Saturday, January 19, 2008

Culturist School Lessons

Yesterday I had a long talk with Jimmy. Jimmy's name has been changed for this article. But, Jimmy is a real American of African descent, teacher and basketball coach in Harlem. He runs a program that is making a difference in young black men's lives. He said he had four students go to four year universities last year. When I asked, "On basketball scholarships?" Jimmy replied, "No, on academic scholarships." His program is working and he is a great man.

Jimmy was alarmed, as all culturists should be, about the state of young black American males. He threw out the familiar statistics about more black men being in prison than college. Woefully, he chalked this up to single motherhood. The mothers make them the center of attention and the difference between home life and school life sets them up for failure.

My culturist contribution was to note that groups have philosophies. The idea that society is unfair, you have no hope and to do schoolwork is acting white are common thoughts in the black community that must be overtly confronted. Jimmy told me about his elderly mother who would walk great distances to a segregated school in the South to get to school. Once there, she did not complain, she did not resist and rail; she did what her teachers said and got an education. That, I replied, around the time of Little Rock Arkansas battle for integration was, by-and-large, the default attitude towards education among both races.

The lesson here is not that one should accept segregation, but one might. That is because our attitudes are not pre-set by nature. Youth come into this world keyed to absorb the cultural milieu in which they find themselves. This is a culturist fact. In tribal times 25 % of men died violent deaths. If you expect to give no guidance and expect respectful, peaceful males who respect women, you need to study more. Western norms, all norms, are absorbed, not consciously thought out generation after generation.

If we do not provide covert guidance as to what we expect, esteem and don't tolerate, we should not expect great behavior to emerge spontaneously. The assumptions that inform the anger of young men need to be confronted overtly. We need to teach that our level of social mobility, while not perfect, is better than any other country you can name. Furthermore, the lack of mobility that exists is not all society's fault. It is in your interest and, due to our forefather's sacrifice, a duty to strive to be productive; youth need positively contribute to the society that positively contributes to them. Different values emerge from this teaching than the ones that are currently fostering anger and defiance.

Furthermore, the attitudinal and behavioral norms and guidance Jimmy and I discussed must be established early. Males confront for status. Being told that the school is the top dog gives it authority. The school's having pretentions to this without it being backed up invites challenge and disrespect. From an early age, the school must be strict and announce what it will and will not esteem. When we give pregnant teens jobs in the front office, when we allow boys to dress in a way that disrespects the institution they are in, we set a tone that informs attitudes. We need to differentiate good and bad behavior from an early age without regard to Freudian self-esteem issues. We are doing culturist psychology, not individualist psychology.

Jimmy applauded these ideas. He had been taught by educationists to think that more student relevant thinking was needed. But he was convinced during our hour-long conversation, that institution relevant - culturist - thinking was needed. He recognized the disconnect between his fabulous program's constantly telling the kids what to do and the education school's abandonment philosophy. This philosophy says the kid fails to do their work due to a lack of interest. It then advocates letting them guide the curriculum or not participate. This model puts too much pressure on the child to reinvent culture, gives them an excuse to fail, and does not adequately give them the cultural guidance they seek by nature. When the streets take up the slack we should not be surprised. We need more program's like Jimmy's that guide youth from an early age; these need positive messages and strong values delineation; they need to be behaviorally prescriptive; they need to go until 6 pm. We need to, like Jimmy, be fathers to these kids.
Post a Comment