Tag: School

Stop Telling Your Kids You’re Bad At Math

“How was skiing?” I asked my 14-year old daughter as she hauled her boot bag into the car. “Well, the ratio of snow to ground was definitely low,” she replied, adding that she had tried to figure the ratio of snow-to-ground during practice but had received only mystified looks. “Stop the math!” demanded a coach. “You are confusing us!”

Why do smart people enjoy saying that they are bad at math? Few people would consider proudly announcing that they are bad at writing or reading. Our country’s communal math hatred may seem rather innocuous, but a more critical factor is at stake: we are passing on from generation to generation the phobia for mathematics and with that are priming our children for mathematical anxiety. As a result, too many of us have lost the ability to examine a real-world problem, translate it into numbers, solve the problem and interpret the solution.

Mathematics surrounds us, yet we have become accustomed to avoiding numerical thinking at all costs. There is no doubt that bad high school teaching and confusing textbooks are partly to blame. But a more pernicious habit does the most damage. We are perpetuating damaging myths by telling ourselves a few untruths: math is inherently hard, only geniuses understand it, we never liked math in the first place and nobody needs math anyway.

Often adults are well-meaning when telling children about their own math phobia: after all, won’t it make the children feel better if they know that others feel that way as well? Research shows the answer is a resounding “no.”

Anxiety over mathematics has been recognized as a grade killer. The National Mathematics Advisory Panel of the U.S. Department of Education has found that anxious students perform lower than their abilities. What’s more, there is growing evidence that mathematical anxiety can be passed on like a virus from teachers to students as well as from parents to children.

Girls are especially affected when a teacher publicly announces math hatred before she picks up the chalk. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that female — but not male — mathematical achievement was diminished in response to a female teacher’s mathematical anxiety. The effect was correlated: the higher a teacher’s anxiety, the lower the scores.

Parents’ mathematical anxiety can have a similar effect on their children. Researchers observed that children who received math homework help from mathematically fearful parents showed weaker math achievements than their peers, which in turn resulted in increased math anxiety for the children themselves.

 What we need to do instead is encourage our children to persevere. In France, for example, math skills are appreciated and it is quite cool to be good at math. Teaching — especially math teaching — is a highly respected and well-paid profession, even at the preschool level and children there are trained early to appreciate the art of mathematics.

Working on mathematical skills is not unlike practicing a sport: neither can be learned by watching others perform the activity and both require encouragement and effort. In the words of Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed 3,000 shots. Twenty-six times the game-winning shot has been trusted to me, and I’ve missed. I’ve lost over 300 games. I’ve failed over and over and over again, and that is why I’ve succeeded.” (Notice the math in that statement?)

You do not need an innate mathematical ability in order to solve mathematical problems. Rather, what is required is perseverance, a willingness to take risks and feeling safe to make mistakes. The next time you help a student with homework, try to repress the “I hate math” instinct, which is even worse than making a few flubs.

Instead try to have fun and give reassurance that perseverance will yield results. Numbers are always simple, clean and beautiful — and nothing to be afraid of.

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*Originally posted on the Washington Post.

Black Boarding Schools Are Driving Academic Excellence

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” – Anatole France

In the past decade, we have seen HBCUs in general attempt to increase their academic standards for admissions for a number of different reasons. Unfortunately, as is often the case it seems with HBCUs and African America in general this move is done in isolation and not in conjunction with the rest of the ecosystem. As a result we are seeing K-12 outcomes for many African Americans in this country getting progressively worse or stagnant in most of the country. If the pipeline that produces your core student demographic is not improving its academic outcomes, then how can HBCUs not expect student shortages that leave them with tuition revenue shortfalls. Of course some of this is being done as accreditation agencies squeeze HBCUs due to high default on student loans by former HBCU students and alumni. There are also those whose answer to “fixing” HBCUs is to gentrify them thereby diluting our institutional and cultural power. Where have we seen that playbook before? The real answer to the quality of student HBCUs are getting lies in HBCUs and their alumni investing back down the educational pipeline from which their core students come and strengthening it so that future HBCU students have strong academic prowess before they even get to our campuses.

Boarding schools in this country have a long, rich history, and their current value today can not be understated. They tend to have an extremely competitive admissions process, tuition and faculty that would make more than a few colleges blush, and endowments that Historically Black Colleges & Universities dream about at night. The Forbes’ list of America’s top 20 boarding schools paints quite an amazing picture of what pipeline behavior is suppose to look like. The median percentage of these twenty elite boarding school graduates going into the Ivy League/MIT/Stanford pipeline is 30 percent. Three times the percentage HBCUs are getting from their core demographic. Their faculty has a median of 76 percent with advanced degrees. At Philips Exeter Academy almost 13 percent of their faculty have PhDs. Yes, a high school with PhDs teaching. Imagine for a moment the first time most African American students who come to HBCUs have encountered a PhD level professor. It is usually not until they have reached college and some may not see one until they have reached their major classes, whereas these students are coming out of high school with four years tutelage under PhDs in the core classes of english, history, math, and science. Lastly, the endowments among the top twenty (with 3 schools not reporting) have a median of $105 million, average of $204 million, and combined value of $3.5 billion. Seventeen prep schools have combined endowments valued at twice the size of 100 HBCUs. A startling revelation if ever there was one.

It has been noted that prior to desegregation, “there were nearly 100 black boarding schools in the U.S. before the 1960s, established by local blacks, religious organizations and philanthropists, when the local governments failed to provide schools for black children” and as it stands today, there are only four remaining. Over 50 years later while the number of black boarding schools have dwindled, African American education outcomes have also plummeted in parallel. Recent reports put the African American male high school graduation rate nationally at an abysmal 52 percent. It is clear that as we gave up control of our own education institutions that our ability to garner positive education outcomes became increasingly harder and harder to achieve.

The four remaining survivors Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, Pine Forge Academy in Pennsylvania, Piney Woods in Mississippi, and Redemption Christian Academy located in New York. Their geography alone is both a gift and curse. It allows each to have a strong territory of its own, but makes it virtually impossible to engage in joint activities like athletics and the like given the cost of travel for institutions that are largely cash-strapped much like their higher education brethren. It is hard to imagine that if African Americans have not been proactive in the way of funding HBCUs, that AABSs will fare much better in recruiting high-quality or transformative donors. The reality though is not only does that investment need to be made, it needs to be made at a larger rate than we could even possibly make for HBCUs. It does not matter what we do at the collegiate level if we do not at some point fix the early childhood to secondary education institutional pipeline. We will continue to overburden our HBCUs with developmental students and be subject to calls for faux diversity that whitewashes our institutional power as we make our usual overabundance of concessions to make others feel welcomed. HBCU strategy must involve investments in the K-12 system either through pre-K programs on the campus and K-12 charter schools either run by the HBCUs themselves, HBCU alumni, or HBCU support organizations. To that last point, there are rumors that the HBCU Endowment Foundation and Center for HBCU Media Advocacy are in talks to form a partnership that would create a boarding school. This is in addition to the HBCU Endowment Foundation’s long-term plans to be involved in early childhood education in the form of an HBCU version of Head Start. It would not hurt at all if the five HBCU conferences (SWAC, MEAC, SIAC, CIAA, GCAC), Divine 9, UNCF, and Thurgood Marshall Fund joined and created their own schools also either independently or jointly.

For generations and then some, HBCUs have led the way to producing African American teachers and principals. It is time we go ever further and start to create a culturally relevant school system (pipeline) that is tailored to the needs of our children and communities there within. An earlier investment would pay significant dividends to building a rapport in our community’s psychology well before it is even time to choose a college. Currently, most of our kids’ see nothing but HWCU/PWIs throughout their childhood and do not come into contact with an HBCU until almost a last resort. That has to change and the quality of education that our children have not gotten since before desegregation has to change. We need to be on their mind from the moment parents are expecting their child as the place that will ensure the best education for that child from early childhood through college. HBCUs have been sculptors who for the past 50 years who have done the best with the clay they were given, but sometimes the sculptor must step back and create their own clay to make the beauty in their work fulfill its greatest potential.


*Originally posted on HBCU Money.

African American Greek Life: Our Fraternities & Sororities

African Americans have a very rich Greek legacy. With 5 fraternities & 4 sororities, Greek life plays a very pivotal role in the African American collegiate community.

Unlike white Greek lettered organizations, the African American Greek lettered organizations are lifetime memberships. In other words, the community service, sisterhood (and even fun!) doesn’t end once you graduate college. It is truly a lifetime commitment. Even as a 4-year college graduate, membership is still available (if you are invited & selected to join).

These Greek lettered organizations have played a pivotal role in the civil rights movements & African American history. They represent the educated, informed and civilly concerned within the African American community.


Alpha Phi Alpha Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African American men, was founded at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York by seven college men who recognized the need for a strong bond of brotherhood among African descendants in this country. The fraternity initially served as a study and support group for minority students who faced racial prejudice, both educationally and socially, at Cornell. The Jewel founders and early leaders of the fraternity succeeded in laying a firm foundation for Alpha Phi Alpha’s principles of scholarship, fellowship, good character, and the uplifting of humanity. While continuing to stress academic excellence among its members, Alpha also recognized the need to help correct the educational, economic, political, and social injustices faced by African Americans.


Kappa Alpha Psi

The night of January 5, 1911, on the campus of Indiana University at Bloomington, Indiana, Kappa Alpha Psi was founded to sow the seed of a fraternal tree whose fruit is available to, and now enjoyed by, college men everywhere, regardless of their color, religion or national origin. The Constitution of KAPPA ALPHA PSI is predicated upon, and dedicated to, the principles of achievement through a truly democratic Fraternity.


Omega Psi Phi

Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. is the first international fraternal organization founded on the campus of a historically black college. Since its humble beginnings on the Howard University campus, the Omega Psi Phi fraternity continues to be on the front line, leveraging its power, influence and more than 100 years of commitment to the uplift of our people and our communities.


Sigma Phi Beta

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity was founded at Howard University in Washington, D.C., January 9, 1914, by three young African-American male students. The Founders wanted to organize a Greek letter fraternity that would truly exemplify the ideals of brotherhood, scholarship, and service. The Founders deeply wished to create an organization that viewed itself as “a part of” the general community rather than “apart from” the general community. They believed that each potential member should be judged by his own merits, rather than his family background or affluence…without regard to race, nationality, skin tone or texture of hair. They desired for their fraternity to exist as part of an even greater brotherhood which would be devoted to the “inclusive we” rather than the “exclusive we”. From its inception, the Founders also conceived Phi Beta Sigma as a mechanism to deliver services to the general community. Rather than gaining skills to be utilized exclusively for themselves and their immediate families, they held a deep conviction that they should return their newly acquired skills to the communities from which they had come. This deep conviction was mirrored in the Fraternity’s motto, “Culture For Service and Service For Humanity”.


Iota Phi Theta

On September 19, 1963, at Morgan State College (now Morgan State University), 12 students founded what is now the nation’s fifth largest, predominately African-American social service fraternity. Based upon the founders ages, heightened responsibilities, and increased level of maturity, this group had a slightly different perspective than the norm for college students. It was this perspective from which they established the Fraternity’s purpose, “The development and perpetuation of Scholarship, Leadership, Citizenship, Fidelity, and Brotherhood among Men.” Additionally, they conceived the Fraternity’s motto, “Building a Tradition, Not Resting Upon One!”



Alpha Kappa Alpha

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated had its humble beginnings as the vision of nine college students on the campus of Howard University in 1908. Since then, the sorority has flourished into a globally-impactful organization of over 283,000 college-trained members, bound by the bonds of sisterhood and empowered by a commitment to servant-leadership that is both domestic and international in its scope.

As Alpha Kappa Alpha has grown, it has maintained its focus in two key arenas: the lifelong personal and professional development of each of its members; and galvanizing its membership into an organization of respected power and influence, consistently at the forefront of effective advocacy and social change that results in equality and equity for all citizens of the world.


Delta Sigma Theta

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was founded on January 13, 1913 by 22 collegiate women at Howard University. These students wanted to use their collective strength to promote academic excellence and to provide assistance to those in need. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated is an organization of college educated women committed to constructive development of its members and to public service with a primary focus on the Black community. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. is a private, not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to provide assistance and support through established programs in local communities throughout the world. Since its founding more than 200,000 women have joined the organization. The organization is a sisterhood of predominantly Black, college educated women.


Zeta Phi Beta

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. was founded January 16, 1920, at Howard University, Washington, D.C. Since its inception, Zeta has continued its steady climb into the national spotlight with programs designed to demonstrate concern for the human condition both nationally and internationally. The sorority takes pride in its continued participation in transforming communities through volunteer services from members and its auxiliaries.  Zeta Phi Beta has chartered hundreds of chapters worldwide and has a membership of 100,000+. Zeta‘s national and local programs include the endowment of its National Educational Foundation community outreach services and support of multiple affiliate organizations.  Zeta chapters and auxiliaries have given untotaled hours of voluntary service to educate the public, assist youth, provide scholarships, support organized charities, and promote legislation for social and civic change.


Sigma Gamma Rho

Organized on November 12, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana, by seven young educators, Sigma Gamma Rho became an incorporated national collegiate sorority on December 30, 1929. It is the mission of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority to enhance the quality of life for women and their families in the U.S. and globally through community service. Our goal is to achieve greater progress in the areas of education, healthcare, and leadership development. Our members, affiliates, staff and community partners work to create and support initiatives that align with our vision. Soaring To Greater Heights Of Attainment Around The World, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., as a leading national service organization, has met the challenges of the day and continues to grow through Sisterhood, Scholarship and Service.



All of these fraternities & sororities are a part of the National Pan Hellanic Council which is a group that is dedicated to the unification of all African American Greek lettered organizations. The stated purpose and mission of the organization in 1930 was “Unanimity of thought and action as far as possible in the conduct of Greek letter collegiate fraternities and sororities, and to consider problems of mutual interest to its member organizations.” With that said, there are chapters in every major city across the country.

While all of these organizations have been around for nearly a century (or more), there is no doubt that they are leaving a lasting legacy for the next generation of African American college students.

Are you in a sorority or fraternity? If so, which one & what attracted you to that organization? For those of you who are not Greek, do you think these organizations are making a positive impact on African American society today? Please share in the comments section below –