Category Archives: Experts

People who have conducted research in the relevant areas of educational/academic performance.

GCP Event: Great Advice on Raising Boys from Kathryn Chenault

This past Saturday GCP had another live event: A conversation with GCP mom Kathryn Chenault. Kathryn, an attorney who stepped away from her professional life to devote time and effort to raising her two sons (who are now wonderful young men in their 20′s), graciously hosted us at her glorious home. Beautiful surroundings, great weather, and wonderful advice from a boy mom extraordinaire.

A great group of mothers were there to hear Kathryn and join our conversation about raising boys of color. Kathryn had so many words of wisdom to share, and the other mothers had lots of questions and stories of their own to share.

Here are five of Kathryn’s many helpful tips for raising boys:

1. Help Them Feel Good About Themselves: From the time that her sons were very young, Kathryn focused on helping them feel good about themselves and making sure they knew that she was their ally. She regularly told them “they could do anything”, that success would be theirs if they worked hard for it, and that they should talk to her about their issues and concerns. While we imagine and hope that most parents feel this way about their sons, Kathryn reminded us how important it is to tell them this on a regular basis. She also regularly talked with her sons about the golden rule, telling them that they should “treat others as you would want to be treated”. Basic but important lessons to remember to teach our sons.

2. Be a Parent Volunteer at Their Schools: Kathryn described spending a lot of time at her sons’ school, particularly in the earlier years when the school was generally more receptive to parent involvement in the classroom. (We at GCP were especially happy to hear this, as we have been encouraging our parents to spend as much time as possible at school, or if their jobs prohibit this, do what they can and befriend a mom who spends more time there.) She talked about the benefits of being able to observe her sons in school with their classmates, and as importantly, the benefits of developing a relationship with the teachers which helped ease communication throughout the school years. When she observed something in school with which she didn’t agree, however, she was careful not to challenge the teacher directly at that moment, or suggest to either her sons that she didn’t want them to follow the school’s rules. This is key, as parents should try to avoid behavior which labels them as a constantly complaining or troublemaker parent, most importantly because it rarely gets them to the desired results.

3. Read Along with Your Son: Beginning in their early years and continuing through high school, Kathryn independently read some of the novels her sons’ were assigned and chatted with them about the readings. Not only would this give her a good sense about where they were with their reading comprehension, it allowed her to fully participate in interesting conversations at home with her sons about the books they were reading at school. (We at GCP learned this from Kathryn years ago and were surprised and delighted to see an increase in our sons’ enthusiasm about talking about school work.) Short on reading time? Cliff Notes work too!

4. Keep them Grounded: Kathryn would regularly remind her sons not to get too comfortable in whatever creature comforts she and her husband have been able to provide for them. She let them know from an early age that they should take nothing for granted, especially any luxuries they might currently enjoy. She also told them from an early age that they would need to get good jobs to be able to afford the nice things they seemed to like and desire. (Since both boys are college graduates pursuing careers, this message seems to have stuck.) Parents who have been fortunate enough to be able to provide well for their children must remember to make sure their children know that they will have to work hard to continue these great lifestyles for themselves once they are through with school. This message is particularly important now, as current economic data suggests that our children’s generation may not surpass us on the economic ladder. Best that they get the message of “every tub on its own bottom” sooner rather than later.

5. Encourage Them to Seek Mates with Similar Values: One of the mothers asked Kathryn for advice concerning our young adult sons and dating. This sparked a candid conversation about how different the dating world seemed to be these days, and that advising our sons to “find someone just like us” didn’t seem to be working so well. We ultimately agreed that the best advice we could give our sons would be to look for mates who shared their values and who made them happy. Considering the passion and enthusiasm with which the mothers engaged in this discussion, we could have had a whole session on this topic!

Thanks so much to Kathryn Chenault for giving us so much food for thought about parenting our boys and for hosting this great event. Thanks so much as well to Gwendolyn Adolph for inspiring and planning it. We hope to have more GCP live events; we will keep you posted!!


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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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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Experts, Parents

Watch “The Big Brain Theory” on the Discovery Channel

Are you or your sons STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) enthusiasts? Do you want to be? Sounds like the new show “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius” premiering on the Discovery Channel tomorrow (May 1) is right up your alley. This show will feature an impossible sounding engineering challenge each week which teams of skilled contestants will attempt to solve. Each week the expert panel of judges will determine the winning team and eliminate a team member from the losing team. The ultimate winner will receive $50,000 and a year long contract to work at an award winning design firm.

The show is hosted by Kal Penn, most well known as an actor (the “Harold and Kumar” films and a regular on the tv series “House”) but whose resume also includes a recent two year stint as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and an adjunct professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. The regular and guest judges include experts in renewable energy and robotics as well as astronauts and inventors. The show follows the contestants (which include one young man with an awesome Afro) as they work on the various challenges and captures the tension, excitement and angst of their creative process.

The show’s website, found here, has a lot of interesting information about the show and its participants. It also includes some Brain Games which you and your children can try. Check it out, and make a note to check out the show’s debut with your children. It comes on fairly late (10pm Eastern Standard Time), so you might want to record it and watch it with them at a more convenient time. Let us know what you think!

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More Good News from Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies

As college admissions results roll in, here’s some good news to consider: For the fourth year in a row, all of the 167 seniors in Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies schools have been accepted into four year colleges or universities.

The Urban Prep Academy network has expanded since GCP reported their success last year (“And Now For Some Good News from Urban Academy Prep”, April 3, 2012), and now boasts three all male charter schools in the Chicago area. These college bound seniors attend two of the three Urban Prep Academy schools; the third school will graduate its first class next year. The Huffington Post covered their celebration of this event in an article which can be found here.

The all-male preparatory charter school network was founded in 2006. At that time, only four percent of its freshman class at its flagship Englewood campus was reading at grade level at the start of the school year. By 2010, all 107 of its graduating seniors were headed for college or university programs. 85 percent of the students at Urban Prep’s campuses come from low-income families and many of the students start at least two grade levels behind where they should be. All of this year’s graduates are African American males, as are the majority of the network’s students.

How are these students succeeding? The old fashioned way, with a lot of hard work. CEO Urban Prep’s founder and CEO Tim King dismisses talk of the “magical” success rates of his students, noting, “the only magic going on at Urban Prep is the magic that these guys put in with their hard work and dedication.”

Check out the pictures in the Huff Po article of these young men beaming at the celebration of their college bound status. They are proud of themselves, as they should be. And we are proud of them as well! Congrats to them all.

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Ask Dr. Michael G. Thompson: Educating Our Sons

How can we help our wonderful, maddening, lovable, frustrating, genius, unmotivated, spectacular sons grow into healthy and happy young men? In our ongoing efforts to seek parenting advice and info from people who have made finding answers to these kinds of questions their life’s work, GCP connected with Dr. Michael G. Thompson, the renowned clinical psychologist and boy guru who has authored or co-authored several now-classic books about raising boys, including “It’s a Boy!: Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Eighteen”, the New York Times bestseller, “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys”, and “Speaking of Boys: Answers to the Most-Asked Questions about Raising Sons”. For additional information, see an earlier GCP post on Dr. Thompson, “Dr. Michael G. Thompson: Helping Parents Raise Their Sons”, (April 27, 2011)

Dr. Thompson is a consultant for independent schools and public school districts across the United States. In this capacity he has observed thousands of boys in schools, and as he writes about African American boys in his books he shows a thoughtful sensitivity to the particular issues they can face in school. We were thrilled when Dr. Thompson agreed to answer questions we compiled from a group of African American parents. This is the first in a series of posts in which we will share these questions and answers. These first questions are focused on educating our sons.

How can we help our sons become excited about learning? How can we help them to engage more with books, reading, writing and school in general rather than just video games? Even when they show signs of intellectual curiosity in the early school years, it tends to wane as middle school approaches.

You have asked the central question in education; how can we, as parents and educators, transform a child’s natural curiosity and desire to develop skills into focused academic learning. Traditional education makes the assumption that learning is hard and that children need to master basic skills—many of them boring—in order to begin to enjoy learning; since the time of John Dewey, progressive educators have hoped to tap into children’s natural curiosity and energy so that learning is enjoyable from the start and grows into a discipline pursuit. I think you need to start with this fundamental truth: Children like to learn but they very often dislike being taught. The best schools are the ones with both a progressive approach and high expectations. When you apply this principle to parents as teachers, you have to mix activities and enrichment throughout childhood with high expectations for performance. In middle school, you may need to put boys into a situation where other people like coaches and camp counselors are providing the demands (focus, discipline, etc.) as well as the rewards that boys crave (respect, public attention, status among their peers).

What are the advantages of single sex education for boys? Are there
any particular advantages for African American boys?

All boys, but especially African American boys, are under pressure to appear cool and strong and masculine in order to win the respect of their peers. One of the ways that boys can appear cool is by not conforming to adult values, i.e. by not liking school. In a single-sex environment boys find it harder to disrespect school or outsource being a good student to girls. They compete only with other boys for the top spots in the class: athletic, academic and in leadership. Also, once they get to adolescence and are on a biological basis profoundly distracted by girls, a single-sex school keeps them focused by removing the distractions. Do all-boys schools guarantee academic success for all boys? No. No school does.

How can we make sure that teachers and school administrators who may harbor unconscious biases with respect to African American males do not misinterpret normal/developmentally appropriate behavior on the part of our sons?

Racism is not as bad as it once was; we’ve made considerable progress, but it occasionally crops up in the way teachers understand and respond to the behavior of African American boys. Accusing teachers of racism or racial insensitivity always makes them defensive; that’s a tough road to go down. I think every African American parent should have an administrator at the school whom they really trust, so they can go, in private, and ask whether the teacher is seeing the situation clearly or fairly.

We are concerned about the impact of racial identity development on boys’ social maturation. Boys of color can struggle with an additional burden of trying to meet cultural expectations which others place upon them or which they place on themselves (e.g., jock, hip hop expert, street wise urban male) which may be departures from their actual personalities. This can be especially problematic when they are greatly underrepresented in their school community. How can we help them deal with this burden, which can
impact them socially and academically?

Talk about it and talk some more. All you can do is acknowledge the burden, listen to a boy describe it, empathize with his feelings and admire the courage it often takes to be a minority student.

* * * *
Stay tuned for more Q & A with Dr. Thompson.

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Parenting Lessons from Ellis Marsalis

Last night I had the incredible pleasure of sitting at a friend’s small dinner party for Jazz at Lincoln Center and listening to Wynton Marsalis jam with his quintet in her living room(!). As Wynton introduced their final piece, “Take the A Train”, he mentioned that he had the opportunity to meet Duke Ellington back in 1971, when he was 10. Ellington was in New Orleans performing and Wynton’s father, jazz great Ellis Marsalis, offered to take him to meet the world famous musician and hear him play. “I had the opportunity”, Wynton explained ruefully, “but I decided to stay home instead to watch the Oakland Raiders game on TV.” His father did not pressure Wynton, who at 10 was already an accomplished musician, and went on to hang with Ellington without his son.

While bobbing my head and tapping my feet to the wonderful music, I couldn’t stop thinking about Wynton’s intro. What a great parenting story! Marsalis in all likelihood was surprised and disappointed that his son was choosing to watch a football game over the chance to meet and hear a musical legend. But he didn’t force him to go, or try to make him feel badly about not wanting to go. He allowed Wynton to make the decision and accept the consequences of his actions. A pretty good lesson, since Wynton is still telling the story some 40 years later.

Many parents, myself included, would have cajoled or forced our sons to go, frustrated that we had to do so, but determined that they would not miss this opportunity. But truth be told, wouldn’t that effort be as much for ourselves as for our sons, so that we could feel good about giving them every opportunity we can? Marsalis the father recognized that for Wynton the opportunity would only be valuable if Wynton wanted it. He gave Wynton the freedom to make a decision and resisted the temptation to tell him it was not a great one. Very impressive.

There is another lesson in this story: have patience and faith when your son is not interested in your efforts to help him pursue his passions or when he makes a decision you understand and can accept but don’t agree with. After all, who would have thought that a boy who chose to watch the Oakland Raiders on television over meeting the legendary Duke Ellington and hearing him play would grow up to be a Pulitzer Prize and National Medal of Arts winning, globally heralded and revered jazz musician, composer, bandleader, and our international ambassador of American culture?

Patience and faith. Words to parent and live by!

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NYC Principals Cite Cultural Disconnect to Explain Greater Suspension Numbers for Black and Hispanic Students

Several New York City principals have suggested that the disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic students suspensions in NYC public schools can be traced to the failure of teachers and administrators to understand the street-wise origins of the students’ aggressive behavior. In an article found here the principals suggest that these students are having trouble understanding that the combative behavior which may serve them well in their neighborhoods is not acceptable in school.

Rashid Davis, principal of a high school in Crown Heights explains, “Many of my students live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and a sign of weakness is, unfortunately, timid behavior. So they learn early growing up, in order to not be picked on, they have to meet like with like.” According to Davis, teachers and administrators who did not grow up in these neighborhoods misinterpret this rough play as aggressive behavior which warrants the most extreme punishment. Musa Sharma, principal of a high school in Queens, agrees that the aggressive behavior is born in the neighborhood and makes its way back into the school building. These principals acknowledge that punishment for such behavior is warranted, but suggest that rather than having a zero tolerance policy, they would prefer that the students receive instruction on conflict resolution and other ways for them to make better choices. However, with school budgets growing tighter and tighter, there is often no money for such instruction.

Readers, would love to get your reaction to this. The concept that poverty explains unacceptable or even criminal behavior has been around for ages, and can be a dangerously slippery slope which conservatives and liberals both can slide down. Moreover, since Blacks and Hispanics are not the only people living in high poverty areas, even if this concept were irrefutable it would not explain why it appears that they are receiving a disproportionate number of suspensions. And even if one could establish somehow that Black and Hispanic students have a harder time controlling themselves than other ethnicities, it would serve no one well to have a policy which meted out punishments based upon whether the student was expected to know better.

Having said this, the idea that teachers and administrators may overreact negatively based upon their inexperience with or biases against other cultural groups is not without merit. How to tackle racial microaggressions in schools, where teachers may harbor unconscious biases which they act upon to the detriment of their students, has been gaining traction as an important issue for schools to face.

Moreover, Black and Hispanic students have resided in high poverty areas for generations, unfortunately, and have not had such a hard time historically keeping aggressive behavior out of the schools as they appear to be having now (if you accept that this is the cause of the disproportionate punishment). What’s changed? Are Black and Hispanic students more violent in schools today? If they aren’t, then how did teachers and administrators lose their way? What can be learned from teachers, administrators and policies in years past which may have helped with this issue?

And where are the parents in all of this? Just as we need to be advocates for our children against any unfair behavior, we also need to reinforce the concept that there is certain behavior that is unacceptable in school. It is a challenge to try to tell a teenager in high school anything, but there have to be effective ways for parents to get this message across.

How would you tackle these issues?? Let us hear from you.


Filed under Academics, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 8-12, Experts

Help Our Sons Learn Our History: Advice from Julian Bond

Yesterday evening GCP attended “A Conversation with Julian Bond and Anderson Cooper”, to hear CNN anchor Cooper interview Bond about his life in the civil rights movement. Bond, who was the co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and more recently the Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP, reminisced about the evolution of his work in the civil rights movement. Bond is retiring as a professor at the University of Virginia in May of this year.

In discussing his many years as a civil rights history professor, Bond worriedly noted that the history of the civil rights movement is not well taught in schools. He cited a study commissioned last year to determine what high school seniors knew about various aspects of American History. The study revealed that the majority of the students only knew two names in civil rights history: Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. While Bond was quick to acknowledge the important contributions of these leaders, he cautioned, “Unless you know the bigger picture, you don’t know anything about it”.

Bond cited several valuable sources for parents to consult in order to ensure that our children know more about the civil rights movement and its history. The Civil Rights Movement Veterans’ website (, found here, is a comprehensive site put together by people who served in the movement. It includes narratives and interviews of movement veterans, photos, and “Letters and Reports from the Field”, written at the time the events were unfolding. This site also has a student’s section, and an extensive bibliography section which includes books for readers of all ages.

Bond also strongly recommended that parents show their children the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize”, one episode at a time. This 14 hour documentary series on the civil rights movement was created and executive-produced by Henry Hampton and broadcast on PBS in two parts, in 1987 and 1990. This series, considered by historians and academicians to be a key reference and record of the civil rights movement, may be purchased as a DVD set, and may also be borrowed from public libraries.

Fundraising efforts are underway to create the Julian Bond Professorship in Civil Rights and Social Justice at the University of Virginia. Bond hopes that the creation of this chair will enable more students to learn about the movement, and as importantly, be able to teach it to future generations. He notes, ” If future generations know the history of the struggle for civil rights, they will live in a better America.”

Let’s do our part to ensure our sons and daughters know this history.


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Walter Dean Myers, New National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

Walter Dean Myers, award-winning author of “Hoops”, “Monster”, Fallen Angels,” “Sunrise Over Fallujah”, and many other young adult novels, has been named the nation’s third Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. As the new (and first African American) National Ambassador, Myers will tour the country for two years, speaking at schools and libraries about reading and literacy. Myers, 74, will formally accept the position in a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on January 10.

As noted in an article in today’s New York Times, found here, many of Myers’ books “chronicle the lives of many urban teenagers, especially young, poor African-Americans. While his body of work includes poetry, nonfiction and the occasional cheerful picture book for children, its standout books offer themes aimed at young-adult readers: stories of teenagers in violent gangs, soldiers headed to Iraq and juvenile offenders imprisoned for their crimes.”

Myers balances these tough issues with messages of hope and the importance in believing in oneself. Robin Adelson, the executive director of the Children’s Book Council, which along with the Library of Congress designates the Ambassador, said that while there was a hard edge to Mr. Myers’s writing, there was also the message of holding yourself up and believing in what you can do. “I think part of what makes him such a great choice for this post is that his writing is a little bit of everything,” she said. “There’s this interest in history and this deep knowledge of history in Walter’s writing. Then there’s this definite hard-core, hard-edged realism.”

Myers is looking forward to using his new position to focus on the importance of reading. He is determined to tell young people that reading is “not optional”. He told the New York Times, “It’s exciting. It’s a chance to stand up and say publicly what I’ve been saying privately. There is a crisis involving reading in certain communities.” He continued, “I think that what we need to do is say reading is going to really affect your life”, adding that he hoped to speak directly to low-income minority parents. “You take a Black man who doesn’t have a job, but you say to him, ‘Look, you can make a difference in your child’s life, just by reading to him for 30 minutes a day.’ That’s what I would like to do.”

Have your children read any of Myers’ books? What are their favorites? Let’s support his appointment by making sure his books are on our children’s shelves. As noted above, he has written children’s picture books (several illustrated by his son, award-winning illustrator Christopher Myers) and biographies of African American heroes in addition to the hard-hitting young adult fiction, so there are books available for all ages. We look forward to Myers’ tenure as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.


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Coach Natalie Randolph: Teaching on the Field and in the Classroom

Here’s an inspirational story from The Washington Post to savor along with your Thanksgiving leftovers: Coach Natalie Randolph, an African American believed to be the only woman currently coaching a high school football team in the country, led her Coolidge High School Colts earlier this week to the Turkey Bowl, Washington D.C.’s public school football championship. This was the Colts’ second appearance in the game since 1987 and the first under Coach Randolph.

But Coach Randolph has done much more than improve the on-field stats of these high school athletes. With her focus and discipline in the classroom as an environmental science teacher, she has inspired the players to improve their overall grade point average from 2.75 last fall to 3.0 this season. Under her watchful eyes, one of her starting linebackers improved his GPA from 2.0 to 3.5. “She motivated me to become a better person” he explains. As the Post article, found here, notes, “Coolidge players say that in Randolph they see a uniquely genuine person, someone who is tough when needed (‘no study hall, no practice’) but will cheer louder than anyone when they earn an A”.

The players respect Coach Randolph and want her to see them succeed. “It makes me feel great that we can do this for her and do this for ourselves, to take the first lady to the Turkey Bowl in her second year,” senior wide receiver-defensive back Calvin Brown said. “That’s a great accomplishment. It pays off, the hard work that we put in pays off to the Turkey Bowl.” Although the Coolidge Colts were defeated in the Turkey Bowl by Dunbar, a D.C. football powerhouse, the team knows that the hard work they put in to get there will continue to pay off for them.

Coach Randolph teaches three environmental science classes while coaching the football team, and has seen great results in the classroom as well as on the field. She is a shining example of what GCP has focused on in several previous posts: the good things that happen when the motivation and discipline that boys accept and absorb from coaches is brought into the classroom. (See, “What Teachers Can Learn from Coaches”, 4/8/11, and “What We All Can Learn from Coaches”, 10/18/11) As Coach Randolph demonstrates, teaching and coaching is truly a winning combination.

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