Friday, November 14, 2014

Come on Home Mr. Graham

You are Not Their Kind of People

Recently, Lawrence Otis Graham wrote a blog that appeared in the Washington Post titled, "I Taught My Black Kids that their Elite Upbringing Would Protect Them from Discrimination. I Was Wrong." 

At the foundation of Graham's blog are a number of ideas that are both false and debilitating for African people. Dr. Timothy Knight unpacks some of these ideas. 

Translation of Graham's Essay:  I hoped by working hard, achieving individual success, separating myself and my family from the other Negroes, and behaving white, that whites would treat us as they do affluent whites.  

What Graham demonstrated, was the deeply held untruth that the lack of individual goal attainment, skills development, and self-actualization are the root causes of the African American low-status dilemma.  It isn't.  We fear pointing the finger at the culprit: (a) white institutions (from government to individually owned businesses) that are founded and ran by whites, and (b) whites themselves.  Think about it for a moment; protected classes (in the workplace) are not protected from what, they are protected from who. They are protected from whites.  

Few Blacks rise or fall in this country due to their individual persistence, hard work, and talent.  Success in this country is, in my opinion, primarily the by-product of likability, acceptance, and the opportunistic nature of whites who seek to capitalize on Black talent.   Anecdotal and scientific opinion make it clear that whites need no special talents, skills, or abilities to excel in this country.  I think that, while education, goal attainment, and individual self-ascendance improve the quality of our lives in many ways, it is not key to success for blacks in our country - the kind of success that white men frequently enjoy.  The the so-called gateways to success (clean arrest record, high levels of education, socially innocuous, hard working, etc.) are for blacks, in effect, barriers to success: part and parcel of an exclusionary system.  If racism, sexism, and classism didn't exist, all human beings would be valued equally and contributions made by each would be judged on its merit alone.

Whites are required to have no special skill sets or pedigree to access the American dream.  They are shaped for success from the cradle: wired for empowerment and acceptance - plug and play.  As for blacks, particularly blacks of low estate, we spend the first thirty years of our lives outfitting ourselves for acceptance (and wrestling with our sense of identity), only to learn that we are yet incompatible.  In this respect, I think that Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X had it right: the ticket to African American ascendancy is Black nationalism - entrepreneurship, the patronage of Black owned businesses, Black run education for Black people, and an end to seeking acceptance, affirmation, and valuation from white institutions and whites themselves.  Self-love is an attractive trait.  Once we stop expecting whites to love us and do right by us and begin to love ourselves, our social, cultural, and economic capital will increase.  Until then, we will never take our place in the world.

Timothy A. Knight, Ph.D. is a 22-year veteran of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD). With IMPD he served 8 years as a homicide detective where he specialized in police action shootings and in-custody death investigations. He also co-founded the O.K. Program of Indiana, a program designed to improve the education and life conditions of adolescent African American males. Dr. Knight's research focuses on the etiology of African American male dysfunction, racial inequity and theological social ethics. He is president of Knight Life Solutions, which is a counseling firm for persons navigating educational, career, and personal challenges. He is also a member of the (ES)2 Research Program. To learn more about the (ES)2 Research Program visit:

Friday, October 31, 2014

STEM Education, Love and Hospitality

A Lesson from GLAM

This was the best camp I went to because I feel loved and welcomed here instead of a regular kid who joins a camp. I am glad that I was able to be in this camp because there are no funny acting teachers. Like what I mean is ...everybody is treated the same.

~ African American female STEM camp participant

The quote above is from a participant in my summer STEM camp that I implement in partnership with Guidance, Life-Skills, and Mentoring (GLAM). GLAM is a program for young ladies of African American descent. During this camp, providing a loving and hospitable environment was not optional but mandatory, everyday. A loving and hospitable environment made engaging with mathematics and science concepts easy.  The ladies, even those who did not enjoy mathematics and/or science, were always willing to work.  They were excited about learning!!!

As mathematics and science educators, we sometimes proclaim that we teach mathematics (or science), forgetting that we really teach students. However, we should never forget the students we teach and the power of love and hospitality.  We all know how great it feels to walk in someone’s home for the first time and be treated like we have lived there for years. We understand how great it feels to walk into an establishment and receive wonderful customer service.  We also know how it feels to walk into a home and feel unwelcome or walk into an establishment to only be followed or ignored. These feelings often lead us to say, “I will never come here again”.  So now lets replace the word home and establishment with learning spaces or classrooms.  

How do we expect our kids to learn if they are in environments that are not loving and hospitable? Our kids deciding to “never come here (classroom/learning spaces) again” can have a detrimental impact on their lives. We can integrate engaging, relevant, and challenging learning activities in classrooms but if the environment is not loving and hospitable we cannot expect kids to show up either physically or mentally.

Crystal Hill Morton, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at the Indiana University School of Education in Indianapolis and North Central Region Representative for Benjamin Banneker Association. She is also a member of the (ES)2 Research Program, which works to advance STEM curricula that position people of African descent to improve their current social condition. To learn more about the (ES)2 Research Program visit:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Creating Children's Books for African American Learners

(ES)Researchers Filling a Void

Each year the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison gathers statistics on the number of children's books published by and for people of color. For the past 30 years, the numbers have been exceptionally small. For example in 2013, CCBC received 3,200 children's books. Of these only 93 (about 2.9%) featured African or African American people. An even smaller number, 63 (about 2.1%) were by African or African American authors. 

The above graph shows five years of data from the Cooperative Children's Book Center on the total number of children's book received and reviewed by the center and the number of those books that feature African Americans. A more complete report of this data can be found here
Members of the (ES)Research Program have been working to develop a curriculum unit on Food Origins aimed at meeting the STEM learning needs of African children. As part of this curriculum we are also developing leveled readers. The first series, Kayla's First Chickens, is comprised of four books designed for early readers. The series follows the adventures of Kayla as she (a) visits a farm, (b) raises her own hens, (c) accepts that it is normal to eat chickens, and (d) learns to prepare chicken for food. Both the unit and this series of readers are aimed at helping children to develop better understandings of where our food originates. Kayla's First Chickens - Book One is now available at Book Patch.

In Kayla’s First Chickens - Book One, Kayla expresses interest in learning how to make chicken. In response, Kayla’s father takes her to visit a farm so that she can learn more about chickens. To learn more about this reader visit Book Patch.

Enhancing the Effectiveness of Socially Transformative STEM Education (ES)2 is a research program aimed at advancing STEM education as a vehicle for improving the social condition of African people. To learn more about the (ES)2 Research Program visit: