Monthly Archives: October 2013

Thoughtful Thursday: Gloriously Gruesome “Little Willie” Poems

Today’s Thoughtful Thursday post, as it falls on Halloween, is dedicated to a series of delightfully sinister “Little Willie” poems. Little Willie poetry is first attributed to the poet Harry Graham, who published a series of these four line poems in his book, “Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes”, which was published circa 1899. Many Little Willie poems have followed, and while not all were written by Graham, they were all inspired by Graham’s work. Your children with fiendish senses of humor may be tickled by these verses. Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!


Little Willie with a thirst for gore,
Nailed the baby to the door
Mother said, with humor quaint
“Willie, dear, don’t mar the paint.”

Willie poisoned Auntie’s tea,
Auntie died in agony.
Uncle came and looked quite vexed,
“Really, Will,” said he, “what next?”

Into the family drinking well
Willie pushed his sister Nell.
She’s there yet, because it kilt her –
Now we have to buy a filter.

Little Willie, with a curse
Threw the teapot at the nurse.
When it struck her on the nose,
His father cheered, “How straight he throws!”

Father heard his children scream
So he threw them in the stream
Saying, as he drowned the third,
“Children should be seen, not heard!”

Willie saw some dynamite,
Couldn’t understand it quite;
Curiosity never pays:
It rained Willie seven days.

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Halloween Family Fun

Today and this weekend your children may be clamoring to watch scary movies. Since the network and cable channels generally load up on them this time of year, even if your children are not looking for them they are likely to run across them while flipping channels this weekend. Check out these links below to help guide you through letting your children enjoy Halloween offerings without scaring themselves to death.

Scary Movie Tips from

20 Movies To Watch With Your Kids This Halloween from

Q&A: How do I pick scary Halloween movies that won’t upset my kids? from commonsense

Halloween Movies For Kids from

And for a few laughs, check out this (for parents only) Funny or Die video from Samuel L. Jackson and Common Sense Media called “Everything is Samuel L. Jackson’s Fault”, in which Jackson helps spread the word to parents about making smart media choices for their children. You’ll find it here.

Happy Halloween!!

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What Should We Tell Our Boys About Trayon Christian?

As you probably know if you’ve been paying attention to the news recently, Trayon Christian is a 19 year old Black college student who is suing the NYPD and Barney’s–one of NYC’s luxury department stores–for wrongful arrest after he purchased a $350 Ferragamo belt in the store using a debit card. Christian was stopped by police as he tried to exit the store after (he alleges) a Barney’s sales clerk alerted them, believing the transaction was fraudulent. Christian alleges that even after he showed the police his ID, his debit card and his receipt, he was told that his ID was false and that he could not afford to make such a purchase. He was arrested and detained at a local precinct, then released once his bank confirmed that the card was his. He promptly went back to Barney’s, returned the belt, and vowed never to shop there again. He is suing for unspecified damages. “His only crime was being a young black man,” his attorney, Michael Palillo.

We shudder when we hear this story, knowing that on any given day our sons could have Trayon’s experience. We worry that they will be viewed with suspicion by sales clerks and security guards, that they will not be buzzed into a locked store which they want to enter (which has been known to happen in NYC), and we especially worry that they will be wrongfully arrested. If we accept the facts as Trayon presents them (and no one disputes that he was arrested and released once his id and card checked out) we are outraged for Trayon, and want Barney’s and/or the NYPD to pay for their mistake. We want to make an example of them, to make them answer for the outrage we feel every time a store assumes a young black man can’t afford his purchase or is trying to steal something. We shudder. But what do we tell our sons about Trayon Christian?

We tell them that Trayon Christian is setting a good example of how to handle yourself in this difficult and frightening situation. First, from all reports, he cooperated with the officers, produced his receipt, id and card, and did not resist when the officers insisted on arresting him. We have to tell our boys to stay calm in these situations, and to check their instincts to be angry, uncooperative, indignant or rude to the police officers, regardless of how senseless or irrational they feel the police are behaving. It is critical that they understand this.

Second, he returned the belt after his ordeal and vowed never to shop at Barney’s again. He understood that no material object, no matter how much he originally wanted it, was worth the indignities he suffered. This was an impressively mature action on his part, and one we must emphasize when talking about his story.

Finally, he pursued legal action to right the wrong. If he is successful with his claim, he is likely to be well compensated for the mistakes Barney’s and/or the NYPD made. If the award is large enough, the hope is that other stores and police departments will be more careful with their assumptions and more mindful of their actions. Trayon Christian has bravely gone public with his story, is dealing with whatever fallout and scrutiny his story brings, and is looking to the courts for a proper resolution.

Let us give our sons and daughters the lessons of Trayon Christian’s experience. Then let us hope that they never have to use them.

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 8-12, Parents, Saving Our Sons

Thoughtful Thursday: Inspirational Quotes

Today’s Thoughtful Thursday thoughts were found in a small blue book called “Famous Black Quotations and some not so famous” which has graced my shelf for as long as I can remember. Here are a few quotes to think about and share with your sons.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
Frederick Douglass

Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get.
Frederick Douglass

Strategy is better than strength.
Hausa Legend

One feels his two-ness–an American, A Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
W.E.B. DuBois

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.
Ralph Ellison

Your world is as big as you make it.
Georgia Douglas Johnson

A child who is to be successful is not reared exclusively on a bed of down.
Akan Proverb

Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.
Malcolm X

Mastery of language affords remarkable power.
Frantz Fanon

Nothing succeeds like success.
Alexandre Dumas

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It’s Not You, It’s Him: Teen Boys Have Trouble With Empathy

The Wall Street Journal recently revealed news which should gladden the hearts of parents of teenagers everywhere: “cognitive empathy”, the wiring in children’s brains that enables them to understand and care about how others think, only begins to develop at age 13. So when your sweet middle schooler disappears and is replaced by an eye-rolling, door slamming “who is that?” child, it is not a sign that you’ve done something wrong, it is that their brains just won’t let them know any better.

What will come as no surprise to parents of boys, this study, authored by Jolien van der Graaff, a doctoral candidate in the Research Centre Adolescent Development at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, further indicates that while girls begin to be concerned about other people’s views and feelings at 13, boys generally don’t start this process, which helps them solve problems and avoid conflict, until they are around 15. And while girls’ capacity to be empathic increases steadily over time, teen boys actually show a temporary decline, between ages 13 and 16, in ‘affective empathy”, which is the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings. The WSJ article explains: “The decline in affective empathy among young teenage boys may spring at least partly from a spurt during puberty in testosterone, sparking a desire for dominance and power, says the study in Developmental Psychology. Boys who were more mature physically showed less empathy than others.” Thank goodness, the boys tend to get back on track by their late teens.

So what does this mean for parents? It means that you can stop taking it so personally when your son is crazily insensitive to you and your feelings and/or can’t seem to stop himself from arguing with you at every turn. This is not to say that you have to accept this behavior, but knowing that he actually may not be able to help it can help you move from a screaming and yelling mode to a calmer and more instructive mode when dealing with him. You can set limits on his ability to express his anger or frustration, knowing that he may not be able to turn it off completely. Easier said than done, but knowing this information can help you remember to be the level headed parent versus losing your temper and matching him taunt for taunt.

Check out the full WSJ article here, which also gives parents tips on building empathy in children from an early age. News we can use!

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When Is it OK to Let Our Sons Fail, and When is it Not?

When is it good to help our boys, and when is it better to let them fail? In yesterday’s New York Times Motherlode Blog, found here, a mother writes passionately of her need to help her middle school son with his schoolwork despite hearing from his teachers that she shouldn’t because “we want to see what your child can really do” and “middle School is a safe time to let your children fail.” Her son is dyslexic, and after watching him blossom as a student aided by extra help and coaching, she argues that continuing to help her son when he asks for it is important and necessary. She tells parents to “recognize when it’s O.K. to let your child fail, and when it’s not.”

Most would agree that parents of a child with a learning disability should give them the help they need to work to their potential. But what if your child has no such diagnosis, and is still having trouble doing his work? What if he gets really frustrated by a math problem or an essay and asks for your help?

In a perfect world students would do all of their homework on their own every night and turn it in to their teachers the next day. If they had any difficulty with any part of the homework, they would meet with the teacher before, during or after class. The teacher would take the time to work with them to ensure they understood their mistakes. They’d do their homework on their own that night, and the cycle would continue. No parental help, just students, their teachers and the lessons.

In the real world this perfect scenario rarely exists. So lets say your son is having a hard time with his homework, a paper, or a project. Teachers say let him make mistakes, let him fail, he will learn from this, and they will have a better ability to see how he is learning. Your gut says if you point him in the right direction, help him become clearer in his thinking or his writing, he will understand his mistakes and feel better about himself and his work. Your gut also says if you let him fail, you have to deal with the emotional and academic fallout. But your gut also knows that if you come running whenever he can’t figure out an answer, he will come to rely on you to do the work, won’t challenge himself, or worse, he will come to believe that he can’t do things without your help. We’ve heard rumors of parents doing homework or writing papers for their sons and daughters, and we know that this can’t be good for the student in the long run. So what do you do?

No one right answer here. We at GCP are inclined to step in, but only when the going gets rough. But we do so following these guidelines:

1. Offer to help only when he asks, he’s tried several times on his own, and you sense frustration building. If your son is happily doing his homework and you see that he is making mistakes, get out of the way. Your job is not to ensure that he goes to school everyday with an assignment done perfectly. Your job is to monitor whether he is doing his work and improving his skills. If he is not getting frustrated by the pace of his progress, but you are, express your concerns to his teacher or advisor, not to him. If he asks for help within minutes of sitting down to work, tell him to try for a longer period of time (you can set the time–depends on his age) before you’ll consider stepping in.

2. Help for his sake, not yours. Resist all temptation to show that you can perfect your child’s work. You know you are in trouble when you’ve taken over the desk and your son is looking over your shoulder. Let your son take the lead in telling you what help he needs. It is not about you, or about your having a son that gets all the right answers. And, in the case of an older student, if you don’t understand the work (which will happen sooner than you think), swallow your pride and advise him how to seek help at school from someone who does.

3. If he balks at your help, stand down. Teaching methods have changed dramatically over the decades since we were in school. Regardless of how much you know your son would benefit from the shortcuts that got your through your math homework, if his teacher says do it a different way, help him figure out how to do it the teacher’s way. Teaching him your way can further confuse and frustrate him. If you can’t understand the new way, tell him to talk to his teacher and follow up to see that he does.

4. Help, don’t do it for him. Don’t give him the answer, point him in the direction of figuring it out. Ask him what he thinks an answer should be and how he got there. This will help you identify the confusion and could help him fix his mistakes. If he is really stumped walk him through the steps to getting the answer. Let him discover the answer rather than have you give it to him.

5. Monitor the amount of help you are giving. If he is coming to you almost every night for help, it is too much. Let his teacher know that he is regularly having trouble with his homework and together discuss the next steps.

When is it OK to help? Use your judgement, but remember that the goal is for your son to feel empowered, skilled and able to handle his work on his own. Does this come from letting him struggle with his schoolwork, even fail, and then figure out how to succeed? Sometimes but not always. The important thing is to be mindful of how, how often and why you are helping him. Tough but important to do.

Do you think it is OK to ever help your sons with their work? If so, when and how do you help? Let us know!

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Thoughtful Thursday: Poetry for the Young Soul

Today’s Thoughtful Thursday offerings are a series of four poems about young men by Black poets of several generations. Enjoy!


Young Soul

first feel, then feel, then
read. or read, then feel, then
fall, or stand, where you
already are, think
of your self, and the other
of your parents, your mothers
and sisters, then feel, or
fall, on your knees
if nothing else will move you,
then read
and look deeply
into all matters
come close to you
city boys–
country men

make some muscle
in your head, but
use the muscle in your heart.

Imamu Amiri Baraka b.1934

We Real Cool

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Gwendolyn Brooks 1917-2000


I stood in the tunnel warehouse
holding hands with my brother and Dad,
with our Red Flyer wagon that the Goodfellows left.
We came for patties, salt pork, beans and flour.
The lines were long, but we had to stay. Strangers
waited with us, against the flush of winter.

Lunch at the Book Cadillac, second basement.
Our uncle worked in the Kay Danzer Flower Shop.
He took roses to the stadium ticket window.
We got to see the Tigers play the Yankees.
Greenberg hit one out onto Cherry Street.

I had a report due in Social Science.
Finished it while Mom did the dishes.
I washed my safety-patrol belt every Monday.
Mr. Loving expected them to be spotless.
I brushed, scrubbed, and soaked it.
Mom suggested table salt. It glowed.

Mom told Dad I wanted to go to college.
We didn’t have money for school.
Dad pulled out the blue pin-striped suit
that he saved for special good times,
looked it over, fondled the jacket, took the suit
to Lewis’s, the pawnshop on Gratiot.

Murray Jackson 1926-2002

Lime Light Blues

I have been known
to wear white shoes
beyond Labor Day.
I can see through
doors & walls
made of glass.
I’m in an anger
encouragement class.
When I walk
over the water
of parking lots
car doors lock–
When I wander
or enter the elevator
women snap
their pocketbooks
shut, clutch
their handbags close.
cops follow me in stores
asking me to holler
if I need any help.
I can get a rise–
am able to cause
patrolmen to stop
& second look–
Any drugs in the trunk?
Civilian teens
beg me for green,
where to score
around here.
When I dance,
which is often,
the moon above me
wheels its disco lights–
until there’s a fight.
Crowds gather
& wonder how
the spotlight sounds–
like a body
being born, like the blare
of car horns
as I cross
the street unlocking,
slow. I know all
a movie needs
is me
shouting at the screen
from the balcony. From such
heights I watch
the darkness gather.
What pressure
my blood is under.

Kevin Young b.1970


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Expanding College Opportunities

Yesterday’s post focused on talking to babies; today we are talking about what happens when these babies grow up into young adults: college opportunities. African American economist Carolyn Hoxby, a Stanford economist in residency at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, is focused on helping students expand their opportunities to attend college. She recently presented her research at a “master class” at the NBC News Education Nation 2013 summit.

Hoxby has spent years studying why lower-income students with stellar grades and high entrance exam scores — about 35,000 nationwide each year, by her estimate — weren’t even applying to top colleges. These students were applying and getting into colleges, but often they were community colleges which did not offer the same range of academic options as the more selective ones. She found that bright students who lived far from elite universities or were not attending schools popular with college recruiters were less likely to be discovered by these universities. Moreover, these students were typically misinformed about the quality and affordability of the more selective colleges.

Hoxby’s research revealed that many students simply did not know that opportunities existed for them to apply to and attend these more selective schools. She determined that simple low-cost steps can be taken which can substantially increase the number of disadvantaged students who apply to and graduate from top colleges. Her “Expanding College Opportunities” project conducts an “information intervention”, sending customized packets of materials to high achievers from low-income families. These packets do not recommend any specific colleges, but contain step-by-step guides to applying to schools which include fee waivers for tests and application fees.

After its initial distribution of the Expanding College Opportunity Guides, Hoxby compared the group of high-achieving, low-income students who opened the guides with similar students who didn’t receive one. They found the guide recipients were 55.8 percent more likely to apply to a “peer,” or higher-ranked, school, 77.5 percent more likely to be admitted to a peer school, 46.3 percent more likely to enroll in one, and the guide recipients were admitted to 30.8 percent more colleges. These results convinced the College Board (which administers the SAT) to send the packet to students in the class of 2014 who scored above the 90th percentile and were likely to come from lower-income homes.

Simply stated, information is key to helping high-achieving low-income students understand and take advantage of their educational opportunities. Kudos to Hoxby and her team for this focus and their findings.

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Give Your Child a Head Start on Life: Tune In, Talk More, and Take Turns

Did you know that the number of words a child is exposed to between ages 0-3 is significantly related to that child’s ultimate intellectual and academic success? Studies have shown that the more parents talk to their children, the faster children’s vocabularies grow and the higher the children’s IQ test scores are at age three and later.  

These studies have also revealed a significant inequality in children’s early language environments: children from families of lower socioeconomic status hear approximately thirty million words less than their peers from higher income families.  This means that socioeconomically disadvantaged children can walk into their very first classroom less prepared than their classmates, and the achievement gap only grows from there. Dr. Dana Suskind,  founder of the Thirty Million Words Initiative, is determined to help parents level the playing field.

Dr. Suskind presented her Thirty Million Words Initiative in a  “Master Class” during the NBC News Education Nation 2013 summit last week.  Dr. Suskind, who is also a  Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago and Director of the Pediatric Cochelar Implant Program, developed a program to help parents learn how to use language skills to optimize their child’s brain development and ability to learn. As noted on the Thirty Million Words’ website, found here, Dr. Suskind and her team believe that neither genetics nor a lack of potential lie at the heart of this problem; rather, the thirty million word gap is a function of parental knowledge. Many parents are simply not aware of the power of talking to their babies and young children.

The Thirty Million Words (TMW) Initiative seeks to inform parents and help them close this gap.  They have developed a TMW curriculum  which uses education and technology to give parents the ability to use their words to grow their babies’ brains. This curriculum breaks down the science of brain development into easily understandable concepts and uses videos of parent child interaction to demonstrate the simple real life application of these concepts.  Parents also have access to a device which tracks the weekly number of words a child hears, which gives them the ability to monitor their progress and track their personal goals. This curriculum has been introduced to control groups of parents on Chicago’s South Side with very positive results, and successful trials have been conducted with groups of caregivers as well. TMW is planning a community-based rollout and a citywide initiative as their next steps, but hope to launch this curriculum nationwide as soon as possible.

In her master class Dr. Suskind suggested three simple things that every parent should do to ensure that his or her baby is hearing as many words as possible:

Tune in:  take the time to interact with your baby away from all distractions and devices.  (All you parents and caregivers, put those phones away while you are pushing those strollers!  This is a great time to talk with the baby about the world around you! That call/text/email can wait!)

Talk more:  Make a concerted effort to talk to your baby about anything and everything.  There is so much of the world for him to see, hear and understand. You can help him filter and absorb more of it by talking to him about what you both are doing and seeing.

Take turns:  Talk, but then listen to your baby’s response.  Babies learn to communicate well before they master language, and it is important to interact  or “converse”with your baby, not just give them commands.

Simple things that can give all of our children a head start in life. Pass them on to all the parents of young children you know.


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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Resources

Education Nation: Parent’s Toolkit

GCP spent the last two days at NBC’s Education Nation Summit 2013, which was held at the New York Public Library’s main branch.   This summit, produced by NBC News, gathered more than 300 of the country’s top thought leaders and influencers in education, government, business, philanthropy, and media to discuss ways to improve our nation’s educational system. The theme for this year’s summit was “What It Takes” for us as a nation to ensure students are successfully prepared for college, career and beyond. Over the next few posts GCP will bring you highlights from these interesting and informative sessions.

One of the most exciting developments of the summit was today’s launch of NBC News’ digital Parent Toolkit. The Parent Toolkit, which can be found at, will provide parents with resources to help guide their child’s development in school. There is also a mobile app featuring the entire Toolkit as well as additional opportunities for personalization. You can read more about the launch of the Parent Toolkit here.

This Parent Toolkit features “Academic Growth Charts” for Pre-k to 12th grade which are designed to help you track and support your children’s progress throughout each academic year.  Within each grade you will find academic benchmarks to look for, suggestions of ways to support and encourage your children with their coursework, tips and checklists for parent teacher conferences, and so much more.  Additional segments on Social Development and Health and Wellness are coming soon. We could continue to describe the great features of this toolkit, but a better use of your time would be to head over to the site and check it out for yourself.

Throughout the Education Nation 2013 summit panelist after panelist discussed the vital importance of parent engagement and involvement in our children’s education. This toolkit is a resource designed to help us with this important part of parenting. Check it out, tell us what you think!

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