As the school year commenced we knew our job as parents was to work hard to help and support our son while adjusting to the rhythm of our new teacher and school. In spite of the negative stereotypes that hover over Black parents as being uninvolved with their children’s education, most Black families I know are very aware and intentional about the educational choices and practices they introduce to their family. Since the beginning of my son’s schooling experience I have held the same social practice that my father held with me; my father would always speak to my two brothers and me about our day at school, so each day my son is greeted with that same conversation, by simply asking him, “how was school today.”
Another tradition that would start much earlier for my son compared to my childhood was homework rituals. My mom would sit and help us with homework until we were done. For me, my first homework assignment came in the first grade, however, the new millennium student now received homework in kindergarten. This was new for me; “what kind of homework does a kindergarten student have?” Well, after the first couple of days of school I would soon find out.
As my beautiful, adventurous and smiling son returned home from school with his “homework packet,” my wife and I quickly realized kindergarten homework is not just about your child having an earlier start in learning to love this new responsibility. It seemed my son started public education at the same time our school system implemented a way to indoctrinate students into the philosophy of “toil,” “reward,” “judgment” and “consequences,” through kindergarten assignment grading. And he would feel the wrath of this philosophy very early.
In addition to my son’s assignments his school had also developed a strategy for addressing school failure by including supplemental assignments for parents that had to be read, signed and returned. These parental assignments came across as though the school district was implicating inner city parents as being ill-equipped to instill pertinent educational values in their children. It was as though the school was making the presumption that this material was inarguably helpful to a population in need of additional assistance in teaching the value of school in their home.
I had hoped our experience would not include this backlash on parents, but I wasn’t naïve to the public conversation, especially as it related to Black parents, in particular, “The Absent Black Father.” During this time period (2007) it was very common to not only see white pundits blaming school failure in the Black community as solely a parental issue, there was also paralleled voices from beloved Black celebrities and Black parents supporting and affirming this very narrow view. They seemed to absolve schools as having any part in student failure while at the same time passionately qualify rap music as the number one independent variable contributing to Black students failing in school.
As I would sit at my dining room table either reading or watching one of these conversations, I would try to maintain my sanity by being passive, just dismissing the commentary as coming from people who do not have children of their own or do not work closely with children, especially as it relates to homework; because they would know, homework comes by the piles and, in this same moment of their distant, uninformed, so-called superior comments, I was dealing with my son’s homework assignments, along with random, subpar, anecdotal parent material that was very time-consuming, insulting and never helpful.
In our first week we received an entire guide on what we needed to do at home. The list included everything from, “not letting your dog chew your homework,” to “not wiping your mouth with your homework.” At least seven of the bullet points dealt with homework, food and your body. But to be a great parent and not perpetuate the “Black Father” stereotype of non-involvement, I gave [the benefit of the doubt] and participated accordingly. I took the attitude that maybe I could learn something, let me look at it from the school’s perspective; there might just be a parent who ran out of clean bath towels so they improvised by using their son’s Old MacDonald homework as a washcloth; maybe we are so far gone that we would mistake “Hickory-Dickory-Dock,” for good old Hickory Smoke, Barbecue Sauce. It makes sense, if we prevent the mismanagement of schoolwork in kindergarten we can avoid kids getting to high school and trying to make a sandwich out of “Catcher in The Rye.”
We need to be responsible for school materials and the homework that accompanies our children, but if you’ve ever wondered what is meant when someone says–“low expectations,”–this parent guide would be a perfect example. And when celebrity educators (more fame than game) and CEO fathers ( Fathers who are not the lead in child-rearing but delegate through dogmatic commentary) so easily explain how homework and other school activities should seamlessly fit into one’s life, they probably haven’t ever experienced completing a full days work that included; dropping off and picking up their son from school; visited the library and playground; planned and cooked dinner; persuaded your son to eat dinner; forced your son to eat dinner; apologized for forcing him to eat dinner; get yelled at by your wife for forcing “her baby” to eat an “unhealthy” dinner; never receiving an apology from your wife for hurting your feelings, yet still manage to bathe your son, read him a bedtime story, iron tomorrow’s school uniform, make sure kindergarten homework is completed and, read/sign the parent guide.
Where was the parent guide that acknowledged my world? After completing all of those tasks with and for my five-year old, I still had a wife in her last year of a very demanding doctoral program, not to mention I worked three jobs in two different cities. Where is the guide helping that parent? See, “those who so easily say how it should be done are usually the last to truly overstand how it gets done, especially men on TV” (Nvizaboman, a second ago, 2014).
When a parent gets home from serving the world, they want to be reassured that the school they have selected has their child covered, both physically and mentally. When the school gives you something they claim will be helpful, you want material that is worth your time and effort and benefits your family. And being helpful means this homework that my son is getting each night really better be about something because we’re approaching it with the strength of the Wu! It’s straight up “Protect Ya Neck” in our camp when it comes to assignments. My son pulls out crayons like a true Shaolin disciple; it gets very colorful at our dinning room table.
But to my surprise, being colorful was the exact opposite of what my son’s teacher wanted. I had long thought I would at least be able to help my son with homework up until high school. But apparently, in spite of all my efforts I wasn’t any help in kindergarten. About a week into homework assignments we made a big mistake. The assignment that we bombed on was not Old Macdonald, not go old Hickory Dickory, or Mary and those Lambs, nor numbers, physics, algebra, English Lit, etc. No. None of those.
We failed—-Wait for it, wait for it, ———
We failed, dog gone, Humpty—-Dumpty. This kat, Humpty Dumpty, almost made my son And me have to repeat Kindergarten.
To be continued….