Category Archives: Ages 0-4

Better to be a Helicopter Parent or Let Your Kids Fail and Learn From Their Mistakes?

Today’s New York Times “Room for Debate” discussion takes on the topic of “The Hovering Parent”, and asks a number of columnists whether helicopter parenting has started to “crash and burn”. Have parents gotten so involved with managing their children’s lives that they are stunting their development into young adults who can think for themselves and learn from their mistakes?

GCP continues to seek and share ways for parents to be ground control technicians (not hovering helicopters), making sure all systems are go so that our boys can soar. Easier said than done, but an important goal. Check out the variety of responses to this issue found here. What do you think?

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Filed under Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents

Should We Tell Our Children They Are Special?

Have you heard about the commencement speech given by David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, in which he told the graduating seniors “you are not special”? Rather than deliver the expected “go out and conquer the world” graduation speech, the teacher surprised the gathered body with comments like:

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.

The teacher went on to encourage the students to find and follow their passions rather than believe the hype of how great they already are. The speech has gone viral, with some people upset with the harshness of the message, and others applauding the teacher’s honesty. What do you think? Do parents of color, who want to do all we can to encourage our children to have a healthy self-esteem as they encounter many messages in the media and the world which can undermine it, tend to take this kind of commentary with a grain of salt? And should we?

On her CNN program “Starting Point”, Soledad O’Brien discussed this speech with a roundtable of commentators including Dr. Steve Perry, founder and Principal of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, and the chief CNN contributor on issues relating to education. During this discussion, found here, Perry said about the speech, “I didn’t like it. I loved it”. Perry believes that rather than over praise their children, parents should hold them to a high standards, but teach them that they need to understand that the goal of working hard is to change and enrich lives (their own and others). Panelist Roland Martin agreed, noting, “We have folks walking around with an attitude, we’re the best. You have to get there. You have to earn something…Colleges always say these are our graduates. Thurgood Marshall, Dr. King. Yes, but they got there after they graduated.”

LZ Granderson, a senior ESPN magazine and on-line columnist who also writes for, agrees that the speech was uplifting. In his column called “Kid, You are Not Special”, found here, he writes of telling his son that his middle school band performance was terrible “because I don’t want my son to grow up to be a loser.” He explains,

I don’t claim to know everything about parenting, but I do know parents do their children a disservice by constantly sugarcoating their shortcomings to protect their feelings. I can’t think of a more surefire way to raise a loser than not allowing a child to learn what it really takes to be a winner.

Check out the transcript of the “You Are Not Special” speech so you can form your own opinion. And then share it with us! What do you think? Was this an important wake-up call that we should share with our children?

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Filed under Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12

Noteworthy News Items

Here are some noteworthy news items which have surfaced this week:

Rise in Preschoolers with Cavities: Dentists nationwide say they are seeing more preschoolers at all income levels with 6 to 10 cavities or more, according to a New York Times article published yesterday and found here. Some dentists have resorted to using general anesthesia on their toddler patients with severe decay because the children can’t sit still for such extensive procedures while they are awake.

Why the rise in cavities? Dentists cite a number of things parents are doing which contributes to the problem: regularly giving their children bottled water instead of fluoridated tap water; allowing them to have juice or other sweet drinks at bedtime; not brushing their toddlers’ teeth twice a day, and not taking their children to a dentist by their first birthday so that they can be assessed for future cavity risk. Dentists also note that parents may miss the first sign of tooth decay, because the dull ache it causes their toddlers could be mistaken for teething. Some parents don’t realize there is a problem until the children’s teeth become discolored or break, or the pain becomes unbearable.

Parental awareness seems to be key here. Making sure your child drinks tap water instead of bottled, saying no to night time sweet drinks, making sure their teeth are brushed (no matter how much they object–if you can’t stand to see them cry over toothbrushing, just think of what it would be like to watch them get their teeth drilled), and getting them to the dentist seem to be relatively simple ways to avoid this problem. But for those parents who have been letting some of these things slide, this news item is an important wake-up call.

Black Students Face Harsher Discipline, Fewer Opportunities: The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released data on Tuesday collected from public schools nationwide during the 2009-10 school year which suggests that Black and Hispanic students face tougher disciplinary consequences, have a greater number of inexperienced teachers and have less access to advanced courses than their white and Asian counterparts. Reports of this data are all over the web, but a good summary is in the Huffington Post article found here.

The startling data with respect to potentially disparate disciplinary treatment has drawn the most national attention. The survey indicates that Black students were over three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. More than 70 percent of students arrested in school or handed over to law enforcement were Black or Hispanic.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali both stressed that the data is not “alleging overt discrimination in some or all of these cases.”, but further stated, “We are issuing a challenge to educators and community leaders across America to work together to address these inequities.”

GCP is not diving into the debate of what conclusions can be drawn or next steps determined from this survey, especially without further analysis of the actual data. But we will reiterate our mantra that our parents need to be keen and focused advocates for our children, especially our sons, with respect to any school issues. Being an advocate means paying careful attention to school issues concerning your child, speaking up clearly, strongly and rationally on your child’s behalf, and ensuring that the school community is working together with your support to give your child the best education possible.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-4, Ages 16-18

How To Choose the Best School for Your Son

Today’s post comes from Anne Williams-Isom and Jennifer Jones Austin. Anne Williams-Isom, author of the GCP post “Words of Wisdom from a Montessori Mom” (October 4, 2011) is currently the Chief Operating Officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone. She and her husband are raising their three children in Harlem. Jennifer Jones Austin is the Senior Vice President of the United Way of NYC. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn where they are raising a daughter, 14 and a son, 10. Anne and Jennifer consider themselves child advocates and have been friends and colleagues for over 15 years.

As mothers of African American boys concerned about every single aspect of their development, we want to share our thoughts on one of the most important decisions a parent must make: choosing the right school. On countless occasions we’ve asked ourselves, “What is the right environment for my son? Are his teachers nurturing and caring? Who will protect his self esteem and give him space to grow so he can become all he can be academically, socially and emotionally?” Tough questions, for sure, and it is no simple task for parents to find the answers.

Here, with what we hope is a bit of wisdom born of our experiences, are some of our tips for selecting a school for your son. Of course, many of our thoughts are applicable for all parents when selecting schools for their children, but we believe that because issues of race, class and culture so underlie our society even today, there is an added layer of complexity for parents of children of color, and African American boys, in particular.

Academic Rigor That Meets Your and Your Child’s Aspirations

We are going to begin with an assumption that very little needs to be said about academic rigor. We assume that as a concerned parent, you will look first at the available data for your son and the schools to ensure that the schools you are considering provide the academic rigor you believe most appropriate for his educational success and future.

Social and Emotional Stimulation is Important

Next, the task is to figure out whether the school environment is socially and emotionally stimulating. When choosing a school in your son’s early years, factors including proximity to home, diversity, class size, school curriculum and school culture are key in social and emotional development. As your son grows older, each of these factors takes on greater or lesser significance depending on his interests, maturity and development.

Diversity is Key

For boys of color, the racial and ethnic diversity of the school should be a strong consideration. For a child trying to develop his sense of self, being the “only one” can be brutal. It is important that children of color see that all members of the school community — other students, faculty, administrators and other key personnel — reflect positive images of people of color. The curriculum should reflect the experience of students of color as well. A school committed to diversity and children’s social and emotional well being will have formal mechanisms in place, such as support groups, to help parents of color navigate the inevitable bumps that come up.

Note that school and class size may affect diversity. If you’re looking at a small school you want to make sure your son will not be the “only one” in his grade, and if it is a big school you want to make sure your son does not get lost. If your child is entering at a later grade in a larger school you want to make sure that the students of color in his grade are friendly and open to new students. Most importantly, you want to make sure that there is a critical mass of students of color in the school to help provide your son with a sense of belonging.

The “Right Fit” is Paramount

In the final analysis, what’s most important is that your son is in a school that is the “right fit”. There’s no easier way to turn a boy off from school than to put him or keep him in a school environment that doesn’t nurture his interests and talents while meeting his academic needs and aspirations. What does it mean to find the “right fit”? Well, it’s not a one size fits all definition, and it may not be constant in your child’s life. The right fit is relative to your son and it may change as your son grows and develops.

The best way to define the “right fit” is with examples. If athletics play a key role in your child’s maturation and development, enrolling him in a school that doesn’t have an organized athletics program may prove challenging to keeping him engaged. If your son comes alive in a learning environment that emphasizes the humanities and world languages, and you insist that he goes to a school that caters to students interested in math and science, his grades and social life may reflect his unhappiness. Putting your child in a school that offers little in arts and culture, even though your child is artistically inclined, will limit his ability to further develop his talents.

Finding the “right fit” does not mean enrolling your child in a school that emphasizes your child’s interests over other key subjects and learning activities critical to his development. It simply means making sure that the school environment you choose provides the right balance of academics and other developmental programs that will ensure your child receives the educational experience that helps him to flourish in many areas, including those important to him.

Finding the Fit

How do you go about finding all of this information about the schools you are considering for your son? Talk to as many people as you can while you are looking at schools, and listen carefully to their answers. Be actively engaged during the touring process and ask questions at every opportunity. Speak with an assortment of parents who have children in the schools, don’t just rely on one family’s impressions. Know what your son needs, and as you visit each school, ask yourself if you can see him being happy in this environment. Push aside any anxiety about the process and focus on your mission, which is finding the best school for your son.


More posts from Anne and Jennifer are coming soon. Stay tuned for their next post: “What To Do When The Road Gets Rocky for Your Son at School (And it Will)”.

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Filed under Academics, Admissions, Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12

Math in Preschool: Firm Foundation for the Future

Here’s yet another interesting educational piece in the news: Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article about how Chicago preschool and kindergarten teachers are integrating math concepts into daily classroom activities, giving young students firmer footing when they learn more complex math concepts in later grades. The teachers are being trained by The Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development which was co-founded by Barbara Bowman, mother of White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Erikson’s Early Mathematics Education Project grew out of the school’s findings that only 21 percent of Chicago early education teachers regularly taught math to their students, while 96 percent regularly taught language arts. This program trains teachers to focus on teaching mathematical thinking, rather than basic math procedures, and to make math an integral part of the children’s school day. As of the program’s professors explains, learning mathematical thinking at this young age helps students develop skills in reasoning and logic which prepare them to become not only better math students, but more focused students in any subject.

The Wall Street Journal article can be found here, and more information about the Erikson Institute can be found here.

How much math do your preschool and kindergarten children get in their day? Ask your schools if you don’t know.


Filed under Academics, Ages 0-4, Math

What Do Your Children Know About Our Civil Rights History?

Today’s New York Times features an article, found here, which details how little today’s schools teach about the history of the Civil Rights movement and how little today’s students know about basic civil rights history. Julian Bond, the former civil rights activist who began teaching the history of the civil rights movement twenty years ago, speaks of having students who confused segregationist Gov. George Wallace with “60 Minutes” journalist Mike Wallace. While we can decry the lack of inclusion of Civil Rights history in our children’s schools, this is no different than when we were schoolchildren and there was scant, if any, mention of African American leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, A. Phillip Randolph or even Frederick Douglass in our classrooms. It was incumbent upon our parents then, and it is incumbent on us as parents now, to make sure that Black children understand the history of African American struggle and achievement that allows them to live in a country where their equality is rooted in the law.

Of course, some of us had the advantage of growing up during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, so we could see the battles unfolding around us on the evening news. We could see the value in learning Black history to understand how those movements fit in the continuum of the struggle of Black people for full citizenship. Our parents made us aware of the responsibility we had as the first generation able to take full advantage of entrance into elite schools and mainstream professions and companies. The reality is that two generations later, many of our children don’t feel that sense of urgency. We’ve all had conversations with friends bemoaning the unintended consequences of the hard won gains of the civil rights movement and the comfortable, integrated middle and upper middle class lifestyles it has made possible– our children believe they have the freedom to be mediocre.

The last three years of the Obama administration have shown us that the backlash against the Black equality his presidency represents is a real threat for all Black Americans. Considering the efforts by several Republican state legislatures to restrict our access to the ballot box and the persistently higher unemployment rates among Black people pushing many middle class people into poverty, our children can ill afford to skate by academically or bask in comfortable ignorance of our history. As the axiom says, “Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.”

GCP would like to know, “How are you making sure that your children know the history of the Civil Rights movement?” We’d love to share good ideas about how to make our history come alive for our children.

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Filed under Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, College Bound Students, Parents, Saving Our Sons

Are We Helping Our Children Learn to Handle Adversity?

Today’s New York Times Magazine includes a very interesting article, found here, about how the heads of a Manhattan private school and a national charter school program are working to help their students develop good character traits as well as good study habits. The private school head feared that his school’s focus on testing at every juncture and encouraging students to excel academically above all else did not give them a full set of tools with which to lead a successful life. While the head of the charter school program, whose students are almost all Black or Latino and from low-income families, was less concerned about the effects of frequent testing, he was concerned that a number of his highest achieving graduates had trouble doing well and sticking it out through college (an oft stated goal for all of their students), and that the students who were graduating college were the ones with the stronger character traits rather than the best grades.

Both educators saw a real need to give their students the psychological tools to pull themselves through a crisis (academic or emotional), come to terms with their own shortcomings and to work to overcome them. The article details how they worked together with a University of Pennsylvania researcher to come up with ways to teach their students important character traits which can help them develop these tools.

We at GCP have had many conversations with African American parents who worry that some of our children who are being raised in comfortable homes, with many of their wants and needs met on a regular basis, haven’t fully developed the skills to deal with adversity in or out of the classroom. A comment in this article made by one of the officials at the private school sounds uncomfortably familiar: “Our kids don’t put up with a lot of suffering. They don’t have a threshold for it. They’re protected against it quite a bit. And when they do get uncomfortable, we hear from their parents. We try to talk to parents about having to sort of make it O.K. for there to be challenge, because that’s where learning happens…[These parents are] overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving, but at the expense of their character.” While GCP staunchly advocates active parent involvement in our sons (and daughter’s) schooling, we agree that parents who are focused on fixing each and every problem for their children can impede their children’s ability to fix things for themselves, which is a critical life tool. Moreover, it can make the children believe on a subconscious level that they are unable to fend for themselves.

Of course, no parent thinks it is a good idea to create spoiled, soft children. And as this article notes, parents from every economic strata have the natural instinct to want to give their children what they want and need, and to protect them from discomfort and harm. The struggle for parents is knowing when and how to step back and let the child experience adversity and figure out how to make things better on his or her own. GCP will be exploring this issue, and how it particularly pertains to our community, with parents, teachers and experts. Stay tuned.

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Filed under Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, College Bound Students, Parents, Saving Our Sons

Back to School for Parents

Now that our sons are back in school, it’s time for parents to focus on our Back to School To Do List. Here are a few things you can do to help your son start the school year well:

Review your son’s schedule. Find out what you can about the teachers from your son, other parents and whatever adult sources you’ve got in the school. Where does your son’s lunch hour fall in the day? If it is very early or very late in the day, you might want to start the practice of putting (or having him put) a few healthy snacks in his backpack to get him through the day.
Talk with your son about teacher’s expectations. In the post elementary school years, teachers generally begin the semester by outlining what their classes will cover, what their expectations are for the students, and when they are available outside of class. They usually put this information in writing and distribute it to their class. Check with your son to make sure he focuses on this important information, and have him put a copy on his desk at home.
Review Academic Planners: Does your son have a daily academic planner to record homework assignments and upcoming tests? If his school doesn’t require one for him, make sure you purchase one for him, and instruct him to write down all homework assigned that day and all tests/quizzes announced in class for all classes. The start of the school year is the perfect time to establish this practice. Even if your son has done this in years past, he may need your help during the first few weeks with remembering to keep his planner up to date. Depending on his level of focus on these kinds of things, he may need your help remembering throughout the school year!
Take a good look at the school calendar, and take note of all of the upcoming important meetings. When is Curriculum or Open School night? Lock it into your schedule now. Also take note of the Parent’s Association or PTA meetings on the horizon. Make it a point to attend as many of these meetings as you can, try to do at least one a quarter. If your work schedule simply doesn’t allow it, take the time now to connect with a parent who regularly attends the meetings, and ask if you can follow up with them after the meeting to see what took place. It is important to know what is going on at your son’s school, even if it doesn’t seem to directly impact him at this time. It is also important to know the players within the parent’s association—you never know when you might need their help.
What school-sponsored events are coming up? Book sales, bake sales, after school events? Is there an opportunity for you to become involved with their planning? Lots of work can be done via telephone and email, which can be done anywhere. Everyone appreciates your pitching in to help, and it enables you to connect with other parents and the administration in ways you might not otherwise.
What is your son doing after school? While it is important to get afterschool activities scheduled as soon as possible, make sure you are not crowding his week with too many things to do. As the school year progresses, he will appreciate downtime during the week, and he may need it to focus on more challenging schoolwork.

Readers, any other suggestions? Please leave them in a comment below.

Best wishes for a good and productive school year!!!

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Filed under Academics, Admissions, Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, College Bound Students, Holidays, Parents, Resources

A Persistent Problem: Being Bullied By Our Own for Being Smart

A generation ago, when I was a kid being bused into a predominantly white school in Brooklyn, I faced daily taunting and intimidation on the school bus from other Black students, who accused me of “acting white,” and “thinking I was cute” for the crime of being the only Black kid picked to be in the class for high achievers in my grade in the predominantly white school. I was teased, spat on and physically assaulted frequently during that 25 minute bus ride. While intervention by my parents and the school stopped the physical assaults, the ostracism continued. Luckily for me, my parents had the resources to move us out of Brooklyn to a more racially and economically integrated suburb.

A generation later, my husband and I moved to a similarly integrated suburb with the belief that our kids would be spared social ostracism for liking books as well as Lil Wayne. Imagine my disappointment when my son hit middle school and was subjected to daily taunting from his Black schoolmates because he liked to read, spoke standard English and had a diverse group of friends. After being on the Honor Roll his first semester, his grades took a nose dive. It took several months for us to ferret out the extent of the bullying to which our son was being subjected. Our suggestion to his teachers that the decline in his grades was caused by the bullying fell on deaf ears. Several of his teachers, including a Black teacher, preferred to believe that his newly mediocre grades were the best he could do. We ultimately moved him to a different school, where he is happier and his grades have improved.

A recent study conducted by sociologists at Virginia Tech and Ohio State University validates what many parents understand – bullying can be particularly detrimental to high achieving Black and Latino students. An article detailing the study can be found here. In his 2006 study “An Empirical Study of ‘Acting White”, Harvard Economist Roland Fryer determined that being ostracized for “acting white” is most prevalent in racially integrated public schools and has the highest social costs for adolescent males of color. An article written by Fryer about his findings can be found here.

Has your child been subjected to this kind of bullying? What did you do about it? Please share with us your experiences in confronting bullying.

Lisa Davis

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Filed under Academics, Admissions, Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, College Bound Students

The Educational Crisis of Young Men of Color

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, and Gaston Caperton, President of the College Board, have written an essay in today’s Huffington Post and calling for national focus on educating young Black men. You can read it here. Gates and Caperton co-hosted a webcast discussion of this topic today at the W.E.B. DuBois Institute. The College Board Advocacy and Policy Center’s recent research in this area produced a report, “The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color”, which you can read here.

GCP heard some additional info today from Professor Gates which we'd like to pass on:  According to the 2010 census, there are 720 black cardiologists practicing in the U.S.  How many black basketball players?  About 350. Even assuming that only half of the cardiologists are men, it is statistically easier for our young men to become a board certified cardiologist than a basketball player in the NBA.

Let's get this word out to the boys who most need to hear it.


Filed under Ages 0-4, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, College Bound Students, Parents, Saving Our Sons