, and it’s call survival. Not all of your students have that going for them. Perhaps the best thing you can do for them is to make sure they understand that at some point in life they will have to stand on their own two feet.

ATL Teacher

March 6th, 2012
7:00 am

I will share this article with my students today! I give 110% to my students daily while most of my students give less 50%. They don’t bring paper or pencils, sigh when we have to read or write, don’t study, and say…I want to go to college.? This recent grad hit the nail on the head quite eloquently. We have given our students excuses and noone wants to confront the big elephant in the room…students. Honestly, I’m fearful of the current trend in education. Over the last 10 years, despite the integration of technology and “best practices”, students are actually performing worse. Then, to add insult to injury, Georgia wants them to rate ME as a teacher. Moreover, rely on standardized testing. I’ve seen students just bubble in anything on a 60 question CRCT in 5 minutes. I guess someone has to take the blame.

catlady

March 6th, 2012
7:00 am

Here is a piece I truly enjoyed. That the young man had some good teachers, I have no doubt. However, his REAL strength has come from his parents and himself. Imagine someone who has almost every strike against him, yet succeeds at the highest level! How much more should we expect from the kids who have so much more, and much fewer “strikes against them!”

When we were in Athens, I was struck with how often the top graduates, the top Spelling Bee participants, the top science fair winners, were students from other places, many of whom were originally non-English speakers! How sad, and how embarrassing, that my kids and those of the other “American” parents–black or white– were not those top students!

And why? It wasn’t teachers–my kids and your kids have the same ones. You can call it motivation, desire, hard work, parental support, willingness to sacrifice, but in the end it wasn’t the school and it wasn’t the teachers. Those were just open doors that those students walked through, and used to get somewhere!

nelsonh

March 6th, 2012
7:55 am

Everytime I see a college basketball or high school basketball I see incredible out of sight motivation. Now all any school district has to do is find what ignites motivation and move it from the basketball court into the classroom. I have been following Syracuse U. basketball and everyone is going “bonkers”. The Carrier Dome where SU plays to 30,000+ fans is actually called a classroom and Jim Boeheim is the Professor. The students learn unselfish, success directed, character building qualities.
Ofcourse, their are distractions like Gloria Alrede[my spelling is bad.] You get the idea, This is a great learning environment.

Atlanta Mom

March 6th, 2012
7:59 am

An outstanding young man. What a wonderful way to start the day. Thanks Maureen.

Veritas Vincit

March 6th, 2012
8:01 am

Amen! What a dignified, intelligent man.

cris

March 6th, 2012
8:03 am

the best student that I have ever had was an Eastern European immigrant…when I asked him how and why he managed to master so many different skills, languages, etc. his reply was that he saw the opportunity to learn as a gift. So many students see education as something to “get through” rather than the spring board to a successful and enriched life….wish I had the ability to make all my students acquire this outlook….needless to say, it was always both a pleasure and a challenge to educate this student and I try to keep that in mind for all of my students regardless of reality.

Mary Elizabeth

March 6th, 2012
8:11 am

What an inspiration this young man is! From the link above, he says his favorite quote is, “One does not begin to live until he or she helps someone who will never pay back. Therefore, I have always found a way to help others, even if my family isn’t wealthy. . .Every person’s story is unique and worthy of being expressed. And it is how we express our stories that sets all of us apart.”

And from the video link above he says of the Foundation he has created, “The ultimate goal is always help someone else. That’s what life is all about.”

Obviously, Mpaza is a young man of insight and wisdom, even as young as he is. I wish him well and I hope that he will decide upon a political career in America. We desperately need politicians, here, to help redirect our nation to one of self-giving, once again, instead of self-interest. Mpaza will be majoring in Political Science and Spanish in college.

Not all students are blessed with his intelligence, nor have his hope. Without blaming students, parents, or teachers, we must realize that not all students are endowed with his exceptional assets. How, then, do we foster school environments in which all students are able to possess the “faith, hope, and love” that Mzapa already has attained? I think it is not to think in dichotomies of blame, i.e. “some students will try and others will not,” “some parents help and some do not,” “some teachers care and some do not,” but instead to reach out to others – without blame casting, and, as Mzapa says, to “give to others who will never pay back.”

Teachers, a suggestion: Set up instructional training sessions for parents (and students) in the evenings in the Media Center or in your classrooms. When, especially, parents see your care and commitment to them, many will attend your meetings because they will see that you have given of yourself, well beyond expectations. Your belief in them and in their children, expressed in this self-giving and concrete way, will not only join teachers, students, and parents for a common goal, but more importantly, it will renew the hope that many may have lost. At least, that is what I found to be true when I had held those evening sessions, as an active teacher. Those sessions, held only one evening, twice in a year, still makes a tremendous impact on students and their parents.

Educator

March 6th, 2012
8:15 am

What an outstanding young man! With his mentality and drive, nothing will stand in his way to success! I wish the best to him!

Ronin

March 6th, 2012
8:42 am

Interesting article. The young man stated: “We are more products of our expectations than we are products of our environment. If we expect to succeed, nothing will stop us.”

Partially true. He is fortunate to have been raised in a family that values education. Unfortunately, that is not the case in most American families. The home environment reflects the learned values toward education and it’s benefits or “learned” reliance on government social programs.

No amount of funding will replace the motivation to succeed.

William Casey

March 6th, 2012
8:51 am

I would be proud to be this guy’s parent or teacher. Here’s one old man who’ll be cheering for Mpaza to finish the drill in college.

...and we wonder why

March 6th, 2012
8:56 am

http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/06/10588739-racial-divide-minority-students-face-more-discipline-data-reveals
Black and Latino students across the United States are far more likely to be suspended than white students – and far less likely to have access to rigorous college-prep courses, according to a sweeping study released on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Go research Slavery by Another Name and you will see up to 800-900 black men were held in de facto slavery through the use of peonage up until 1941! That was not that long ago! The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1963! These events are less than 100 years ago, coupled with the Jim Crow laws etc,
Instead of trying to build more prisons, use that money for early intervention programs, before and after school tutoring, invest in our children instead of turning them into investments by funnelling them into the prison system and then using them as labor for GA farmers.

Wake up!

WAR

March 6th, 2012
8:57 am

superman was from a different planet with skills and abilities regular humans did not possess. i dont know what purpose that statement has. but just thought i would say it.

Brit

March 6th, 2012
9:00 am

What an amazing young man. Reading this has been a great start to my day. Thank you.

Arabia Mountain Dad

March 6th, 2012
9:13 am

Mpaza’s story is truly inspiring, and humbling. I would employ all to “Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are.” ~ Booker T. Washington

@RenPrep

March 6th, 2012
9:18 am

That young man is fantastic. Nothing more needs to be said.

Tonya C.

March 6th, 2012
9:25 am

Did GM just say this piece was more parent bashing? Reading comprehension is a lost art I see.

Great article. It is what my husband and I try to instill in our son. In the end, it is up to you. Your future depends on the effort you put in NOW. Being smart isn’t enough if you can’t demonstrate your intelligence. No one owes you anything and you better be ready to put in the hard work necessary to earn whatever you get.

Teacher, Too

March 6th, 2012
9:42 am

Bravo to that young man. Just wait until the Common Core Standards are fully implemented. They are all higher-order thinking skills– no more spoon-feeding students. The problem is that students have been spoon-fed for so many years, they are going to have difficulty in transitioning to actually having to THINK and PROBLEM-SOLVE.

If students can’t master basic, low-level skills, how are they ever going to be successful with the Common Core Standards, which are significantly more rigorous?

Gerald

March 6th, 2012
9:51 am

WAR:

The reference is to the documentary “Waiting For Superman” that promotes the charter school movement as a part of the answer to failed urban schools. This Mpaza Kapembwa is taking the anti-charter school position, which is that public schools should not be held accountable for the failure of parents and students. Of course, which WAS NOT the position of the teachers’ unions and their statist advocates BEFORE THE THREAT OF SCHOOL CHOICE. BEFORE THE THREAT OF SCHOOL CHOICE, THAT WAS CONSIDERED TO BE AN EVIL RIGHT WING HEARTLESS CONSERVATIVE RACIST POSITION. Before the threat of school choice, the only debate was over how much schools were to be funded; back when the public education lobby wanted massive tax increases so every public school teacher would make $70,000 a year (so that the profession could attract the best and brightest that were seeking to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, MBAs instead), reduce class sizes to like 10-15 (which would vastly increase the number of teachers needed AND make them impossible to fire) and use public schools as centers for every social welfare program that you can think of. BACK THEN, the idea that STUDENTS and PARENTS were responsible for their own educations was EVIL, CONSERVATIVE, RACIST. It was the job of SOCIETY to spend enough money, create enough programs to take care of EVERY CHILD, TO COMPENSATE for their bad home environments and lack of personal motivation. That was the ORIGINAL “No Child Left Behind” ideology as promoted by the Marxist Julian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, who claimed that public schools should offer the same class sizes, educational programs, teacher pay etc. as elite prep schools AND offer the menu of social services that prep schools DON’T. (George W. Bush simply co-opted the “No Child Left Behind” slogan from Edelman and the Marxists for his own school choice program, a brilliant but cynical political ploy.)

That was BEFORE school choice. ONLY AFTER AND BECAUSE OF THE THREAT OF SCHOOL CHOICE, the public education lobby reverted to the CONSERVATIVE argument that teachers and school systems ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE for the failure of schools, BUT THAT PARENTS AND CHILDREN ARE. So, this fellow pens this brilliantly subversive essay that is a “dog whistle” that SEEMS to be a call for personal responsibility. IT IS NOT. It is actually an ANTI-CHARTER SCHOOL/SCHOOL CHOICE PROPAGANDA PIECE. THAT IS WHY IT SAYS “I DON’T NEED TO WAIT FOR SUPERMAN”, which translates “WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING SCHOOL CHOICE.”

THAT is why Ms. Downey published it. It fits HER AGENDA, WHICH IS ANTI-SCHOOL CHOICE. THERE ARE LOTS OF KIDS TRAPPED IN HORRIBLE SCHOOLS CAPABLE OF PENNING ESSAYS OF HOW THEY WOULD BENEFIT FROM A CHARTER SCHOOL INSTEAD OF BEING FORCED TO ATTEND A SCHOOL WITH TERRIBLE DISCIPLINE, SOCIAL PROMOTION, AND THE ONLY “EDUCATION” IS TEACHING SOME DUMB STATE TEST, BUT MS. DOWNEY WILL NEVER PUBLISH THOSE. WHY? BECAUSE THEY DO NOT FIT HER ANTI-CHARTER SCHOOL AGENDA! INSTEAD, SHE PUBLISHES THE ONE ESSAY THAT SHE CAN USE AS PROPAGANDA FOR HER OWN POSITION!

Now of course, she will respond “Wait a minute, I gave equal time to Michael Lomax and other charter school supporters.” Of course she did, BUT SHE IDENTIFIED THEM AS CHARTER SCHOOL ACTIVISTS OPENLY. SHE DID NOT TRY SUBVERSIVE TACTICS LIKE “oh, I am just printing an essay from a local kid who made good.” THIS is A TEXTBOOK CASE OF LIBERAL BIAS, PEOPLE, EXACTLY THE TACTICS THAT BERNARD GOLDBERG DESCRIBED IN HIS BOOK!

And it is actually liberal race card stuff too. A black immigrant from Africa, knowing full well that such are considered “model minorities” in contrast to native-born blacks and illegal Hispanic immigrants? It only made people more likely to buy into the nonsense “oh he is promoting personal responsibility unlike those lazy native born Obama-supporting blacks” trick. (General) Lee up there bought into it hook, line and sinker. The real purpose was to use this kid as a vehicle to spout anti-school choice rhetoric. Again, no essays from the MANY black kids who graduated charter schools and are in good schools.

It shows the tactics that these folks are willing to stoop to in order to protect their public school monopolies. I still remember those (not so thinly veiled) racist comments made by the monopoly supporters when Downey was on a campaign to get Alisha Thomas Morgan defeated because she was a leader in the charter school movement. Why target Morgan when plenty of WHITE politicians support charter schools? Because Morgan is BLACK, and having blacks get off the plantation is unacceptable. The depths that liberal racism will sink to …

alm

March 6th, 2012
9:55 am

He wrote another great article published by the Brookhaven Patch and DeKalb School Watch.
http://brookhaven.patch.com/d/blog_posts/what-we-focus-on-we-magnify

Atlanta Media Guy

March 6th, 2012
9:56 am

Awesome young man! I plan on showing this to my Middle School sons. Way to go Cross Keys! This school is one exceptional school, sometimes I wonder if this school is actually a part of the DeKalb system. This young man has a great future ahead of him. Personal responsibility is what this is about! Thanks Maureen for showing a success story in a school system rife with corruption and malfeasance!

I was thinking what a great testimony for other students to hear. This young man should go to the failing schools in DCSS and tell his story! His story might resonate amongst the students that detest success in the classroom and look to other extra-curricular activities that are celebrated in the pop culture of today.

Maureen Downey

March 6th, 2012
9:58 am

@Gerald, Yours may take the cake for the most improbable response. I didn’t see an anti-charter school message in this student’s essay. I saw a “take personal responsibility.”
I don’t even know when state Rep. Morgan was up for re-election and never wrote a single word about her race, whenever it was. In fact, I have praised her in editorials as an incredible and passionate orator and a young lawmaker to watch.
As I have many times, I support education reforms that work. Some charters do; some don’t. After 16 years of watching the Georgia Legislature, I have great concerns about its motives in this charter school debate and its ability to approve and monitor charter schools from afar.
Maureen

Atlanta Media Guy

March 6th, 2012
10:03 am

Hey War! Do you think your reason is why Maureen has NOT posted a thread regarding the 41 million dollar shortfall in Dekalb schools? After Belcher’s report last night on WSB-TV you think Maureen would want to discuss this on her blog. She is a stakeholder in DeKalb schools too! I will give her the benefit of the doubt for one reason, if she is working with an investigative reporter on a story exposing the whole system.

The new editor at the AJC loves investigative journalism and I hope he sticks to his gun to unravel the fraud that DCSS became under the former indicted Super and his minions, who are still running the asylum..

GuruLikeDrucker

March 6th, 2012
10:35 am

@…and we wonder why. “Instead of trying to build more prisons, use that money for early intervention programs…”
Wow! This is the cancer that eats at us as a culture. How someone could read an article about this child’s amazing perspective on self empowerment and personal responsibility, and then point out that that there are still wrongs that need to be made right and the failures of our underprivileged are the direct result of a lack of resources and oppressive social policies? What kind of neighborhood do you think this child grew-up in?
Sure, this is one story of success out of many stories of poverty, but what separates this boys story from the stories of failure is not resources or opportunities, its expectations and attitude. This child was not brought-up with the attitude that he is entitled to additional assistance or resources; instead, he cherishes ANY assistance that is provided and he EXPECTS none. It’s unfortunate that entitlement mentalities have displaced personal responsibility in the minds of many of our children and parents. When we start to expect entitlements, they stop serving their intended purpose. It’s sad that “and we wonder why” didn’t get the message, but I suspect that he/she is one of those characters that will always have something or someone else to blame for their shortcomings.

Beverly Fraud

March 6th, 2012
10:41 am

“I want to challenge reformers to look my peers and me in the eye and tell us that we need to work harder.”

Yes but Michelle can’t get PAID to “fix the teacher” if she does THAT can she? Of course “fix the teacher” is no more the problem than “fix the soldier” was the problem in Vietnam is it? The SYSTEM is broke, not “the teacher”.

Beverly Fraud

March 6th, 2012
10:45 am

I’m hoping Gerald has a rebuttal!

Dr. Proud Black Man

March 6th, 2012
10:45 am

@ Lee

“So, a black immigrant comes to America with the clothes on their backs and little else and is able to succeed. Sorta blows the Pavlonian excuses of “residual effects of Jim Crow and slavery” along with “low SES” out of the water, doesn’t it?”

It’s the culture Lee.

Ron F.

March 6th, 2012
10:49 am

“but never ever put responsibility on those who are paid to teach students”

Sometimes I think you LOVE to stir things up a bit, don’t you? :-) As a regular commenter here, surely you realize how much responsibility has been placed on teachers (you’ve pointed out our faults and missteps quite well). This article isn’t about bashing anyone. There are, and always have been, good and bad teachers, good and bad parents, good and bad kids, good and bad curricula. Currently, we’re in the midst of writing some good and bad laws focusing on education. It’s all in how you look at things, I guess.

What this young man is doing is stating a very simple truth: it’s all about what a person wants out of life and his acceptance of his part of the responsibility. That’s a very important truth, and when it is combined with caring, talented teachers in a school where there is a focus on student success and quality of education, great things can happen. If we all did our parts and kids could grow to understand their personal responsibility, we’d see school improvement like you’ve never seen.

I’ll gladly accept responsibility for my mistakes in my teaching- I’m constantly finding ways to do things differently and better. In 20+ years, I haven’t gotten it all right yet! But I have to agree with young Mr. Kapembwa that it’s as much about the child’s self-motivation as it is the teacher.

Brit

March 6th, 2012
10:49 am

@Atlanta Media Guy. Where do you get the idea Maureen is a ’stakeholder’ in DCSS? Her kids attend Decatur City schools, which is an entirely different system.

Old timer

March 6th, 2012
11:11 am

AMEN….blessing to this young man….

Hey Teacher

March 6th, 2012
11:13 am

Great article — thanks for sharing!

GuruLikeDrucker

March 6th, 2012
11:26 am

@Brit “Her kids [Maureen] attend Decatur City schools”

You left out that they [her kids] are brilliant academics, that flourished in the public school environment partly because they did not participate in football or lacrosse or activities of that ilk.

RAMZAD

March 6th, 2012
11:31 am

These stories are all around us. Immigrant students are all around us burning impossible academic trails, but they are not media sexy until it is time to talk about one that is smart and dignified but needs to be deported.

Maureen Downey

March 6th, 2012
11:53 am

@Guru, No football, but a brief stint as a lacrosse goalie. (Interesting that posting a few days ago on the increasing research on brain injuries from football casts me as anti-sports. Another example how the mention of football other than “Go team” is met with rancor in Georgia.)
Maureen

Mom

March 6th, 2012
12:03 pm

@Lee: I think the “residual effects of Jim Crow and slavery” are psychological and well as economic. This young man shares race and poverty with his poor, African American peers, but little else. For two hundred years in this country African Americans were hopeless and in despair because of slavery, their treatment during reconstruction and after, the indignities and hopelessness of share cropping, and into this century, the further indignities, brutality and hopelessness again of Jim Crow. At which point are our current generation of poor African American children to have been exposed to, much less actually experienced, a sense of efficacy, optimism, and self worth?

I feel that this young man’s experience is further evidence that the effects of generational poverty, despair, and marginality are more than economic–poverty is just the symptom of all that came before and lingers still–like a terrible ancestral memory that cannot be shaken off. The answer to this problem lies in finding a way to engender this young man’s sense of efficacy and hope for the future into a generation of young people who have none. But how do we do that? I do not know.

Beverly Fraud

March 6th, 2012
12:47 pm

“The answer to this problem lies in finding a way to engender this young man’s sense of efficacy and hope for the future into a generation of young people who have none. But how do we do that? I do not know.”

One word: DISCIPLINE. You EMPOWER them by holding them accountable for their CHOICES, and CONSTANTLY reinforcing the fact that they are THEIR choices.

Your mom A) didn’t let you watch Sesame Street B) made you watch Sesame Street C) watches Jerry Springer or D) STARS on Jerry Springer, it was still your CHOICE to say “F-ck you b!tch” to the teacher.

When you understand, through being held accountable for your choices, that they are indeed CHOICES, you are EMPOWERED to take control of your life. Your success becomes YOUR success. Not the teacher’s success; not the “reformer’s” success. YOUR success.

redweather

March 6th, 2012
1:15 pm

I knew when I saw this article this morning that the discussion would soon devolve into what discussions like this always become, an excuse for some posters to point fingers. The irony, of course, is that this young man’s very positive message is all about why finger-pointing won’t get the job done. But some people simply don’t want to hear anything positive when it comes to education. They’re too invested in the culture of grievance.

Brandy

March 6th, 2012
1:26 pm

Congratulations, young man (and every young man and woman out there just like him)!
Thank you for recognizing that your own success is predicated on your own efforts, drive, and values.

Of course, stories like this are newsworthy due to the simple fact that they are exceptions to the rule. No amount of school reform is going to turn every schoolchild into this young man and his peers. Brain transplants would be about the only solution and, as far as I know, those don’t really exist (yet).

[...] is demonstrated by this young man’s essay on how students must look to the “superman” within themselves and be accountable for [...]

Mary Elizabeth

March 6th, 2012
1:44 pm

@Mom@12:03 pm

You have wisely shared how history will have its ramifications for generations. That is why I posted what I did at 8:11 am this morning.

You asked: “The answer to this problem lies in finding a way to engender this young man’s (Mpaza’s) sense of efficacy and hope for the future into a generation of young people who have none. But how do we do that? I do not know.”

I gave one answer to your reflection at 8:11 am. I will post it, again, at the end of this post. Although my remarks, on the surface, appeared to be mainly instructional, I offered this suggestion because I have experienced that when, as a teacher, I reached out to others “in love and in hope” that that love and hope was “catching” to others in how they felt about themselves. My first principal, in an all black school in south Georgia in 1970, told me, as a young white teacher and as the only white person in the school, that my caring and my seeing all in that school as “one with me” had inspired students and teachers more than any other thing I had done. He wanted to thank me, before I left, for my eyes “that saw.” I think I gave many in that school hope. We must try to light the fire of hope in those who have felt no hope in their families for generations, by demonstrating our love and care for them in concrete ways that will help them, instead of casting blame upon them for what they are not. Sometimes children and adolescents act out in ways that are beyond their own understanding as to why they act as they do. As teachers, we must see the historical forces which have had impact, for generations, upon them. Your post is as wise in its way as Mpaza’s article is wise in its separate way.

My desire is that this post might inspire many to try to instill hope in others who have lost hope, instead of casting blame upon them. Everyone should take responsiblity for themselves – on that we can all agree. But above all, we must realize, as the young Mpaza already realizes, that, “helping someone else is what life is all about.”

Thomas Jefferson, so writes Saul Padover, believed that political cynicism is the enemy of democracy. I think cynicism, also, destroys hope. We must acknowledge that “love and hope,” expressed, builds lives as much as skills.

Here was my instructional suggestion at 8:11 am:

“Teachers, a suggestion: Set up instructional training sessions for parents (and students) in the evenings in the Media Center or in your classrooms. When, especially, parents see your care and commitment to them, many will attend your meetings because they will see that you have given of yourself, well beyond expectations. Your belief in them and in their children, expressed in this self-giving and concrete way, will not only join teachers, students, and parents for a common goal, but more importantly, it will renew the hope that many may have lost. At least, that is what I found to be true when I had held those evening sessions, as an active teacher. Those sessions, held only one evening, twice in a year, still make a tremendous impact on students and their parents.”

Frankie

March 6th, 2012
2:48 pm

Good job Mpaza…I will certainly share your essay with other students and my own children.

I am a true advocate for personal accounatbility and taking responsibility for your own actions reaps the best rewards..

Beverly Fraud

March 6th, 2012
3:15 pm

How to reach these children? John Rosemond said it best. They are deficient in Vitamin N.

Namely Vitamin NO. So many times, parents will BUY, BUY, BUY to show their children they “love” them. (Witness the parent of meager means who will buy their child a PlayStation, when spending HALF that on books and spending TIME reading with the child would be FAR more loving.)

You want to EMPOWER your child. Vitamin NO, Vitamin NO, Vitamin NO. No, you can’t have Playstation in the room. No, you can’t have Nikes when we can’t pay the light bill. No you can’t have Cheetos because they are 3 for a dollar. So are BANANAS, and they are GOOD for you.

And no you can NOT expect me to come up to school and blame the teacher for YOUR POOR BEHAVIOR CHOICES. They are YOURS and YOURS ALONE. Michelle Rhee is not your savior, Beverly Hall is not your savior. Arne Duncan is not your savior.

Why? Because you don’t NEED a savior. You have the tools to save YOURSELF.

Now THAT is the message of EMPOWERMENT. YOU are responsible. YOU are in control. YOU shape your destiny.

Of course one has to ask, do government schools REALLY want to teach that message?

Ronin

March 6th, 2012
4:20 pm

BF @ 3:15: your comment: “Of course one has to ask, do government schools REALLY want to teach that message?” Gonna go with a big fat NO on that one. Poorly educated and dependent people are much easier to control/manipulate.

However, it’s refreshing to read about students like Mpaza, who are excited about the value of education.