Do you live by and teach personal accountability?

This morning while I was reading, I ran across an article in the NY Times “At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics” about a school that uses tactics most would frown upon. The following excerpt tells the story of one student:

“At most schools, if a child is flailing academically, it is treated as a private matter.
But at Success Academy Harlem 4, one boy’s struggles were there for all to see: On two colored charts in the hallway, where the students’ performance on weekly spelling and math quizzes was tracked, his name was at the bottom, in a red zone denoting that he was below grade level.
The boy, a fourth grader, had been in the red zone for months. His teacher, Kristin Jones, 23, had held meetings with his mother, where the teacher spread out all the weekly class newsletters from the year, in which the charts were reproduced. If he studied, he could pass the spelling quizzes, Ms. Jones said — he just was not trying. But the boy got increasingly frustrated, and some weeks Ms. Jones had to stop herself from looking over his shoulder during the quizzes so she would not become upset by his continued mistakes.
Then, one Friday in December, she peeked at his paper, and a smile spread over her face. After he handed in his quiz, she announced to the class that he had gotten a 90. ‘I might start crying right now’, she said, only half-joking. “’I’ve got to call your mom’”.

I can see how some people may find this offensive. After all no one wants to be humiliated and more importantly nobody expects for their child to treated differently at school. I mean after all, the school is a safe place for children to learn and be groomed into future leaders correct?

But I pose a different question. What expectations are we setting for our own? In my book “The Come Up” I candidly speak about a situation that was life changing for me.

Chapter 5: Going Against The Grain Excerpt:

“At first I felt out of place, but then I began to understand. When report cards came out, I had my usual high number of absences and the same old bad grades. I’d been thinking that my new friends were treating school the same way I was—the way my gang friends had. After all, at the end of each day there were my new friends, seeking me out for their “bad boy” fix. But when I saw those same old grades it dawned on me that they must be doing something different when I wasn’t looking. They were. It turned out that before I saw them each day, they’d already finished their homework, and maybe worked at a part-time job. Only then did they want to hang out with the intriguing bad boy.

I started to see that I hadn’t really become one of these people. At the same time, I hadn’t left my old, bad habits behind. I still approached school the same way I had when I was dealing drugs and hanging with my boys. When I’d been with my gang, bad grades and a high absence rate had been the norm. With these new friends grades were more important. Though I’d avoided the truth, my report card laid it all out in stark detail: I was a laughable outcast who didn’t measure up to their standards.

At that point my new friends might’ve taken my poor schoolwork as reason to turn me away. After all, they expected each other to get good grades. Though they’d laughed at what I’d done, making me feel like an outcast, when I expressed my desire to improve, they welcomed me into their study group. From then on schoolwork got easier. That’s when I learned their secret: they made studying fun. They would study together, working as a unit to figure out anything anyone didn’t quite understand. They weren’t always working either. They would study a little, goof off a little, and then study some more. The breaks made their studying more effective.

I’d never experienced anything like this. I’d always thought about getting together with friends in one way only: as an opportunity to have a party, or go out and have fun. “Fun” was usually something destructive or negative, like getting drunk, or fighting with a rival gang. It certainly wasn’t studying for school. That was for nerds and geeks. Yet here I was studying. Did that make me a nerd or a geek? I didn’t think so. What I later realized was that I’d finally been exposed to a different way of life. It was the beginning of my awakening. I was learning how to have fun and enjoy life without selling drugs, drinking, or fighting.”

. This is when my ideas about the people around me started to change. These kids who studied together came from African-American families. They lived and worked in the same city I did. Yet their families were nothing like mine, or those of my friends in the gang. These were functional families whose parents communicated with their kids. Many of the parents worked at jobs they really cared about, but they also did things with their children every day. They included their kids in discussions of economics and household finances. Paying bills wasn’t an automatic time to argue. It was a time to show their kids how money worked.

This experience was the beginning of a change that would affect my entire life. This didn’t take place in nor dictated by our school. It was an example of social sanctions that get applied everyday in our circles. Normative behaviors are either approved or disapproved by your immediate and sometimes surrounding circle.
The article goes on to explain how the school has testing results that are the same and in some cases higher than their suburban counterparts. This dispels the myths around ability to learn and ability to achieve. Success Academy has longer days, which I believe is a great idea. For the students in the surrounding districts, school is an extension of what they live on a regular basis. When the suburban counterparts return home, the language and experience match and accentuate their lessons, making them learned and lived experiences.
I believe extending the learning day with crafted lessons gives the students greater exposure to practical experience in the application of those lessons.

It’s time to raise the bar and expectations………THEN HOLD EACH OTHER ACCOUNTABLE!

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