Marion Brothers

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

UTA Students Express Aspiration for Political Power

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Last night, I had the fortune of speaking to the college student chapter of the NAACP on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington. I was impaneled to address some of the students’ questions as it related to education and voting. I was impressed that this was the cream of the crop in academia, students highly aware of the issues of the day, and motivated to have a real impact on the political stage.

It behooved me not to ask simple stupid questions, such as “How many of you are registered voters”? Gee Whiz! They all were.

“Well you have the power to overthrow somebody,” I said, “the power to overthrow an incumbent.” But you are going to have to overthrow me first, I beckoned, because I represent the old gray-headed generation entrenched in conservatism. I represent an apathetic voter population that votes as a 2% clip. Yet I hold my power because nobody challenges me.

With that said, the UTA students grilled me for three hours and even longer as I was on my way out.

What are the major factors that contribute to a 50% dropout rate among African-American students? Where does the responsibility lie, with the education system, with the student, or with the parents?

First, motivation is an internal driving force. You need to be an irresistible force capable of overcoming an immovable object, I advised. Then I pointed out the external obstacles each student must surmount.

The school system lacks a Quality Assurance program that insures that No Child is Left Behind

(1) The public school system lacks a QA program that insures that every child attends classes and that, whenever they do attend, that they are actually engaged in learning. Class attendance is no guarantee that learning is taking place. It is the responsibility of the teacher to engage the student in the learning process. To accomplish this, the teacher must be better trained to accommodate an expanded role and become all things to every student- teacher, parent, psychologists, etc., etc.

(2) The mode of educational delivery is antiquated and boring, thereby causing many students to become disengaged and de-motivated. The old 19th century mass production model of teaching is producing too many scraped people. Therefore, we must rebuild the education structure and upgrade its mode of delivery. The student disengages from the learning process because the range of curriculum does not allow every student to realize their greatest aptitude. Academics are elevated to the point that it disallows creative students from developing their creative skills and talents, and those who with mechanical aptitudes are not encouraged to pursue high level vocational careers. Also, the mechanism of education does not readily accommodate different learning styles. Therefore, the solution is a new education model (not to be confused with private voucher supported schools).

What major factors do you believe contribute to the lack of motivation or the prevention of African Americans in pursuing higher education?

Some students would presuppose that there is a lack of push to get more kids into colleges and universities. But not everybody is cut out for college (a comment that drew some criticism for its negative connotation). Nevertheless, others agreed that forcing a high school student to go to college could prove expensive and counterproductive. There are other post-secondary career paths available but seldom explored.

But wouldn’t that be an admission of intellectual inferiority, one student asked. Here, success in an alternative career field is its own reward and justification.

Why are 60% of black students dropping out of all black colleges and universities?

“Does every freshman that enters UTA graduate?” I asked. Of course not, they answered. Therefore, I presuppose that the dropout rate at all-black colleges and universities is comparable to the dropout rate of any post-secondary school.

The education structure is pyramidal, meaning that the closer a student gets to the top the harder its gets. Therefore, fewer people are able to make it to the top (not to mention that blacks are marginalized in their accomplishments to the point that most must over-qualify for positions in the corporate world).

Why do we promote and celebrate sports than competitive academics, such as a debate team?

If blacks are good in sports flaunt it, because it is no shame to be good or be the best at something, as opposed to good at nothing. A championship basketball team should be a source of school pride. It is the responsibility of the school, not the parent, to rally supporters around their best and most talented students, no matter whatever the field- sports or academics. We cannot fault the parents for not arousing other parents and school support for a winning Math Team. Historically, high schools favor big ticket athletic sports.

How does the lack of Education connect to the lack of economic and political power for Black America?

It is better to be stupid than brainwashed. Woo! Some student is not buying my sound bite for an answer: Explain what that means, the student demanded.

It is better to know nothing, than to have everything you know planted into your head by someone else. Most of our knowledge comes from newspapers and newspapers are bias and narrow-sighted.

Why are there a disproportionate percentage of African-American females pursuing a college education as opposed to males?

Again, the track for black males leads toward non-office careers. Black men are intimidating in an office environment, especially in the conservative South. Black females can easily assimilate if they have FOA (Front Office Appearance). From this perspective, black men often scale down their career expectations.

Why is the reading level of black students lower than white students?

Some people are ready to dismiss the historical factor of how black got behind in reading skills to begin with. As an example, I pointed out that only two generations ago, a black student who reached the sixth grade level usually had to go back and teach their illiterate parents, that they did the ciphering for their parents, and explained to them the meaning of words.

Education was not passed down to black children as it was with white children who came from an educated background, with literate parents, and the type of resources available in the home often missing in the black household.

What policies and programs should be implemented to ensure that students receive an education that equips them with the knowledge and preparedness for the next level education and life?

The public education system needs supplemental programs to augment and later supplant the old curriculum. In a world of nano-technology and high speed communications, the public school system is constructing obstacles, instead of embracing new technology. Cell phones and iPODs are excluded from the classroom rather than utilized to elevate education to the next level. Old ideas of individualism and testing prevent new collaborative learning strategies for today’s global competitive corporate environment where collaboration in problem-solving is more important than the isolated over-smart cog in the wheel.

How does a lack of cultural sensitivity training affect the education of black children?

This was the hot-button issue of the night. Some students believe that white teachers, no matter how hard they try, would never understand black students, that these students are treated differently (as one chocolate chip in the cookie, one student said of her experience of being first and only black in many academic arenas), that more disciplinary punishment is handed down upon blacks than whites, that an ADHD black student is treated punitively while white autistic children are treated as special students in a more caring manner for basically the same type of behavior, and that black students are segregated as special education students rather than students with different learning styles.

How can black leaders take pressure the government to provide more federal support at all levels of Education, more early childhood education programs, and more grant money for higher education?

The students are unaware that such resources are already available and underutilized, that many internship programs, grants, and other opportunities for minorities go by the wayside. There are efforts, however, to put more programs and resources into the classroom. Recent professional skills development program put into the Fort Worth ISD have students excited and engaged in more ways than other traditional curricular, because students are given skills useful today in the professional world. Some recruiters are now drafting students straight out of high school or in their freshmen year of college at some schools.

While, African Americans make up 13 percent of our population, they occupy less than 4 percent of elected offices in the United States. What factors do you believe contribute to this disproportionate statistic?

The great “black vote” is a myth and an illusion. With more and more diversity in each political party, the black Democratic vote is neutralized by the black Republican vote; thereby reducing the so-called black political clout to zero. Besides this is the historical low voter turnout in the black community.

The real political power is in voting blocs, and students have the potential for having the largest voting bloc due to apathy in the black and white community. But students tend to have a starry-eyed ice cream worldview of politics. For this rosy colored view of politics, I reminded the students that politics was an ugly fistfight, where somebody’s nose is going to get bloodied in the arena.

What about the million African American men with felony convictions who cannot vote- how important is it help them regain their voting rights?

Every student agreed that blacks should not be disenfranchised for life because of a conviction, that there should be a national push to restore ex-offenders’ right to vote. The problem, however, is regional, by state. Where the state of Texas automatically restores ex-offenders right to vote once they complete their sentence or released from parole, while other states like Florida do not. One of the obstacles has been awareness among ex-offenders of their voting right eligibility in states that allow it.

It is said that many young black youth are apathetic towards voting and political issues in general, even when they directly affect them. What role do parents play in affecting these values?

This is a Catch-22 question. Many parents can, but do not, play a constructive role in voter education. Therefore, the parents are sometimes the problem, and the main hindrance to progress. Overthrow all the gray-heads is my advice. As Rick Clark (Candidate for Fort Worth City Council) said, “The kids are saying ‘Trust no one over 35’”. Indeed, I am 60 and I agree. Throw me out with the rest of the old fogies.

Is the Hip Hop community the most effective and influential voice to promote voter activity and education?

The Hip Hop generation is often thought of as being politically unconscious, but in recent times I have found them to be the more astute and politically active. For years, they have been criticized with being given a sense of direction, leaving them to their own devises, some quiet destruction. But some have matured and have begun to reach back and work to correct the negative influences of their past youthful mistakes. In fact, it is the Hip Hop Nation now leading the charge in cleaning the vulgarity out of Rap Music.

What roles should our religious institutions play in voter education?

Religious institutions have no part in politics other than to remind its members to exercise their right to vote. There are punitive IRS sanctions for an exempt religious organization to promote partisan candidacies.

This was as far as we got before the clock chime 10:30 pm on a town hall meeting that began at 7. But the student words were not ignored, because on today, at the Minority Leaders and Citizens Council forum, where five candidates were vying for the city council position for District 5, I conveyed the sentiments of the UTA students.

Everyone is not cut out for college- how do we keep convey that fact without conveying a negative message that would de-motivate students from higher learning?

Fort Worth area residents may listen to the response of each candidate broadcasted on Fort Worth Community Cable on Channel 31 on Mon - 11 am; Tues - 7 am; Wed -3 am & 8:30 pm; Thurs - 3 am, 1 pm, 11 pm; Sat - 3 am, 7 am, 11 pm

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Eddie Griffin at


  1. Great discussion! I'm glad you posted it so that people who have these questions - like college students working on class assignments and organizations - can access this information when they need it.

    Do any of those kids blog? It would be great if they had an online presence.

    I've been thinking that if we could get some kids blogging, like by peer group ages, say 14-19, 19-25, etc., then we could spread the reach of the Movement.

    AfroSpear Kids is something I've been thinking of starting with my daughter.

  2. The prospect of getting the younger generation involved looks very good. We are building. There are several major colleges and universities in the area, plus the fact college students are closely related to high school students. This is part of my voter education with youth. We have already seen some results on UTA campus with the election of an African-American queen, two years in a row. This means the on-campus NAACP chapter has some clout, but not very much political education outside academia.