Brainy Quote of the Day

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Personal Commentary on: "Obliterating the Myths About Minority Institutions"

For the article, I come at this post as a tripartite being as:

- a student,
- a product of my culture,
- a parent.


I am the product of what is now referred to as an "HBCU": Historically Black College and University. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, was the first such college awarded a National Science Foundation Grant for an Engineering Research Center. From the link provided: "The NSF ERC for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials at A&T will conduct research in the areas of biomedical engineering and nano-bio applications and is in partnership with the Universities of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. It also has a global technical partner in Germany’s Hannover School of Medicine and a global cultural and outreach partner in the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India. California State University at Los Angeles will serve as an outreach partner in the USA. The ERC has partnerships with pre-college institutions in North Carolina to involve teachers and students in engineering; it has partnerships with a broad range of North Carolina organizations devoted to entrepreneurship and small business development."

When I was a student, we had a project with the Space Shuttle, spearheaded by Dr. Ronald McNair, an alumni of the university, a personal hero whom I patterned much of my life after, and sadly a casualty of the Challenger accident.

So, when I read that myths still had to be "obliterated," you can understand my surprise in the caste system that obviously still exists in many cases from someone not asking the right questions as the article eludes.

Product of my culture

Within African American culture (I prefer that to "race," since we're all part of the HUMAN race), the positive images immediately available to me growing up were those of the minister, the corner store business man, Dr. Oliver (my dentist).

When I expressed an interest in science, my parents bought me things: Erector sets, with which, I built a robot that scared my mother out of several months growth, not nearly as elaborate (or as pricey) as the link provided; a chemistry set, again, in my zeal to explore science I had an experiment that exploded and placed a stain on the roof in my room - punished, YES - discouraged, no; a microscope, a telescope and a tool kit. I didn't do too much damage with those things!

Unfortunately, the other images immediately available were not so positive in where I grew up, an urban ghetto: the pimp, the drug dealer, the junkie, the prostitute. I grew up seeing the dichotomy of those images, saved by a miraculously intact nuclear family, a father that worked in a mill, a mother that worked in the health industry as an LVN and a clerk. Both are deceased. I am grateful for the example of Robert and Mildred Dean Goodwin and their confidence in me.

What I don't see now is an emphasis on the positive images and a glorification of negative or somewhat unattainable images (I'll explore that in the next section).

As parent

I have two sons 10 years apart. The current youngest just graduated high school. He's been accepted into a Pre Architecture program at the University of Dallas on an academic scholarship. He's also qualified for their basketball team. UD is a Division III school, so he had to gain acceptance academically, which I and his mother prefer.

At the beginning of high school, D1 is all he could think about and "going pro" in the NBA.

Part of this unrealistic expectation is what he and many of his friends are exposed to, and frankly parents are exposed to. There is an industry of sports camps and AAU select basketball teams, you have to get on the "right team" to get noticed, etc, and the right team COST money. I paid that money, even money to get him expert coaching from a Texas hall of fame athlete and a retired NBA player.

I found it costs a little less money to expose kids to science, spend time with them doing homework, get tutoring help if needed.

On a KUT program from the University of Texas: "In Black America," Dr. Louis Harrison Jr. is interviewed by John L. Hanson on the subject "Athletics over Academics." To paraphrase, "95,000 people aren't going to stand up and applaud when you get an A, but that A will carry you further in life than the physical skill demonstrated."

American culture is entertainment driven, such that education is its reluctant caboose. "We're kind of like television," a fellow high school teacher said. "The kids either tune us in or tune us out."

So, as a parent, I had to contend with glorified gangster/rapper images, idolized sports star images, a lack of information on the astronomers, and physicists in the field that well, look LIKE him. I can count on one hand how many times I've seen Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Science or Discovery Channel (I had the pleasant fortune of speaking with him on the phone). I also feel that being so image based, our youth believe they can be what they see of themselves most of the time. Convincing him of anything otherwise was a daunting task to say the least. As he got older, his aspirations became more practical; he's taken CAD since his freshman year and enjoys architecture. It looks like my wife and I succeeded.

For the sake of Robert and Mildred's grandchildren, we could do no less.

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