Listeners Weigh In On Race And Education

Hear feedback from listeners and readers of the blog. This week, thoughts about the way race affects the way people learn, and just how much parents should tell their children about their pasts.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now it's time for Back Talk, where we lift the curtain and conversations happening on the Tell Me More blog and get a chance to hear from you. Douglas Hopper, our web producer, joins me in the studio as always. Hey Douglas, what's up?

DOUGLAS HOPPER: Hey, Michel. Actually I was just checking on the blog and people are still talking about the conversation we had about whether ones' back ground or race makes them learn differently. Pastor Jeremiah Wright suggested the idea in one of his public speeches last week. It caught our attention, so we turned to two education professors. Dr. Janice Hale was one of the authorities, Jeremiah Wright cited. She argued that race does make a difference in the classroom.

Dr. JANICE HALE (Professor of Education): There are empirical studies that say that there are differences. I mean, just for example, look at vocabulary. I mean, there are studies that document that when African-American children come to school, they have about half the vocabulary of white children. This is cultural.

HOPPER: But Professor Pedro Noguera said that is a dangerous way to think about education.

Professor PEDRO NOGUERA (Professor of Education): I really have a problem with this, because I do think its start to feed into the idea that somehow black children or Latino children are inferior. I mean, you can't argue that we have different learning styles and not then have that lead to the conclusion that therefore, less capable, less able, and I reject that notion completely.

HOPPER: Well, the conversation sparked a lot of thoughts on the blog. Lisa wrote in to say she thought Dr Hale was simply talking about cultural differences and what people know or learn outside of school, and that of course, this would have an effect on how quickly they would pick up on certain subjects.

MARTIN: Did anybody agree with Professor Noguera?

HOPPER: Definitely. In fact, most people who commented didn't buy the idea that black and white kids learn differently. Listener Ian Simon actually took personal offence. Here's what he had to say.

Mr. IAN SIMON (Listener): As a 20-something black male who recently graduated from Yale University with a Ph.D in microbiology, I reject the notion that as a child I was physiological or genetically predisposed to have a limited vocabulary or act out in the classroom. I would argue that the discouraging statistics that Dr. Hale cites about unruly and illiterate black children is more likely the cause of bad parenting and not physiologically.

MARTIN: Well, I can see that there is a lot more to say on this. So if you want to have your say, visit the blog at npr.org/tellmemore. Douglas, anything else get people's attention?

HOPPER: Well, it is almost Mother's Day. So we have been talking this week about the role of moms. The Mocha Moms shared what lessons they've learned and we have a conversation with Liza Mundy who wrote in the Washington Post Magazine about generational differences and how much parents reveal to their children about their past.

Ms. LIZA MUNDY (Journalist): There was certainly more stigma surrounding, you know, all sorts of behavior that a woman, and a man too, I assume, would try to keep them hidden and now, of course, there is much more openness and there is much more emphasis on sharing and honesty. So even as there was maybe more experimentation in the '60s and '70s, I think now there is a fair amount of pressure to be honest.

HOPPER: Well, one listener, Raul(ph), heard the conversation . He came away thinking parents shouldn't be so hung up on what they tell their kids. Here's what he wrote on the blog. "Of course, you should pull a veil over some of the icky details of your youth. Just because you are a parent, doesn't mean you are not a human being. I think it is much more important to not behave as if you have never lived a life or made bad choices". He said his mother used to offer him the advice, this is not a democracy, it's a benevolent dictatorship.

MARTIN: Benevolent dictatorship. I'm warming to that idea. Watch out Douglas. Thanks every body for your comments, and thank you Douglas.

HOPPER: You're welcome.

MARTIN: We appreciate all of your feedback, your ideas, your questions. If you want to speak our mind, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522 or you can visit us at npr.org/tellmemore and blog it out.

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