Sunday, July 10, 2011

Black America will never realize its dreams if America itself isn’t reconstructed - and we need to move with all deliberate speed.

Indulge me a few Kodak moments.

In the course of the next few weeks, D.C. officials will dissect the mixed bag of standardized test scores and release detailed results for individual schools. The data, which reveal more than 40 percent of D.C. youngsters scored proficient in reading, will be used for a weighted formula that evaluates teachers and determines how much money is funneled to each school.

While that long-standing formula creates an appearance of separate but equal schools, it fails to focus on the fact that more than half of all students remain below the proficiency level and continue to struggle when they get to high school, leading to a nation of dropouts.

Too many dreams are being deferred.

Marion Barry, a D.C. Council member and former mayor, gets it: “[Y]ou cannot be supportive of the dismal test scores we receive, year after year, that clearly reflect that thousands of African-American boys and girls are being shortchanged and sentenced to a life of poverty, jail and death.”

Now, focus on the message not the messenger. Heck, even pretend Ronald Reagan was the spokesman, if thats what it takes.

At one time, blacks were prohibited from even learning how to read. Then, they were given short-shrift in public schools even though they were breaking their backs to build, then reconstruct, America. And by the time the Ku Klux Klan disrobed and blacks began winning seats in Congress, statehouses and city halls, the one thing that would have ensured future employment for generations of blacks - that is to say, year-over-year tracking - was dismantled and replaced with one-size-fits-all policies.

To this very day, black leaders have abandoned the skilled-labor philosophies of Booker T. Washington by forcing all youths to learn the same academic curriculum at the same pace.

Now pay attention because this problem doesnt merely apply to blacks, and it doesnt merely apply in urban areas, where school reform is considered a four-letter word.

After all that, we, Americans, changed course.

Instead of remaining a nation of producers, we became a nation of consumers. Clothing, toys, electronic gadgets, jewelry and even food come from other nations.

Even our customer-service calls are as likely to be answered by agents on the other side of the Pacific as our agriculture is maintained by someone who is not fluent in English.

So, not only are we no longer producing our own, but we are leaving it to others to maintain what little manufacturing and producing we still can tag “Made in America.”

Small wonder, then, that the same day D.C. officials released the test results, the Labor Department announced the nations unemployment rate had crept upward from 8.8 percent in March to 9.2 percent in June - leaving Americans of all stripes asking, “Where are the jobs?”

Well, they certainly arent in Mr. Barrys overwhelmingly black Ward 8, where the unemployment rate is 25.2 percent and the poverty rate is 35 percent.

America needs another Reconstruction Era.

Its time to channel Booker T. Washington, who was born a slave, wrote concisely about black America and collaborated with white philanthropists to help right Americas wayward ship: “If you can’t read, it’s going to be hard to realize dreams.”

*Deborah Simmons can be reached at

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