Let’s look comparatively at reforms in NYC, and learn from the mistakes of NYC, and implications for reforms in Trinidad.
In the 1960s there were demands for school reform, because of the low performance of black students. With the best of intentions and motivations, while ‘travelling’ in the wrong direction, the Social Democrats, Socialists, Black Nationalists, White Leftists, and Progressives proceeded to dismantle and make structural changes to the education system. Specialized schools (Trinidad’s Equivalents-Presentation College, St Mary’s, Naparima, and QRC) and programs for the “Gifted and Talented” students were abolished. Schools for the emotionally unstable and slow learners were established. The general population now had to attend “Community Based Schools” in the immediate local area/neighborhood. The “Ghetto” kids were now attending schools in their neighborhoods. The academically “Gifted and Talented,” the violent, and the indiscipline were now attending the same schools.
Now the parents, who took their precious time to sit every night and engage their kids academically, were sending their children to schools with students who were bullies. The neglectful parents, who seldom supervised their kids, sometimes would encourage their kids to openly be disrespectful to the teachers and engage in fights with other students. The “Leftist Progressive Political Agenda” theorized that if you put a tough low performing student in the same class, he would learn from the well behaved high performing students. They wanted all the students to exhibit “equality and sameness,” even at the expense of high academics. The above education theory may have had some limited success, if the teacher had authority in the classroom.
These theories were “imported” from the white suburbs. They ignored the fact that middle class parents spend daily quality time with their kids going over homework. The education theorists ignored the fact that Ghetto parents don’t spend adequate time grooming their kids on correct behavior and academics, on a daily basis. Together with other reforms, the authority of teachers was reduced, in practical terms, to non-existent. The “reigning psychology’ of the day was now labeling all: forms discipline; adults; teachers; traditional codes of conduct and discipline as potentially harsh to the psychological wellbeing of children. In other words, order and discipline went through the window. Inappropriate behaviors were now the norms in New York City schools. The bullies ruled the classroom or consumed most of the teacher’s time. The high performing students were neglected, not by willful acts of the teachers, but because school time ‘ran’ out. In the name of “sameness and equality,” it’s almost like all the students were grounded under my mothers’ “sil and lora,” and came out with the “consistency and sameness” of mango chutney. These “Chutney Students,” could not pass an exam, even if they were allowed to copy from the textbook. I could testify to the above, because as a former New York City Teacher, I am writing out of personal experience.
In the 60s, the slow decline of the overall education performance, and discipline of New York City students began. New York City’s students went from being academically the best to the worst. The BLACK MIDDLE CLASS began to pull their kids out of the city’s public school system. Literally, the Middle Class Blacks ran out of the city to live in the WHITE SUBURBS. The education quality in New York City fell so low that by the 80s, the department of education began to re-establish specialized “Magnet Schools” to attract students who were ‘Gifted and Talented.” These “Magnet Schools” are open to all high performing students. These “Magnet Schools” were successful in attracting “Gifted and Talented” students. New York City’s education began to improve.
When I was teaching in New York City, with few exceptions, most of my fellow non-white teachers were not living in the City. They were “Paycheck New Yorkers,” but suburban dwellers in very WHITE NEIGHBORHODDS. For the most part, the New York City teachers know that the “Progressive Legislation of the Sixties” destroyed the education of the public schools. One day I was talking to one of my close friends, a black female teacher, and she was supporting the entire fatalistic diatribe about Black Nationalist Progressive Education Reforms, so I naturally thought that her kids were attending the failing schools in the 95% of the city’s public school system. To my surprising consternation, my friend was sending her kids to one of the 5% schools in one of the whitest neighborhoods of New York City. She said in that neighborhood, she knew that the parents do their “due diligence” and spend quality time helping their children with their academics, thus making her children’s school a success. After a long friendly talk, she admitted that “GOOD PARENTING is the MAIN REASON for CHILDREN’S HIGH ACADEMIC SCORES, not “BULLSHIT REFORMS.” By the way, my friend lives in a Jewish neighborhood, which is one of the most expensive, upper income areas in New York City. Traditionally, Jews were the highest academic performers in America.
Today, the Asians (Hindus, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese) are becoming the face of ACADEMIC SUCCESS in American schools. Again, ASIAN PARENTING is the KEY to ACADEMIC SUCCESS. We could: introduce all the leftist reforms, spend large sums of money; moan and groan; but if parents don’t do their job of encouraging academics among their kids, reforms will fail. Similarly, in Trinidad and Tobago, and the rest of the Caribbean, some students are excelling, because they are doing the necessary hard work for academic performance, with the support of their parents. Look, we have a choice, as with all things in life- we must put the necessary efforts in the tasks that are necessary to accomplish our goals. I remember from elementary to graduate school spending many sleepless months studying. When my friends were partying in Brooklyn and enjoying life to the fullest, I was locked up in the library doing research. There were times when I would be so immersed in my studying or writing school papers that the entire night would pass, and when I look out the window, the time would be 7:00 am, and my friends would be returning from an all “Night out Partying and Bar Hopping.” When my friends were failing, both Whites and Blacks, they accused me of studying too much, I pleaded guilty.
Today in Trinidad, there are those who feel the Indians are excelling academically, while their kids are not doing well. Similarly, in New York there are people who are complaining about Asians excelling academically. Instead of complaining, they should do what the Asians are doing i.e. study at the expense of partying. These “Complainers of Doom and Gloom” want to introduce more reforms to replace entry exams to the top “Magnet Schools” with less academic requirements.
Most public schools in New York City “graduate” low performing students. If you take across the board, the top 10 students from all the New York Public Schools, they will not equal the high academic scores of the Asians. There are suggestions to take the top 10 students from all New York City Public Schools and let these students into the “Magnet Schools.” Another requirement is to allow low performing students entry into “Magnet Schools,” based on “personality.”
There are similar recommendations being proposed in Trinidad. These reformers want to attack the Indians by destroying academic requirements for entry into excellent schools. Let’s remember, the reason why each nation creates and maintains “Top Schools” was to fill the need to create a class of brilliant students, who will rank internationally as the best: engineers; doctors; biologists; chemists; architects, and physicists etc. These are the kinds of students, who could take any nation forward in terms of industrial development. China, in the last 20 years, has excelled by having brilliant students. Today, China is challenging the “Western World” in “Science and Technology, Artificial Intelligence, and Computer Sciences etc.”
If Trinidad, the other TRIGUSH (Trinidad, Guyana, Surinam) nations, and New York, or any other country wants to excel, they must create “Magnet or Specialized Schools” to create a brilliant class of students to take their nations into the modern industrial world. Anything we do in this world, we have to put effort into it. In Trinidad, at the time the Maha Sabha schools were being built, the Roman Catholic schools were considered the best. The Maha Sabha schools were denigrated as “Cowshed Schools.” Today, these same Maha Sabha schools are “out-performing” most other schools. Why should we destroy our top performing schools, just to please an uninformed and possibly racist agenda? We need to implement programs to raise the scores of students, who have low academic performance. In New York, I have a Black friend from St Lucia who owns a few properties. Her friends are amazed that she owns that many properties. The woman put her efforts into investing in real estate. Today she is successful. No one should begrudge her… EFFORT and HARD WORK paid off for her.
REMEMBER, we cannot LEGISLATE INTELLIGENCE. Only through HARDWORK and SACRIFICE can our children develop a high I.Q. The same holds true for any of life’s endeavor, regardless of whether it is success in real estate or education. As the late Sat Maharaj said you can either beat pan or beat books. Your child could either jump for higher education or jump for basketball hoops.
RENNIE RAMESH RAMRACHA is a retired teacher with several years of experience teaching in New York City and Trinidad. He holds a Master’s Degree in Political Science.