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Where does renewed awareness about the plight of black people in the U.S. lead us?

Chris Fields

On Sunday evening I went to a local church in Minneapolis to hear a forum discussion on the George Zimmerman verdict. The panelists were both outraged by the jury verdict and horrified by the implications for young black men. The panelists and members of the audience echoed what has been widely reported by media outlets and cable television hosts. But below the outrage on the surface, I’m still not sure what lessons both blacks and whites are taking away from this tragedy.

President Barack Obama gave us a bird’s eye view of how this incident is seen through the eyes of many in the black community. Those remarks weren’t designed to mark a shift in policy, nor will they. Tavis Smiley, a well-known advocate for issues that affect minorities, noted that the president “didn’t walk to the podium, he was pushed because of mass protests.”

A University of Pennsylvania study backs up Smiley’s general concern. The study found that President Obama spoke about race less in his first two years than any other Democratic president since 1961. In our state, Gov. mark Dayton made some remarks about Stand Your Ground laws (which by the way he pledged to support in his campaign but later vetoed). But he is largely quiet on issues pertaining to race. In fact he only has one black person in his Cabinet.

If policies won’t be changed and political leaders won’t lead, then where does the energy and renewed awareness about the plight of black people in America lead us? Some community leaders and a few of the panelists at the forum I attended suggest we will have justice when America recognizes white privilege as the main problem and takes steps to do away with it. As a black man, I am familiar with the concept, but it is doubtful to me that many white Americans feel privileged when it comes time to pay their rent or make their car- and student-loan payments. Others have called for a renewed focus on education — and, more specifically, black history.

Focus on closing the gaps

The renewed focus on education is justified, but it highly doubtful that teaching more black history will solve the problem. Our state has the largest achievement gap in education between black and white students in the entire country. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the four-year graduation rate for black students in Minneapolis is only 36.8 percent. We also have the largest employment gap between black and whites in the entire country, with black unemployment in the Twin Cities at nearly 20 percent.

What we know for sure works are models like Cristo Rey in Minneapolis. The school has a well-rounded curriculum and produces stellar results. Working with the same inner-city student population our public schools work with, Cristo Rey has managed to achieve a graduation rate of over 90 percent. Students there are learning the academic and life skills needed to succeed in and not become victims.

Their model works. Instead of copying it this past legislative session the Democratic majority eliminated high-school graduation exit exams. At a time when the vast majority of Minnesotans and experts across the political spectrum agree that the way to avoid tragedies like this in the future is to ensure we are educating our children, we should not be eliminating the bar. Instead we need to help our minority communities stand on their feet and ensure they never stand alone.

Doing nothing isn’t an option

As Minnesotans we need to learn that doing nothing about the problems that continually plague our inner-city youth is not an option. We must reignite our passion and concern for some of the most vulnerable among us. As a black community we need to learn that black on black violence (like the carnage we see happening in Chicago) is just as unacceptable as this atrocity.

This is an opportunity for all of us to rise to the challenge of this moment because while yesterday matters, today counts. 

Chris Fields is Secretary of the Republican Party of Minnesota.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/25/2013 - 08:51 am.

    Can we all stop talking about how things work out so well for students at schools like Christo Rey and how that should be the model for public schools !?!?

    First of all, students at Christo Rey have to apply for admission. Second, the student must commit to work in the corporate work/study program in order to pay for the costs of schooling. Third, their application for admission needs to be accompanied by references from teachers and community leaders. Fourth, they need to disclose their special education needs. Fifth, there is a very strict set of attendance, behavior, dress, and work rules The school has the absolute right to accept the students that they think will work best with and benefit from their school model and that will represent the school in the best possible manner . And, needless to say, they can unilaterally and permanently eject students from their school if they do not meet their standards.

    The students at these schools are selected on the basis of their motivation, attitude and ability.

    So unless you are seriously proposing that schooling be an earned right for the few that meet strict admission standards, let’s all stop making these silly comments about schools like Christo Rey.

  2. Submitted by John Egekrout on 07/25/2013 - 09:30 am.

    challenge for Mr. Fields

    Mr. Fields should spend some time walking around north Mpls in the neighborhoods where the kids live and tell them about how great Christo Rey is and how it will make a big difference in their lives. I would LOVE to watch. Mr. Fields should be ashamed to be in the political party that cuts funding for the programs that help the very kids he is talking about. Everyone can’t go to a private Jesuit school, Mr. Fields. Support your public schools. And join the right party while you’re at it.

    • Submitted by Dan Niesen on 07/25/2013 - 06:34 pm.

      Chris Lives in 59B which is in North Minneapolis

      I know he understands the problems. Throwing money at problems does not solve anything. If it did, this would not be a problem. As Mr. Fields mentioned the schools in Minneapolis get $10,000 more per student and get less results. We are throwing our hard earned money at this and getting nothing in return. We need a new education policy in Minneapolis and get rid of what we have. We need to teach to the smartest students and help the struggling children keep up. We know from studies it is the teaching policy in Minneapolis that are holding these kids back not the students.

  3. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 07/25/2013 - 11:09 am.

    Pretty weak effort from Mr. Fields

    As others have already pointed out, Cristo Rey is hardly a suitable model for public education.

    This is just another non-solution to our current problems. It is fitting that the proposer is the Secretary of the Minnesota Republican party and a loser in the last election to Representative Keith Ellison by a whopping 3 to 1 margin.

    If this is the best the Republican party can do, they are in real trouble, again, in the next election.

  4. Submitted by Bill Walsh on 07/25/2013 - 11:48 am.

    Christo Rey

    Actually, anyone who wants to can go to Christo Rey. You just have to want to. They will find a way to make it work. Same with other private and charter schools.

    The only thing stopping Minneapolis schools from forming a school like this is attitude and the status quo. How can anyone (or any party) possibly defend a graduation rate for black students of 36.8%?

    Try something new. Anything. And stop criticizing Christo Rey and people like Chris Fields who are actually doing something to help students get ahead.

  5. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 07/25/2013 - 02:54 pm.

    “the only thing stopping Minneapolis schools from forming a

    school like this” is separation of church and state?

  6. Submitted by Dave Thul on 07/25/2013 - 04:32 pm.

    So if Christo Rey isnt the answer

    then what is?

    Because the sad fact is that the commenters here and Education Minnesota are insisting that a 36% graduation rate is not something we can change.

  7. Submitted by Donald Allen on 07/25/2013 - 04:51 pm.

    Blackness missed

    Please explain your ethos. Secondly, when did MinnPost care about AA issues?

  8. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 07/25/2013 - 06:46 pm.

    Dave, your argument is

    what is called a straw man, a distortion of one’s opponent’s position.

    Where did anyone say that nothing can be done about the graduation rate?

    What has been said is that Cristo Rey is not the answer for reasons that have already been outlined.

    If you have any actual suggestions to solve the problem please let us know them, keeping in mind that there is such a thing as the separation of church and state.

    • Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/26/2013 - 07:13 am.

      Two thoughts:1. One way to

      Two thoughts:
      1. One way to create good teachers is to make teacher training rigorous and difficult, with plenty of critical feedback, more like an engineering school than an Arts and Science college. That would both make the ones who make it through better and encourage the weak teachers to leave (vanishingly few flunk out of or leave teachers’ college currently). Salaries would have to go up to attract enough candidates who could make it through that training.

      2. Use your best teachers better. Teachers, particularly at earlier grade levels, spend a large part of their day grading, herding the little monsters from place to place, cleaning up, supervising student work time and tests and preparing materials. Instead of giving a teacher 25 students, give the best teacher 75 students, pay her/him 50% more, give her/him 2-3 assistants (paid much less), and let the teacher focus only on actual pedagogy. Some of the Swedish charter schools seem to be trying this.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/25/2013 - 10:07 pm.

    Many of the successful charter schools in poor neighborhoods are successful because they attempt to overcome habits established in homes and earlier schools, habits of language, dress, respect, and discipline. They attempt to be an island of the best of middle class morality and ambition in the midst of a poor neighborhood that lacks both. It can be a blow to the parents’ pride to see their children educated to become different from them. As such it is wise to limit charter schools to those who choose them. A parent who has to fight to get their child into a charter school is already determined to make their child different from his or her peers. Without that impetus, it can be difficult for a charter school to survive.

    In other words, the secret to teaching children of poor parents to be middle class is to teach them to reject the poor culture and norms outside the school grounds, and embrace the middle class professional culture and norms within the school grounds. Long hours at school mean fewer hours at home and in the “hood”. In short, children are removed from the bad influence of their parents and their local peers. This can be accomplished on a small scale with a group of children with highly motivated parents, but to accomplish it on a large scale will bring on cries of cultural imperialism and racism. Most lower income parents don’t accept that for their children to be successful they must reject their parents’ cultural milieu in favor of one that emphasizes success and achievement, but that is in fact what must happen.

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