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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Can Obama inspire my African-American students?

Will Obama spur my students to great achievement?
The online edition of Newsweek magazine asks if there will be An 'Obama Effect' on Blacks' Test Scores? By this they mean, "[w]ill he . . . goad black students to higher achievement, since he is living proof that working hard can pay off?"

I teach at a high school that is about 75%+ African-American. My initial and very anecdotal response is that, if such an effect will take place, it will not happen right away nor will it happen automatically. The habits they have which seem to be geared towards defeating my attempts to teach them seem too engrained for now. Mostly, I am talking about their habit to carry on sidebar conversations while I attempt to teach the lesson. Another habit they have is to constantly want to call attention to themselves by "showing off" their cleverness thereby avoiding doing work that challenges their comfort zones.

What Obama may do for them is to prepare the ground for their future achievement. They have witnessed a nation come together to elect a man whose life mirrors their own. They know, for example, that I, along with many other teachers of different races, worked for Obama's election. This has taken away some of the "Us v. Them" attitude that many have had, or at least used as a pretext, for lack of effort and achievement.

They are still teenagers, and as is true with teenagers throughout the ages, I am still "the enemy", the authority figure to requires them to conform to a certain standard of behavior, the judge of their efforts, the out-of-touch one who "doesn't understand what it's like to live in the modern world." None of that has changed.

But now, at least, I am a part of those who brought about something they wanted. We are united in one very important cause.

In one important sense, we are one.

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