“Music is one of the closest link-ups with God that we can probably experience. I think it’s a common vibrating tone of the musical notes that holds all life together.” — Marvin Gaye
I have to admit; I love to teach in schools of color – schools with a significant student of color population. There is something about introducing impactful content with culturally relevant material and developing strategies for learning, memorizing, and applying academic theory. The best part of my day is helping students identify, design, and map a path towards educational, civic, and financial success. Additionally, I love creating opportunities for a “Cinderella” or “Underdog” to be successful. My Grandmother was my first pathfinder. “You can teach children anything if you dig into your heart to understand them more compassionately. Dig into your pocket to share more generously. Dig into your time to spread it more unselfishly.” Before every class, I remind myself that I’ve only scratched the surface, and it’s time to dig deeper.
Most of us believe academics and sports are two subjects that contrast one another. The first is about reading, writing, and achromatic, whereas the latter is about strategy, agility, and grit — this belief typical. However, after we analyze both, we realize these two disciplines are more similar than not. The arenas are different, but you’ll find a bridge for learning, memory, and performance if you dig deeper. What tools will we give students of color to build that bridge, and what is the most effective strategy for facilitating their learning, memory, and performance?
We all know that a key to doing well in any sport starts with high aspirations and a winning mindset. The truth is that many athletes are trying to win championships that don’t. Therefore, any athlete who does not at least aspire to be a champion has less chance of doing so. In turn, any student of color who does not have high expectations for themselves has less chance of doing well. Moreover, studies indicate that high expectations also help students achieve academic confidence. When students of color are asked to learn high-level material, they dig deep to access data in their minds. While doing so, they push themselves to memorize information. When tested, they score well and have faith they can do it again.
With this in mind, we should develop lesson plans connecting culturally competent material, unique tools for learning, and high aspirations. For example, we should ask students of color to use online tools for committing vocabulary to memory. We should instruct them on how to teach scientific concepts to family, friends, or teammates and ask each other for feedback – you learn best what you teach others. It also helps to do weekly revisions of class notes in the form of a journal – paying attention to names, dates, and ideas. Lastly, we should ask them to retrace these steps by memory. Remember, “active retrieval” forces a student to set high expectations on themself. So studying may seem challenging to achieve, but successful testing will increase their academic confidence.
We see examples of this momentum, and it creating confidence in the U.S. economy. In 2007 we lost over 2.6 million jobs in the great recession. Through President Obama’s fantastic leadership, we turn that around, and in 2011 the U.S. manufacturing industry became a “Cinderella” story. Toledo added about 1,800 manufacturing jobs in 2011, and General Motors and Chrysler hired over 1,600 people by 2013. Correspondingly, unemployment dropped to 7.9% and manufacturing comprised 18.3 percent of Ohio’s economy.
This winning mindset was driven by a version of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Lunch Pail, Hard Hat Coalition.” This “Underdog” coalition was held together by influential public education leaders, administrators, and teachers in many communities — Latino, African American, Asian American, Native American, Student, and Women. Before the great recession, they began digging deep civically. As a result, governorships and Senate seats flipped in Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Missouri in 2006.
Voters of Color (VOC) were a significant piece of this coalition. Their presence was felt in places like Ohio’s Cuyahoga County — 12% of the vote share, and VOC were 14% of the electorate. What’s more, Ohio voters are historically leading-edge – electing pro-public education African American mayors in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Youngstown, and Mansfield.
- Census 2010 — Columbus grew by 10.6% to 787,033. Giving Columbus more than 145,000 “key” Voters of Color.
- Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District had the second-largest VOC voting block of Ohio’s sixteen congressional districts.
- CD-3 includes high performing VOC precincts on the Southside, Northeast, and Eastside (Precincts 35-B, 17-F, and 28-E).
- Economic bounce back — Ohio increased its manufacturing jobs by about 4 percent a few years after 2009 with more than 24,600 jobs for working families.
What does this teach us? Our nation can bounce back after this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. It will take strategy, agility, and grit, but we must innovate how we teach reading, writing, and achromatic to succeed in the long run.
We must be intentional about applying culturally relevant research on learning, memory, and performance in our schoolrooms. Additionally, we must use culturally competent material to help students of color learn diverse approaches to memorize and retrieve information. Remember, they may not choose to become professional athletes or scientists, but we aspire to help them dig deeper. How do combat systemic racism? Teach our children to dig into their hearts to understand more compassionately. Dig into their pocket to share more generously. Dig into their time to spread it more unselfishly. We must give them more opportunities to impact the world in an authentically irreversible way. We must nurture their big ideas — we’ve only scratched the surface, and it’s time to dig deeper.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.