New Lessons for Our Classrooms

Improving the education of African American Students Will Require A Stronger Teacher Workforce. Here's What it Will Take?

What parenting approaches are most consistent with this goal? In Part 1 of this series, it was noted that the achievement gap between black and white students shows up before they enter school. What can parents and other caregivers do to maximize preschoolers cognitive development and best prepare them for school?

“A lot of what is valued in the black community regarding child rearing turns out to be not very valuable in developing young minds,” says Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the renowned Harlem Children’s Zone, which now offers a Baby College for children age zero to 3. “The science about how children learn says they should have a voice, they should have opinions. We should talk seriously and use very complex language with them from birth.” Canada says that using rich vocabulary with young children enriches their world experience and communication skills, which serves as “the precursor to all the writing, reading, and other areas we really care about.”

Canada also stresses exposing children to new concepts, ideas, and words every day, and reading the best children’s literature to them, which, “puts a child at a huge advantage when they enter school.” He also opposes the use of corporal punishment. “Violence teaches our children that pain and fear get folk to do what you want.” Instead, he insists that timeouts and explaining to children what is and is not acceptable works better at managing their behavior, and says explanations also teach them how to use language and persuasion. (See the Parent Resources box for information about supporting school-age children.)

Perry of Capital Prep emphasizes reading to young children as well, even if it’s in a language other than English. He also encourages parents to expose young children to do counting and simple arithmetic. “Parents develop academic courage in their kids when they make it safe for them to ask questions,” says Perry, whose two young sons attend Capital Prep. “There’s a style of parenting that we’ve carried up to the middle class where we think kids are supposed to be seen and not heard. We often stifle questions because we want our kids to shut up. But asking questions is not talking back.”

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