by DeVone Holt
Special Assistant to the Superintendent
Jefferson County Public Schools
During the 1960s before civil rights legislation was enacted, Martin Luther King, Jr. said the greatest threat to the civil rights movement was not the Ku Klux Klan as many people were quick to conclude, yet the sympathetic white citizens who knew the racism blacks experienced was wrong, but they did nothing to help end it. He said their apathy posed a greater threat than any of the traditional enemies to civil rights legislation because it limited their resources in a battle that warranted an all-hands-on-deck approach.
Fast-forward to 2011 and many believe the new civil rights agenda has shifted from efforts to achieve racial equality to closing the academic achievement gap that exists between African-American students in public school systems and their white counterparts. And just as King declared in the 1960s, the greatest threat to the modern civil rights movement isn’t as obvious as many would believe.
As educators work to improve the classroom outcomes of African-American students, they will soon learn that the greatest impediments to achieving that goal aren’t culturally incompetent teachers. Nor do underfunded academic intervention programs sit atop the list of the most pressing challenges facing efforts to close the achievement gap.
The greatest threat to the modern-age civil rights agenda of closing the academic achievement gap between African-American students and their counterparts are apathetic African-American adults who grow more heartbroken with the release of every new disturbing academic report yet they aren’t compelled enough to become part of the solution.
The absence of African-American volunteers in tutoring sessions, mentoring relationships and advocacy discussion has left a void in efforts to reduce the achievement gap that are noticeably filled with students who struggle in the classroom and too often produce mediocre test scores.
That’s because the qualities to succeed in the classroom aren’t necessarily learned in the classroom. They’re often established when a caring adult outside of the classroom helps a child prioritize education, learn healthy social norms, and builds their self-esteem. When those things don’t happen in the life of a student their likelihood of achieving academic success is greatly reduced.