Famed neurosurgeon surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, looked like just another black academic failure in his pre and elementary school years. His writings show that he was so angry he would have stabbed a classmate, and so learning-disabled that even the greatest Special Ed teacher would not have been able to mainstream him. The solution to his non-achievement and a cure for his learning disability was not discovered by a government agency, an administrator or a crackerjack teacher. His deliverance came through the tenacity and commitment of his uneducated but God-fearing mother who refused to believe the limitations that everyone else in his world had placed on him. The result years later was the youngest department head in Johns Hopkins Hospital’s history and innovative healer who made impossible problems subside in the lives of successive generations upon whom he performed surgery.
Dr. Carson’s story demonstrates that changing the achievement data in a great number of underprivileged and minority homes may have to do more with parental expectations than parental skill or even access to superior resources. Many of my liberal friends have mistakenly concluded that urban problems can only be fixed by big government and big spending.
H. L. Mencken famously observed that, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” In this case the wrong answer is overspending on school infrastructure instead of empowering parents in at-risk communities.
According to a 2009 study, American students rank 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading among other nations. More disturbing, however, is the widening gulf between higher and lower achieving American students. A 2011 Stanford University study shows the achievement gap between lower and upper income students is 40% greater than it was 25 years ago. Some American students may be on pace to compete but those who are behind have little chance of catching up.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
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