Set the Bar Low and Tell Kids to Aim for the Middle

Do the children in DeKalb County think they can be anything they want to be? Or do we just put the bar on the ground and hope a few make it to the other side?

Do you remember a pro basketball player in the NBA a few decades ago named Spud Webb? What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you recall that name? He was SHORT, right? A very SHORT, yet very good professional basketball player. You would never have believed this guy could play NBA ball until you saw it with your own eyes.

He even played for the Atlanta Falcons and won the 1986 slam dunk contest to the dismay of millions!  Read more about this amazing athlete here.

But, even more interesting than his game was his attitude. I have to wonder if he ever saw himself the way most spectators did - as an anomoly. Where did this guy get the guts to play basketball as a kid?

My point is that he likely had some fans from within his family or a close network of friends who encouraged him to keep trying, even when he was the smallest guy on the team. He must have had a great cheering section, both on and off the court, in order to continue playing against the other guys on the block who were likely much, much bigger than him.

I doubt that, as a child, he would have told people he wanted to be a pro basketball player when he grew up. I doubt a guidance counselor (or graduation coach) would have led him in that direction. But, somewhere along the line, this guy got the confidence to follow his dream and let it take him as far a possible.

I'm sure there were plenty of times he thought he might quit, but someone must have been there for him to tell him that he had to keep trying. There is so much power in simply having the right attitude, or the belief in yourself, that you can literally be small in size, but dream big and have those dreams come true.

Yeah, great story, but DeKalb isn't buying into it

What disturbs me is that I thought everyone knew this story already. I thought it was a sort of folklore passed down to each generation of kids so they would keep trying things until they got them right. I thought we were all taught from a young age that we are supposed to believe in ourselves and push the limits of how much we can accomplish in our lifetime.

But, at the DeKalb School Board forum for candidates I attended recently, there did not sound like any Spud Webb stories were being told to any children these days. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Time and time again I heard both incumbents and challengers stating things like, "we know that not all kids are cut out for college." Or, "some kids will just naturally want to be some kind of technician and never go to college.

There was a pretty long discussion about how soon to send these kids over to the machine shop all day so they would not have to sit through their normal classes. One exception was Ms. Denise McGill, a challenger in District 6.  Ms. McGill, to the applause of many in the audience, said that a quality education is something that can and should be delivered to all our children.  And they can all feel just as good about themselves as those few gifted children who get all the perks of the system today.  I really enjoyed listening to Denise McGill as she shares my attitude about what is possible.

Mr. Paul Womack, incumbent for District 4, said that some kids are just going to want to do something else, like be a cook or a cop or a bag boy at Publix, I suppose. I thought the audience was going to come unglued, but much to my dismay, they mostly just sat there and nodded thier heads in agreement.

What planet are these people from?  Oh, that's right... Georgia

I don't know about you, but when I was in school, it was assumed that college was the natural next stop for every student. We were told that pretty soon a college degree would be the minimum you would need to even work at McDonald's. We were going to be part of a new global marketplace and we would have a lot more competition for every job out there.

If your family could not afford a big tuition, you planned to go to community college. If your family could not afford a community college, then you started looking for ways to get a scholarship early by playing a sport, an instrument or excelling in academics. Some kids even had Summer jobs that they used to save for college and others ended up taking out student loans in order to get through. But, we believed what our parents and the teachers and everyone else was telling us back then.

We were college material. All of us. Every last one of us could and should work hard now and plan on a future that included college and then a career. Did everyone end up going that route? Probably not.   But, I know we all tried.   I don't think anyone really knew what they might be one day when they grew up, but we all had dreams as I'm sure that all the kids growing up in DeKalb County right now do, too.

Kids will do what you expect them to do

If we expect a certain percentage of our chilren to fail, they will fail. If we accept that not all of our children will ever be college material, then they will find a way to make sure we are right. Children love to please the role models in their lives. They have a way of living up to your expectations even when you do not realize they are even trying.

And if we can openly talk in a meeting where candidates should be telling the audience what they will do better than the incumbents if we elect them, it's sad to hear so many of them talk about what they think we should do with the kids who will want to drop out and take a shortcut out of education and a fast track into blue collar life.

Have we forgotten that education, a good education, gives you so much more than just an entry ticket to the career of your liking? Education, especially higher education, gives a person a greater respect for all people, an understanding of the way the world works, an appreciation for one's own talents and a confidence level that will take them far in life no matter what line of work they ultimately settle on.

Education has long been known as the "great equalizer" and the one thing that is almost certain to "prevent poverty."  Here is an article written by Eric Waldo,  Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education and Frankie Martinez-Blanco, Director of Advance at the U.S. Department of Education on this subject:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/10/07/renewing-american-dream-education-great-equalizer


C'mon!  Let's do education RIGHT for a change!

Education, if done right, is a life-long process. We learn to appreciate ourselves and others, our strengths and our challenges, our history and our current lot in life. And, most of all, we learn how to dream, to believe and to strive to achieve something bigger and better than we ever thought possible when we were just coming up in the system.

To reroute children toward a pathway that does not include all the benefits, tangible and intangible, of a real education is a sorry goal for a school system that has a billion dollars a year at its disposal.

I wonder how many of our school board members are truly happy in their jobs right now, knowing that they are partially to blame for the jobs that were recently cut? I wonder how many teachers could have gotten through to those kids that we plan to pass on down the line without the skills to even write a cover letter or read a want ad?

Please get out and vote July 31.  Remember what this is all about!

I know there are a lot of people feeling sorry for themselves right now. But I'm just feeling sorry for all those children who don't really want to be auto mechanics or assembly line workers, but they were never given a bar to even try to jump over.

We just set the bar on the ground, tell them all to run as fast as they can and aim for the middle.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

maisiemom July 24, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Setting the bar too low? Who are you to assume that college is the only aspiration that is worthy? I thank God for decent, honest, hard working Americans that take pride in work that they enjoy. If you assume that everyone even wants to go to college, you make the assumption that those that want to pursue a vocation are below the bar. I have the greatest respect for the mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, and all those wonderful people that keep my world working. I am grateful for those truckers and sanitation workers that did not want to be behind a desk. I agree we need to offer and expect high standards for education, but I do not think any one class should set expectations for all people. It is class discrimination. I think students should be able to pursue a career of their interests and the school system should provide those opportunities. Many of those college grads are now unemployed or employed in those "lower bar" jobs. Get your nose out of the air and take a real look at the world.
Cheryl Miller July 25, 2012 at 07:14 AM
Is the goal of education to get a job? If so, then we could have all been spared a lot of years of studying the subjects that did not interest us if we could have just picked one and learned it well enough to make it our chosen vocation. What about the girls who want to be Moms? Why bother educating them at all, right? Heck, why even tell them about birth control if that's what they really want. I am also grateful for the plumbers and carpenters and mechanics but I guarantee that the ones who have high school diplomas will get a job faster than the ones who don't. And the ones who went to college will one day be the business owners whereas the others may be more likely to remain the worker helping a bunch of other people get rich. These are facts of life and while there are always exceptions to the rule, the exceptions will always tell you that they had to work harder, be more ambitious or do something extraordinary in order to overcome what they lost by not staying in school. I do not know one high school drop out who does not regret it or one who would not want more for his/her child.
Cheryl Miller July 25, 2012 at 07:18 AM
I was not trying to express my opinion about the skilled trades as I, too, have great respect for these men and women. What I was distrubed by was to hear our school board member and self-proclaimed millionaire, District 4's Paul Womack, incumbant, talk about these specific kinds of trades and stating that we have ways to route kids in that direction - as if the only goal of education is to find a job you are good at. This isn't an employment agency. It's a school system. His job as a board member is to find the best way to provide a quality education to all children regardless of their age, race, sex, religion, national origin or income level. And HE was saying that some kids are not "cut out" for college?? If that is true, then he should be calling himself a failure because he has spent many years on our board engaging mostly in battles between north/south, black/white, rich/poor that keep all of us locked into an outdated way of thinking that can only foster hate and resentment. He was saying that they want to go into these other fields then we can "route them" to the appropriate technical schools early on. Do we really not have enough faith in our children to expect them to be able to get through high school without the need to "route" them to other types of training and deprive them from the many, many other benefits there are to higher learning or even to just satisfaction of having a high school diploma to hang on their wall?
Cheryl Miller July 25, 2012 at 07:33 AM
Maybe I should have been a little more clear that the discussion was also about kids in 7th or 8th grade. Does a 7th grader know without a doubt what he/she wants to do for the rest of their life? And is that a good enough reason for them to be taken out of their regular classes in order to focus on a dream that will likely not end with six figures biweekly? I did not mean to imply that college was the only aspiration that is worthy. I meant that college is something that our school board leaders should be working to place within the reach of every child that they are entrusted to educate. Sure, there are other goals, but I am not criticizing the goals that adults set for themselves. I'm criticizing the limits that adults (from the upper 1% income bracket) appear to be placing on children (from the lower 99%) without blinking an eye and they don't feel any twinge of responsibility for how things got that way in the first place..
maisiemom July 25, 2012 at 11:21 AM
I personally know several adults who have thrived and become successful beyond the wildest dreams of many college-educated persons. These people either flunked out of college or never attended. One was so adept in computers/technology that he built and sold a business and is now retired at 39 years old. And for your information, middle schoolers are not taken out of their classes and herded toward a specific vocation. Where on earth did you get this notion? If you do your research, high schoolers are allowed to choose specific areas where they show interest and may choose to 'experiment' with those vocations if they choose to do so. There is currently a school on the south end of Dekalb county that offers specific training to interested 10-12 graders. Here is a blurb posted on their website: Students attend their regular home schools for 1/2 day and 1/2 day at DHST-South. Students may earn 4 units of credit towards the completion of a technical diploma or technical seal to accompany the academic diploma. Students develop employable skills, work ethics, and skills that will enable them to become productive and responsible citizens who are successful in their chosen career fields.
maisiemom July 25, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Here is what this school (DeKalb High School of Technology) offers: Automotive Body Collision Repair Automotive & Mechanical Services Barbering Broadcast & Video Production Construction Cosmetology Electronics Healthcare CNA Healthcare Medical Information Technology Public Safety Work-Based Learning/Youth Apprenticeship What is wrong with this? Perhaps these kids attend this school (where AP level course are offered) and find a career to pursue. Maybe this will inspire them to go on and further their education beyond high school. I know plenty of people who have successful careers in these areas. Way to go, DeKalb! At least you are guiding children away from the idea that one can just drop out of school and live off of the government. :) And if some girls knew going into college that they wanted to be moms, it sure would save parents and individuals a lot of money spent on higher education. College is not for everyone. ;)
Cheryl Miller July 25, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Delete . Cheryl Miller 8:31 am on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 You obviously do not have kids because no one I know would direct a daughter toward skipping out on the chance at a college education. Your comments would set back the civil rights and feminists movements by several decades. We obviously see the purpose of an educational system in different ways. You see it as a system to prevent children from failing. I see it as a system that should prepare them for success. Do we need those occupations you listed? Of course. Are we helping the employers by pre-training the children in South DeKalb to become the workforce of tomorrow? You bet. Is this in the best interest of these kids? You tell me. I don't think it is. I heard about the 7th grade "re-routing" at the candidate forum held July 19th. It was not a statement about what we are doing now. It was an answer to a question about the future.
Cheryl Miller July 25, 2012 at 12:55 PM
I have a daughter and I'll be darned if the school system is going to try to tell her that because she seems to be interested in hair and makeup she might be better off spending half days at the cosmotology school instead of finishing the high school dipolma we sent her to school expecting her to receive. Again, I am not insulting the career choices of ADULTS. I am talking about the purpose of an EDUCATION system and its responsibility to the CHILDREN ... a PUBLIC education system which, by definition, is supposed to provide a quality education, funded by taxes that are given by the members of the community for the purpose of creating equal opportunity for ALL children. If you are saying that some kids are just not SMART enough or GOOD enough to go as far in their education as others, that's your opinion. If you have been elected to sit on the Board of Education and you are saying that, then it is a major cop-out, in my opinion. That's blaming the children for your own failure to do your job well. If they are not "cut out" for more it is because the school system failed them. I believe all children enter the school system with an ability to learn and a willingness to be taught. I think all teachers enter the profession with the right motivations and a reasonable level of enthusiasm. They don't all leave the way they came in. Who's fault would you like it to be?
maisiemom July 25, 2012 at 01:16 PM
I live in the real world. I do have kids and I am, in fact, a teacher. Will my kids go to college? I sure hope so. Should they graduate from high school and decide that college is not a path they choose to go down - that will be their own choice. You are back-handedly putting down those who do not choose higher education. By providing high school kids an opportunity to develop a specific skill set that will enable them to be self-sufficient, contributing citizens, DeKalb IS providing kids with a quality education. Those kids who choose to go to the technical school graduate with a high school diploma. DeKalb teachers are doing our best to prepare kids for success, whether it is going on to college or working in our community. So, if your daughter wants to be a cosmotologist when she gets into high school are you going to tell her 'no' because it isn't a worthy profession? Don't you ultimately want her to be happy and productive as an adult? What if she gets an engineering degree (because YOU want her to do so) after spending time and money in college but has to move back home to live with you because she can't find a job? How happy would that make her?
Delores North July 25, 2012 at 02:11 PM
I have three children; one is academically gifted, the other two have very, very low IQs. I believe that trying to give these 3 children the same education does a disservice to all of them. The academically gifted one sits in classes with kids who can't read and, of course, gets overlooked while the less gifted children get all the attention. So much potential she has is just being wasted while the teachers try to get the kid sitting next to her to understand that 2 plus 2 equals 4 because someone somewhere insists that all children must be given the same education, regardless of capabilities. The other two, on the other hand, can barely grasp the concept of 2 plus 2 equals 4. They try so hard, year after year, to succeed and, at best, wind up with Cs and Ds because someone somewhere thinks that a kid with an IQ of 144 and a kid with an IQ of 88 can learn at the same level. I watch them struggle year after year and am just waiting for the day that they drop out of high school because they realize that they will never be able to learn the things the school system insists they learn, instead of putting them on a path to sucess. We need to quit trying to teach calculus to kids with IQs of 88 and perhaps teach them a skill or trade so that they are not completely worthless when the graduate high school. Just my two cents as someone who experiences the frustration of equal education for all from both sides of it.
Cheryl Miller July 25, 2012 at 02:37 PM
The goal of education IS education. Teachers are there to teach, not train, otherwise they would be paid by the business sector and earn a hell of a lot more money than they do now. It would also be a more highly competitive profession with a lot more emphasis on the outcome. To try and fail is human and is all part of how we learn. To never try at all because you don't believe in yourself is truly the only failure you can never overcome.
Cheryl Miller July 25, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Delores, thank you for sharing your story with us. I feel for what you are going through as my daughter had several non-English speaking children in her class and they were not only lost, bored and confused, but they didn't even realize that they could have spoken to each other in Spanish. The teacher didn't speak Spanish and I think a special education person came in for about an hour which was the only time I ever saw these kids' faces light up. (I volunteered in the classroom.) It was confusing to my daughter because these kids were getting so much attention and were often not behaving correctly. She thought maybe she was doing something wrong, but really it was just that it was easier for the teacher to ignore her because she knew she would be "ok." And our teachers are not being judged on how much greater they can make a good student. They are expected to work miracles with the most difficult ones and also bring the others along. I agree with you that this does not make sense and I guess when I was writing my article I was thinking of kids on the same basic skill level, but I definitely agree that there needs to be a better way to separate them based on what they are able to do so the ones who need help will get it. Unfortunately, the Title I money that goes to the schools with kids who need help does not follow the student; it stays with the school. But, when the school does not make AYP, the kids are encouraged to leave for other schools without the funds.
Cheryl Miller July 25, 2012 at 11:53 PM
by the way, how old were they when you had IQ tests done? who ordered them? I have not heard of the school system doing this across the board for kids, but it would not surprise me. Don't put too much of your time worrying about a number. We all have obstacles to overcome in life. Some of us are just presented with them at a younger age than others, but we are also given what we need by God to find a way to push through. Have faith. It will get better. It always does.
Delores North August 02, 2012 at 04:19 PM
The two that struggle were 9 and 6 when they had their IQ tests done as part of testing done by a private psychologist to help us determine why they couldn't learn. The gifted child was tested to determine eligibility for a private program for intellectually gifted children. None of them were tested through the school system. We are concerned that the oldest, who is now 17, is on the verge of dropping out of high school because she cannot succeed. And, honestly, as her parent, I don't think she will succeed as she is being taught things she doesn't have the mental capacity to grasp, even with all the special accommodations. I would prefer they quit trying to teach her geometry, biology and who signed the Magna Carta and teach her a skill, or at least something at which she can excel. It is very damaging to her self-esteem, to say the least, to continually struggle and to continually fail, hence my fears that she may just give up once she turns 18. I'm not suggesting she be passed for the sake of her self-esteem, but a recognition by the school system that it is a waste of its time and hers, not to mention money, to teach her things at which she will never succeed, and that perhaps a better solution would be to teach this child a trade so she has a clear path to success post-high school. I find, in the school system as it is today, only the average students get taught to success. The gifted and the special education students both seem to get the shaft.


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