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METCO’s Dessert and Discussion

by Polly Attwood On March 2nd, about 70 people gathered at the CCHS Library for the Annual Dessert and Discussion held bythe METCO Cooperating Family Council. Parents from Boston and Concord, school administrators and teachers, as well as students from CCHS and from Concord Academy came to hear Dr. Prudence Carter talk about ‘Keepin’ it Real: School Success Beyond Black and White’.

This is the title of her book, the result of seven years of research and interviews with Black, Hispanic, Latino and Asian youth in Yonkers, NY. Her quest was to identify what kids believed about education, and why some are successful in school, while others disengage from the educational process. She grouped the students in three basic categories – cultural mainstreamers, cultural straddlers, and non-compliant believers, according to their attitudes about education and cultural identity. Almost all of them professed to believe that a good education was necessary for success, for upward mobility. The mainstreamers and the straddlers were successful students, while the non-compliant believers – those who, while believing education was necessary, rebelled against or opted out of a system that they saw as not validating their own identities and cultures.

Dr. Carter went on to talk about cultural capital, how it plays out in the lives of children and adults, and of how the successful students were ones who found ways to maintain their racial, ethnic or cultural identities, while acquiring skills and knowledge of the dominant culture. These students, in essence, became bi-cultural, able to move back and forth from their own environments and that of the majority culture. There was lively discussion of how parents, schools, mentors and role models can help validate and affirm students’ identities, and how the teaching profession (70% white women) can enable this bi-cultural straddling, at the same time passing on the skills requisite for success. Dr. Carter acknowledged that this entails hard work, and that much needs to be done to increase the effectiveness of teaching in this area.

Her book, Keepin’ it Real: School Success Beyond Black and White, is a fascinating glimpse of what we need to be doing – not just in schools, but in the larger context of equity and justice in our world. I highly recommend it to all who are looking for something substantive to read.

The evening’s program was videotaped for Community TV – please watch for the listings in the local paper, and on CCTV, Channel 8.

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