When I was a little boy in the 1970s, other than my parents, I had very little evidence of Black people in the world. My parents had moved to a suburb of San Diego called Oceanside when I was 9 months old. Other than two other Black families who lived there after their father’s time in the military, I did not interact or see hardly any Black people. The one’s I did see involved a 2-hour car ride back to the Altadena where my most of my parent’s family lived at the time. We usually went for large church events, Holidays, and birthdays. We did not stay long because my parents did not drink or smoke, but my relatives sure did at the time. Black people were alien and strange yet fascinating to me. I’d look for them in books and found only a few of them thanks to Ezra Jack Keats and Dick & Jane’s random Black friends, I’d read about them. My mother tried to get Black history books for me but until late in high school I hated reading like a little boy hates a bath. I’m just saying. I looked on the television and the few shows that had a Black person on them, they were not the star, had infrequent or comedy lines, and did nothing like my parents did. That said, my mother and father were mathematics teachers. The original Black Nerds or Blerds. Black people were abstract to me. All I wanted to do was play football, go to the beach with my friends, and play video games yet everywhere I went in San Diego and S. California, I wondered where are the other Black people?
Then one day things changed. One weekend we went to visit my family in Altadena for a birthday or something like that and I got hang out with my cousins who grew up around other Black people. They had seemed to learn a dance. It had a magical name and they all knew the dance. They called it, “The Electric Slide,” and it was so magical I was awed by it even into my late 30’s (i.e. I still be messed it up on the dance floor but I have my own variation now). I came home to my mostly White classroom, neighborhood, and church and asked my three Black friends if they knew it. Only one did but he was older than me by five years, so I just figured it was something for older kids but not for me. Yet, I wanted to know more about these Black people. We went back a month later to Altadena for church. After church I wanted to play with some kids and one girl said, “Ewww, you talk White.” Rather than be bothered by this, I wondered out loud, “So how can I talk Black?” And she showed me in her best effort and I began a journey of trying to talk Black that lasted from the time I was 8 years old until I was 18 years old. By 18 years of age, I realized it was a futile quest, because what I really needed to focus on was being Black, because whatever I say, as long as it is some goodness about Black people, is Black.
Yeah by 18 years old, I had read a few things, listened to some powerful rap albums (e.g. Public Enemy, Bid Daddy Kane, De La Soul, etc.) but had experienced life so removed from Black people I knew I needed to leave beautiful San Diego to be around Black people. Mind you, I had a “girlfriend” every year since first grade yet only one was Black. I had kissed 2 or 3 thought and it was glorious. However, I digress. I was busy partying from my junior year in high school till college and music and partying were my main preoccupation.
I attended Palomar Community College for my first two years. Chicano Studies was the first course I took, and I thought if can gain great insights from my professor and other Chicano authors, I need to learn more about Black folks. Like many men my age, from 1988 till 1992, across the country thanks to Public Enemy, Spike Lee, and the film X based on Alex Haley’s book which was an interpretation of the life of El Hajj Malik al Shabazz, I read the Haley’s book. So much of his life related to mine. Malcolm’s life was like a combination of mine and my father’s. It was as if Malcolm was saying all the things my father could not say due to the pain of living thru the Jim Crow era. This prompted me to ask my parents questions and to read more. I read Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Martin Luther King, Jr., and biographies of Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey, Alice Walker, Elijah Muhammad, etc. My distaste for reading changed in my freshmen year in college because I found Black people in the books and they taught me things I did not even know to ask. I felt I was too far behind and other than Toni Morrison and Alice Walker I stopped ready fiction all together. I had no time to play. My first research paper was a timeline comparison of Malcolm X’s and Martin Luther King, Jr’s. speeches. I concluded that they were converging and were killed because their combined efforts would have been too powerful for the government forces against them to stop them.
That said, having this knowledge and still being around Black people only in the abstract was difficult. It was like living in Wyoming and Surfer magazine every day—it was kinda painful having a desire yet not being able to connect to the ocean. As I dated in college at church, at the dance clubs, in Tijuana, at work, etc. in ran into White people who exclusively dated Black people. Many women who wanted to date me declared this to me. I had gone from thinking I would only ever date White women, not for lack of trying to date other women, but the odds were just set that way and they were who I knew in my small spheres of influence in San Diego. My classes at Palomar were filled with people who had very negative stereotypes about Black people. Combined with the limited dating scene and feeling pigeonholed in class I wanted to attend a Black college. Strangely enough my college counselor, who happened to be Black, insisted I should attend Stanford and not Howard University where one of my 3 Black friends went. I had to let my counselor go and took myself to the transfer office and mapped out my path towards Howard University in Washington, D.C. or Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL. Let’s just say, I ended up at Oakwood at the insistence of my mother and it was better for me. That decision is another very long story involving my mother’s illness, a friend’s challenges at Howard, and the need for me to clean up my life from partying way too much.
Oakwood College (University as of 2007) is, “a Historically Black, Seventh-Day Adventist (Christian) institution.” Their mission is to transform students through biblically-based education for service to God and humanity. It was exactly what I needed to connect with the images I saw, what I had read, and most importantly who I am and whose I am. Getting to the know the sights, sounds, smells, and touches of Black life at an HBCU challenged notions of stereotypes I did not even know were buried away in my subconscious. After years of television, assumptions by even well-intentioned White friends, as well as enemies, my brain was filled with toxic notions of Blackness. I was able to cleanse a great deal of the painful toxicity by being with Black people and something happened in the process, I fell in love with Black people. If went from studying to appreciating, admiring, to ultimately falling in love with Black people. I have had three great romantic loves in my life. My first in high school, the one who I thought was the one, and the ONLY one. The later two I met at Oakwood. There is a connection to my overall love for Black people and ultimately dating and marrying a Black woman. It has taken me 23 years to unpack what that means but each time I delve into it, it is powerful.
At Oakwood, for me it was as if Black people who had grown up about other Black people, did not appreciate how much they had. Like I had with my cousins and the Electric Slide I spent a great deal of time in awe at the choirs, the step teams, the chants at basketball games, their clothing style, etc. I did not want to take any of them for granted. Everyone said, “hello.” Even if you had some beef with a person from Oakwood, once we left campus, we were family. I had never experienced that love. I realized to the importance and power of Black institutions.
Black institutions, whether they be musical, educational, spiritual, financial etc. when done properly are the receptacles for our hopes and dreams. Again, much about Black life had been abstract to me but this notion of passing knowledge and ideas forward in writing, financial saving, songs, worships services, et cetera became very palpable for me at Oakwood. So much so I carry it with me even after being a student there over 23 years ago.
When my two daughters both decided they wanted to attend Oakwood I was excited for them but also in awe of them as being a part of this HBCU narrative. When I attended I was the first in my family to attend an HBCU. Besides my parents I had one uncle and no cousins I knew who had attended college. My parents put me on a plane and expected me to return with a degree. All this Black stuff was an extra to them. My parents had attended historically White institutions in California. They were the first in their family to attend college at all. They started in community college and finished at Cal State University Los Angeles. They followed that by taking graduate courses at San Diego State University where they were often the only Black people in class. Although they had grown up around mostly Black people, this HBCU experience was my own. To have a second generation in my daughters attend an HBCU, which is my alma mater is an experience I am still trying to fully appreciate. I think I work at Oakwood now just, so I can figure it out. My daughters and even my classmates’ children sing the songs that my friends and I sang when I was a student here. It is as if every choir and every song service is a time to call the Holy Spirit to remind each generation that God is here with us. These Black people who said, we will learn despite what you think of us are speaking with and thru these young people who carry our hopes and dreams. Yeah, sappy, but I really love Black people. Almost to a fault.
Today, when I see Black people together I still am in reverent awe. Whether it is in class I am teaching, and students are learning a new self-defense move or a deep Black Psychology insight, I get to be witness to their greatness, their resilience, and I am appreciative of the specific journey God has had me on. Prior to returning to Oakwood I have been involved with developing programs for Black boys via my fraternity, Cal State University Long Beach’s Black student union, the Association of Black Psychologists, the Black Surfers’ Collective, etc. When I a returned to S. California from Alabama the beach was always in my heart. I eventually took a surf lesson and surfed nearly every week from 2007 until 2017. Before I started surfing thought I prayed I would find fellow Black surfers and I found the Black Surfing Association. Tony Corley was confirmation of a Black faith I have developed. I know that any activity, even if people assume Black people do not do it, there is a Black person who does it well and loves it. I have won a few awards for my professional Achievements, but all came because of my love and commitment to the betterment of Black people. I long ago accepted that if I can learn from and support these amazing people who survived so much and who’s resiliency is a marvel for the ages, then I will have fulfilled my purpose. Any people can learn from Black people’s story. These are but a few of the reasons I love Black people.
I hope my journey has been interesting or helpful to you and that you can learn to love Black people as I have.
Intro “Can we see the men that fall down”
“Mommy and daddy”, I would say as a little boy excitedly, as we got closer to the beach, “can we see the men that fall down”? My mother would always entertain my lack of vocabulary and say, “what men”? I would say, “the men in the water”. She would laugh and say, “sure” but ever the teacher, she would follow up with, “you know they call it surfing” and I would say to her with a mischievous smile, “but I like watching them fall down”. Because to me, the magic of surfing at that young age and now in my 40’s is that people go out to the waves on a board of varying sizes knowing they are going to fall, even looking forward to a wipe out or falling off the surfboard. While my earliest memories of surfing are mostly happy times, there are times in my family’s experience and my personal experience where the beach has been an unwelcoming place even before I got to the waves. In this paper I hope to share with you how I became a “man who falls down” and who enjoys helping others enjoy the fall.
My 1st Wave
When I was 10 years old I caught my first wave at Tamarack Beach in Carlsbad, California and little did I know it was very much like when my West African ancestors who caught theirs on a small board, laying flat on our bellies as I learned when I later watched the film White Wash (1). Sure there are other documents that show that there was surfing in ancient Hawaii and most surfers trace their learning how to surf back to Hawaii but I am a Black surfer and this is my story. My cool older friend, most people in life get one, Gaano Gadson was a 16-year-old Black man who had a car and a job. He always brought beautiful women and girls of all ethnicities with him in his car, a 1980 Monte Carlo. It looked like a beige hat riding down the street. He was tall, had a California curl (not to be confused with the more chemically laden Gheri curl), with a blonde streak down the middle, and loved to go to the beach. On this day he let me borrow a “boogie board”. I said it a few times to make sure I was getting it right. I thought, it was a Black American vernacular thing (i.e. get down and boogie baby) that helped to name the board and being that I loved Black people, I was down with the get down. Well, I was not a good swimmer but Gaano and the women were on their boogie boards kicking and paddling their way out to bigger waves and I went right along with them. We laughed and told funny stories and just enjoyed the sun and cool water. Then, out of no-where it seemed to me, but seemed to Gaano know, because he told me to” hold on”! Immediately after that I was taken by a wave. All I could do was hold on and try not to scream because water would have been in my mouth. The wave shoved me down in the ditch and then back up on top of itself, I spun around in a 360 degree turn on top of the wave, then a 180 where I was going backward, and just before I got used to that Idea, I was flipped over like a washing machine and before I could finally scream, “HELP”, the ride was over and I had fallen into a hole in the sand underwater but was still about 10 yards from shore. I tried my best to swim but then a thick white wash wave just pushed me and the board separately to different parts of the beach and I laid their exhausted yet I had a smile on my face. I had fallen—in love.
But You’re Not a Strong Swimmer
I came home and told my parents I wanted to learn to surf but they told me, “we got you all those swimming lessons but you are still not a strong swimmer”. I replied without missing a beat, “but the board will keep me up”. My mother was skeptical but my father obliged my joyous yet incessantly annoying requests for a boogie board. Over the years when I was a teenager and especially when I learned to drive I went boogie boarding whenever the chance presented itself a few times a year. However, when I wanted to learn to surf in high school my parents were not as enthusiastic. I thought it was something I did but I started to put the pieces together slowly over the next 20 years because I gave up on surfing but never forgot how much I loved that waves. I went to college in a land locked area (North Alabama) and I chose a profession as an educational psychologist that kept me very busy early in the morning when most people surfed. However, I never forgot the joy of the waves.
Faith in the African Diaspora
When I was in college, I attended a historically Black college that was actually more multicultural than anything I had experienced before or since. I met Black people from the Caribbean, England, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Germany, Kenya, The Netherlands, and a strange place called New York. All of them were determined to live their dreams. When I returned home for graduate school at San Diego State I had a little time one day to watch two films, Step Into Liquid (4) and Endless Summer II (2). ESII was an update of an earlier classic film titled, The Endless Summer (3). The more modern films were so beautifully done I felt the same way I did as a little boy and I asked a friend to let me borrow a surf board after a trip and a failed lesson in Kauai. I came home to California from the Hawaiian Islands and in a month I was up surfing. I taught myself my own bad habits but I was surfing!!! As I become more addicted to surfing I finally saw this older classic film, Endless Summer and the so called surfer humor in the film as they talked about Black people from Africa and White people from Africa. They mocked the Black people when they went surfing in Ghana yet lavished praise on the White people, especially the White women in bikinis in segregated South Africa (Azania). They failed to mention the segregation in the USA or in Azania during their jokes. They did not mention it in their updated films either. I was a little down about this mostly White person’s sport I had grown to love but I had faith in the concept of Sankofa (5) and the power the ancestors that Black life had asserted itself and thrived. I went on a search, much like the founder of the Black Surfing Association (BSA) (6) Tony Corley had done over 30 years prior to me.
I searched the internet for anything related to Black surfing. I found the BSA and a film called White Wash. Both the BSA and the film highlighted the history of swimming being segregated in the USA and by extension, beaches where Black people could learn to surf were segregated. Once I saw the film and read about the BSA I realized, my parents, decades ago in their kind hearts did not want me to be disappointed by being met with segregationist minded people at the beach or in the water. Surfers can be very territorial over their breaks but my mother who was raised in the 1950s and 1960s segregated Southern USA knew just how violent White people could react if a lone Black person dares to enter what had been an exclusively White space. I understand why they had so weakly supported my efforts to surf when they had supported me so strongly in every other area in life. My mother and I have grown since then. I did learn to swim better because I wanted to surf stronger. She talks more about the segregated South in public and is my greatest fan when it comes to my surfing. She often tells random strangers she meets, “You know, my son surfs! Here, let me show you a video of him on my smartphone”.
Conclusion – I fall down
Today, I surf every week and most weeks 2 or 3 times a week! This year is my 10th year of surfing and I plan to catch over 1000 waves in a year. I also have the privilege and honor of being a part of the Black Surfers Collective (BSC) (7) that helps to bring diversity in the surfing line-up by teaching all types of people to surf but especially many people who live in site of the beach but who have never been to the beach for similar histories as I wrote about above. I did not start surfing until I was 35 years old. Twenty- five years seemed like nothing because that desire to surf never left me and now I cannot imagine a time in my life when I was not a surfer. For me, and many of my friends, to be a surfer is a state of being. We talk with the Creator in the water and the eternal Creator answers us with waves of abundant power and joy, thus time stands still and changes. For 50 seconds of joy (i.e. 5 waves at 10 seconds) a surfer will paddle around for 50 minutes but leave the water only remembering those 50 seconds. A spiritual healer and friend of mine says, “You are only at home in the water”. I am not sure what that means but when I think about it I want to fall down and smile.
Dr. Brandon E. Gamble is a surfer who grew up Oceanside, California in the United States. He is an American version of an African. He became an educational psychology college professor at Cal State University Long Beach so he could have more time to surf and develop his business as consultant and personal coach.
1) White Wash DVD - https://www.amazon.com/White-Wash-Ben-Harper/dp/B005EHNXPI
2) The Endless Summer DVD - https://www.amazon.com/Endless-Summer-Robert-August/dp/6305837384
3) The Endless Summer II DVD - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Endless_Summer_II
4) Step Into Liquid - https://www.amazon.com/Step-Into-Liquid-Laird-Hamilton/dp/B0001FGBUC/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1475596817&sr=1-1&keywords=step+into+liquid+dvd
5) Sankofa defined - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sankofa
6) Black Surfing Association - http://www.blacksurfingassociation.org
7) Black Surfers Collective - http://www.blacksurferscollective.org
According to the Facebook post of Joe Paradox, "January 4th 2016, Atlanta educator Ron Clark makes video doing the Nae Nae with his students.. It goes viral, everyone LOVES it, he gets revered... REWIND..... March 11 2013, same city, educator Barry Browner makes a video doing the Harlem Shake with his students... It also goes viral, some people are "outraged", he gets fired".
These pictures below are more complex than the basic binary story of just one White and Black educator. The issues has been about Black agency as well as generational approval or disapproval to answer the question, "what is a school for, especially for Black children". It is really NOT about these two men but our collective interest is about those children and the children brings out the emotions in all of us. The future of children, and in this case Black children has us asking, do these images worry or inspire us to hope for better? I presume those of who view these images are left with more worry than inspiration based on what I have seen via people's on social media as well as my own visceral response.
What is not to love about children having fun at school? Yet, folks are upset or so seriously defend either teacher. In a world where many images of Black youth are that of "socially economically disadvantaged", we need more than a dance fad to dull the media glare that has stained our collective psyche. Dancing our way to freedom has not worked for Black people. Like the title of Spike Lee film, those of us who have dedicated our lives to the liberatory education and research to uplift Black people, are not Bamboozled by the spectacle of dancing videos. I submit that we should be worried about the young people's future not about two teachers trying to make a living. Also, that all of us who has seen memes like these know that if a picture of students doing math or science were posted, it would not be controversial but students and a school celebrating their dancing teachers appears to be only a gimmick to gain quick internet fame.
Like Debbie Allen said on television the 1980's , "Fame cost". As I watch this video compared to my recent visits to mostly Black schools in S. Central Los Angeles, where students do the same type of dancing, I am aware of the cost of a successful education in a challenging environment, and it is not cheap. These images appear cheap and not enough to sustain student or family in the future. I hope educators can be more focused on substance than spectacle in the future. Charter school reforms, private school innovations can be great, but not at the cost of manipulating children to sell a school. Do not make children or teachers dance their way to success, not unless your gonna hire Debbie Allen to help your run a legit dance school.
I generally don't encourage boycotting anything, I only make a choice to fast or refrain from partaking. I just watched Straight Outta Compton, which I had been wrestling with in my mind, "to see or not to see". I can say, it was a good film (i.e. via Western film making resolution standards, men struggle, seem defeated and come back to life to create something powerful--Jesus archetype that we all expect). I felt the music, the images, enjoyed a reflection upon the experience and also felt like I did when I first heard it. I said, "fortunately, this isn't my life", in 1988 or in 2015. There is a lot of pain in that film the half of which won't be told in 2 hours. The role that the police, crooked contracts, and overindulged sexuality played in the lives of the artists stays with me after I have consumed this film. The incredulity of Eazy going to the White House was't covered, Ice Cubes more family friendly film Are We there Yet, nor the problems of the Dr. Dr. Dre's the Firm. That wasn't necessary because this film was about NWA (aka Niggaz With Attitude).
If I didn't see it I couldn't say tell you "Dre comes off clean in this film". As if he is just an artist trying to get his music played. He was and is more complex than that and fortunately I knew that going in. If someone never heard of Dr. Dre they'd think he was just a tragic figure with little agency or power over the good and bad things that happened in his life. Cube's role is well known because he put most of it on wax (i.e. in his albums). I felt bad for Eazy, just like I did back in the day. The few women who are in the film (Dre's mom, Cube's wife, Dre's "baby mama" and girlfriend, and Eazy's wife) have moments but the depth of their impact on the lives of their partners is minimal or not shown.
I understand why people would boycott the film and more specifically Dr. Dre for his abuse of women and NWA's misogyny but I also understand why people would want to see it. For many kids growing up on S. Cal, it seemed like nobody's music or art reflected our lives. Now my life was more De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest, even though I was on the West Coast but NWA reflected the life a lot of people I know who were family and friends during that time. Shout out to my Cousin Savalas Holloway who worked for Death Row back in the day. I feel you all the more now.
I hope a NYC version called, the Bridge is Over of something along those lines comes out to tell the story of the golden era of hip hop, which led to Self Destruction and we see more women rappers. There will be controversy due to omissions etc but these stories need to be told. Ice Cube's son got to have a quantum existential experience fighting for his own future as he played his father in this film. I am a sucker for efforts to honor the ancestors as imperfect as they may be in this film. This movie that glorifies music I didn't even buy in 1988 (with the exception of the Death Certificate Album), was gratifying on some level but it can never by fully satisfying. See it or not. Most people my age lived it in the same streets, via MTV, or through your crazy friend with the 12' speaker-booming car stereo, as they could. The world will not end if you see it or don't. I saw it and am trying to make sense of why show this film now? I found their music in the 80's and 90's prophetic or at least a warning, as Cube suggested in that people should know that we live in a police state. For their promotion of awareness and courage to be a voice, I saw the film. Eazy and Cube were men who committed crimes and Dre was close to it for sure. These men are not saints but for a moment in time they demonstrated the courage to speak truth to power, so yeah I have respect for them on that level.
There us so much happening in the lives in young people. Their access to information and connections to each other via social media makes the world a small place it is so hard to orient oneself to a purpose in life.
I understand the need to protest, challenge, and confront issues that make our society inequitable. I am just at a point in life where I want to help people build something greater. There is a time to change, fix, transform, heal, and grow. However, there is also time to build.
Let's build together.
Many people have said, things. I write this more for the record and to give an honest accounting of how I feel rather than try and change someone's mind. Hopefully folks are talking about race, class, and violence in a way that changes our society. All I know I am inspired by young people today more than ever thanks to Trayvon’s life and so many other youth just like him. I dedicate this commentary to the Kappa League program of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., which has molded leaders of high school age since 1922 and the young men and women of Oakwood University, which has historically trained Black leaders for Christian service since 1896.
When a person does not have cable television, catching the latest news can prove to be a challenge. I am just old enough to remember television with only 3 channels and the news coming on only two times a day between 5-7pm and 11pm. The first news cycle I watched that was covered 24 hours was the O.J. Simpson trial just a year after I graduated with my bachelor's from Oakwood College (now University). In 1996, as I watched the O.J. Simpson verdict on a 15-inch television in my supervisors office at an elementary school site, she one of the few Hispanic faculty members and me, the only manof color on staff, quietly cheered the legal dream team as Orenthal J.Simpson heard the jury foreman repeat the phrase “not guilty”. I had worn an O.J. jersey as a toddler and wanted to run in the airport like he did in Hertz commercials when I flew on a plane for the first time as a elementary school-aged child. However, after O.J.’s initial criminal trial I had a new hero, Mr. Johnnie Cochran, one of the lawyers on the dreamteam. He talked smooth like a preacher, was methodically prepared like my father an Army veteran and math teacher, and he won! News stories covered differing reactions from people of color to the O.J. Simpson verdict and White people seemed to have a problem with this version of justice. So much so, Mr. Simpson was sued in civil court and lost his possessions and many would say his mind. At any rate, O.J. is in jail now after trying to steal back, yes steal back his former possessions.
In this trial that was broadcasted across cable news 24hours a day, I saw Black men I identified with and unlike most movies of that era these men were in charge. In the example of Johnnie Cochran as well as Christopher Darden for the prosecution, two Black men were running the show from my view point. To add to that show, a Black defendant won and lived to tell about it, a rare thing in deed. This was unexpected! O.J. Simpson was the man who stared in a film called the Klansman, where he killed White Ku Klux Klan members (1) and was free in real life after a lenghtly trial! There was a lot of evidence against him but like Dave Chapelle quipped in one of his famous comedy sketches, mixing some truth with the absurd, “my Blackness would not accept that that O.J. didit”. Even though I will admit today, if asked, “Do you think O.J. did it”? You would get a weak but definite “yeah” from me. I was 24 years old and had yet to live when that O.J. trial because I did not have children. But now as a father, when I think of losing my teenagers to a 29-year-old volunteer watchman I am filled with dread. It was too much to think of so I did not watch any part of the trial.
For the sake of sanity, minimize arugment, and a need not to re-try the case, as far as I know George Zimmerman, the watchman, was justified in his killing of Trayvon Martin according to the law. However, like Mark McGuire’s or Sammy Sosa’stainted batting records, many questions about Zimmerman’s case bring upconcerns. Basics, like what is a watch an doing with a gun? Why didn't he listen to 911 operator and NOT follow a 17 year old? Who trained him in mixed martial arts? Will he get his money back, because clearly he was NOT well trained? What influence does his father’s standing as a judge have on his non-arrest, then arrest, and subsequent funding of the law firm that backed him? None of these questions have to do with what the jury saw to make their decisions, yet these are the ones that do not sit well with many people, including me. However, the verdict has been rendered and I really could care less about the trial because I was not on the jury nor the prosecution team.
What got me, and I tried my best to avoid until the President of the United States reminded me, when he said, “I could’ve beenTrayvon Martin”. In the media and I heard that in the trial, people were “against Trayvon” because he “was a thug”. This was based on false picture and stores promoted in general and social media (2). However, even that was not a surprise to me because I really had not connected with a 17 year old nor seen him as myself, as any human should do. Likely, because I did not want to experience the pain of knowing that Trayvon’s and by extension, my life was valued so little. Contrary to how some have tried to portray him, Trayvon was no thug. He was an adolescent who likely was on his way to college. He had entertained a dream I gave up, aeronautics. He had a 3.7 Grade Point Average. His parents, according to the Miami Herald, “tried to make sure he was exposed to experiences beyond South Florida: skiing,snowboarding and riding snowmobiles. Mother and son went horseback riding forher birthday, 13 days after his” (3). My kids are some of the few Black kids snowboarding when we go. A little detail but many people do not realize what it takes to have parents who ensure their children have access to such activities. Trayvon was loved!
I got rid of cable a year ago to save money for my children’s tuition and college prep, so I missed this trial on television but as I rode home I listened to the POTUS’ speech and had to pullover with tears in my eyes. When Mr. Obama said, “I could’ve been Trayvon”, it hit me like a an avalanche of space and time. I imagine many other folks may feel that way but it was a very raw feeling and I became more sensitive to how folks talk about his life because his life mirrors my own in so many ways. Even if you are like former Republican Congressman Allen West (3) who found the POTUS’ statements to be contrary to his experience and called POTUS Obama personal statements “horrific”, you have to admit this has been a powerful time in American life. I am not a Democrat nor a Republican but I am very much a Black American and I feel this loss very strongly. I am disappointed that Allen West, who appears to be a Black man, handles this case with so little care.
Many pundits and politricksters have talked about Trayvon and Black men in general as having issues with violence that taking time to worry about this case seems hypocritical. Others seem to have deified Trayvon but to me neither approach is a balanced look at the tragedy of his death nor the significance of his life. I am simply sad at the loss of his life and I do not feel either anger, hate, or pain regardingTrayvon’s killer. I only have apathy for George Zimmerman and his supporters. When folks worry about gun violence, Trayvon’s image, or some big social movement I am reminded that I need to get back to work and finish my book on Black male success. I have been changed by Trayvon’s life and death. Not in a ephemeral or cosmic way, just via strong reminder, that we are all human and at 17 years of age I was so much like Trayvon it scares me yet empowers me to ensure a better world for the next generation of young people.
Next time I will write about what we can do going forward. Right now I wanted so share myfeelings. Maybe that is enough for now, but I know we have more work to do going forward.
My career as a student of psychology began when I took a high school class in psychology at my Christian boarding school from our campus pastor and his wife. Psychology to me has never been separated from Christ even in secular institutions where I did my graduate work and work currently. The Bible to me is about the lives of flawed people who serve a perfect God. As a school psychologist, my career has been an expression of the power of Jesus. I am strange in this way and have experienced alienation, loneliness, and at times acted out like like Jonah running from places God has sent me. Not because I have not had successes in my career but because I have been impatient at times, so much so it has led to depression, fear, and just a lot of psychological and even pain. However, like Paul and Daniel every suffering I have endured has been for the glory of God. I share these humble ideas as my testimony to students at Christian universities where school psychology is taught and I hope to encourage my colleagues who follow Christ. Whatever I get right is of God and the rest is my mess. I hope these verses encourage you in your career and that you can heal people as God has called you to do in your role as a school psychologist.
In regards to the politics of public education, 1 John 4:18-21 has given me great comfort. You may have to read this verse twice to understand it as it relates to your experience. The writer says, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (KJV)".
When I think about my challenges in my collegiate career and graduate school I remember that God can give me my words as God did the apostles in Acts 4:13,14. "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it" (KJV). After attending an small Christian college for my undergraduate work, at first I felt intimidated but after having a few of those experiences where people marveled at words I said and I wondered where they came from, I knew despite academic limitations any successes I had were because of Jesus.
For those who specialize in working with achievement gap, cross cultural work erc. Take a look at the work of Phillip in Acts 8. This story truly inspires me as an African minded Christian and a school psychologist dedicated to eliminating the achievement gap. Healing is occurring by unlearned men yet the learned men want to pay for what they do not understand in this chapter. Phillip was filled with the Spirit and taken to the Ethiopian Treasurer at God's command and power. This meeting saved Christianity itself. Phillip conducted a cross-cultural assessment and intervention that lead to the smashing of an achievement gap as it related to Biblical knowledge. It is no coincidence that Ethiopia has NEVER been conquered. There are many more examples, such as Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-42, where Jesus provides her psychological healing, which in turn heals her whole village. Also, the story in three Gospels of Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:9, and Luke 8:30 were Jesus frees a man of mental illness brought on by a legion of demons. However, you get the point that Jesus to me is one amazing psychological healer.
Acts 16:16-40 keeps me ever mindful that tests kits are not to be revered over the real healing power of God. The KJV says, "And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.
I apply this verse by understanding at there are testing companies, advocates, and quacks that walk behind good healing theorist and practitioners, then try to hone in on the money to be made in peddling false hopes. Divination via test scores or a panacea type book to make money off people's misery is just as evil. Know that if you call them out for divination they may try to take your license, credentials, and talk bad about you so bad you can't work again. Remember that in Acts 16 Paul and Silas expressed the joy in jail by continuing to sing and praise God and in the process the converted even their jailers and they walked right out of that jail, so what have I to fear? Do not walk in fear as a follower of Jesus and remember your greatest evidence is a changed life, as was given earlier, "And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it (Acts 4:14b).
John 11:1-46 is a great reminder of God's healing power. Remember Jesus gets the word about his beloved friend Lazarus who's sickness is "not unto death" according to Jesus, yet the people are looking at a dead Lazarus (e.g. The parents are given a diagnosis but the Word from the Lord tells them something else). What do you do when the research does not match with what you know about the best in people as told by Jesus in John 11:25? Remember this, "The words of Jesus are not descriptive but creative", as said by Dr. C. Wesley Knight. Therefore, the words of psychologists are descriptive at least, interpretive at best, but not creative. Only Jesus can create. Psychology may not be ready for this but we know Jesus is the ultimate psychologist!
Note in John 11, Jesus is grieved in His Spirit because they put the stone of their doubting in front of the one He was called to heal, so He told them to remove the stone. We have to ask God to remove the stone of doubt that the achievement gap can be closed, that disproportionality can turn into equity, that you as one school psychologist can prevent illness, promote wellness, and heal those who others thought were mentally dead.
Some one might say, "What happened to my job"? Like Lazarus coming out the grave wrapped in death clothes we may feel like we are out of sync with the world. "How can I help children when I don't have a job? Don't you read the newspaper Gamble"? Where is your faith "Christian School Psychologist"? Well beloved, like Paul and Silas, you've got to express yourself and praise God even in the worst circumstance. You can serve God by being a volunteer, making a video to share your knowledge, helping your family, going back to school, but express that gift God gave you!
Again, I hope this note encourages you and let Jesus lead you in your career. You receive this from me not as the President of the California Association of School Psychologist, not as an award winning school psychologist, not even as a proud graduate of Oakwood University, doctor of education from the University of Southern California but as a fellow Child of God. That is because I know like in Phillipians 4:13, none of the aforementioned would have been possible, especially in God's amazing grace to bring a child with poor grades and who was in and out of the principal's office fighting, to representing the interests of students and my fellow school psychologists in my beloved state of CA.
Again that is my testimony and I pray you are blessed not by me but by Jesus who made me.
Peace & Blessings,
Brandon Gamble, Ed.D.
Child of God
p.s. FB friends, please share with psychology graduate students and colleagues you know who would be inspired by the power of Jesus
The following is offered based on audience interest shown in my invited attendance at the Diagnostic Center of California (DCC) on June 20-21, 2012, for their training entitled, Best Practice Guidelines for the Assessment of African American Students. Although the “audience” comprised of my colleagues, former students, relatives with children with disabilities, and practicing schools psychologists was not able to attend, I told them I would provide them with a "handout" as it is I am a representative of several constituencies in the state. Consider this the "handout". This note seeks to answer questions from that audience with my answers, provide an essay on my thoughts about the Larry P court case with references for the essay, as well references which serve as the basis for the following answers.
WORKING SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS & former STUDENTS: I've heard different psych discuss how they do SLD assessments on AA students, but I've never heard yours... If you had every assessment instrument available, what would be your standard battery for assessment of AA students? What tests are best"? Also, I want to know what works best"?
BG: As it is I work in a profession where people make their livelihoods off tests I am reluctant to answer such questions, however the time has come for me to share my experience and orientation. Not that I am suggesting others follow my path, but as I walk in the world as a school psychologist, I have had success keeping many children out of special education and exiting them from special education with this particular orientation. It is a counter-intuitive way of thinking in my experience, compared to how the majority of school psychologists practice. The first time I heard this idea was with my first graduate instructor in assessment, Dr. Samuel Ortiz. He said, “I have no standard battery… The best tool I have is my mind”.
With these types of statements as my introduction to school psychology, your questions throw me but I hope to land on my feet or better yet solid ideology. I have the sense that most people assume it is proper to have a “standard battery” due to the frequency at which I am asked this question. The idea of a “standard battery" is limiting and is not logical given the science we know about standardized testing as it is assessment tools which have been in common usage by school psychologists change often. Therefore, even in my humble 15 years as a practicing school psychologist, tests have been updated at least two times and we have to learn new tools at least every decade. In that sense, if each is updated, then none deserve my loyalty nor are they normed for each population per our rapidly changing generations from X to Y. In 1993 there was a new word added to the lexicon, the “internet”. Now, as we near 2013 we have students who have the internet at their fingertips in their smart phones while they sit in classrooms across America. Show me the test kit that measures this new type of intelligence or knowledge? It is not there yet, but it is coming. In the meantime I use my best tool… my brain! My brain filled with the latest scientific knowledge helps me to not only describe what the tests say but also better interpret what they are supposed to measure. If not, then high school students can give IQ tests and score them and all the graduate level training we have is for nothing.
What I look for are tools that will help me best answer the questions about assessment for my students, African American or otherwise. In order to ask the right questions and know the right answers when I see them, I must be guided by the latest in psychological theory, health as applies to behavior, and my experience as a person who has worked with children for over 25 years. There is art and science-- within the parameters of educational code. I have seen many psychological reports where ed code references were lacking and if evident were poorly explained. I read technical manuals to tell me about what a tool is supposed to be doing before I give the tool. I look for articles that explain side effects of medications, impact of traumas, issues with family life etc. You know what my standard battery is-- thoroughness! I am not going to give a clinic on the Larry P court case so I suggest you go back and review the case where you will find that a lack of thoroughness on behalf of the school psychologists was the culprit--not bad tests. The tests are better than they have ever been yet we still have over-representation of Black students in special education. I will talk more about the tests and discriminatory practices in another answer. (Notice I do not say "non-biased" because that is an impossibility given the nature of human beings).
Judge Peckham in his wisdom in 1972 and subsequent rulings by the court found that school psychologists we so tied to their professional vanity of IQ testing for the assessment Black students, that in order for them to think differently about how to assess Black students, they needed to have those test kits removed from their “standard battery”. He wanted to encourage the school psychologists to do basic things like interviews, observations, and developmental-health histories, as well as compare adaptive behavior, which led to more thorough assessments for all children. However, what has been noted is that the school psychologist professional organizations in CA and even task forces within the state focused on getting the tests back rather than actually hearing what the parents were we saying. For example Black parents often made statements of this type, “Get to know my child in a full manner before you make life altering decisions that have my child looking retarded for the 6 hours they are at school”. Again, thoroughness was sacrificed for the reverence of the test kit. Test companies have made great in-roads since the 1990’s developing so-called “cognitive assessments”, which have the same construct reliability and content as the originally banned IQ tests (e.g. WISC is a the DAS with different scoring). So why are people still using those tests for any child if they are not good enough for Black children? Thus, the range of assessment tools is wide open for me. If they are good enough for Black students, then they are good enough for all the students. However, I prefer mediated learning assessment tools by the Mindladder Corp. Inc. but when I used those, I kept too many students out of special education and did not need to keep buying assessment protocols. The Mindladder Learning Potential Assessment Devices were recommended by the late Dr. Asa Hillard and my current mentor Dr. Harold Dent as suggestions from experienced psychologists who testified in the Larry P court case, however most school districts ignore their ideas.
I say, if school psychologists want to use all the assessment tools in their arsenal of IQ tests, they should show those tools which have helped reduce the over-representation of Black students in special education. If they do that, then I say they have a great chance of getting back all the IQ testing. However, until then whatever is the best and most thorough tool available I suggest be used. At any rate, I am patiently waiting for a district to show that a test or tests actually reduce over-representation. I know of no school district that has shown that IQ tests reduce the placements of Black students in special education. If you know of one, please let me know.
DOCTORAL STUDENT: So I've become more interested in assessing meta-cognition/self regulated learning in all students. Is this one possible direction we can head in when working with African American students? Any challenges you forsee?
BG: Very important work—meta-cognition! I also used it as a part of every assessment I did in schools. I asked my students to tell me about their thinking. Do they think about their thinking to solve problems? Which type of thinking works best for them? Would they like to learn a new strategy to help them with recurring challenges? Excellent! I am so glad you are doing that work!
The first challenge right away is that you cannot sell meta-cognition, so it is likely not “legally defensible”, and another expert can come to court and say, “that does not work”. That is, unless you are steeped in the literature and have current data with your students to show that meta-cognition, mindfulness, and/or other so-called “soft-science” works to help students I would not try it. Again, be thorough! Do your homework on what is best for kids in general, best for African American students, and best for your specific population at your school, and best for each student you see.
DOCTORAL STUDENT: What academic, social, behavioral interventions and/or strategies are best used with AA students thereby decreasing the number of assessments and eligibilities (sic) for sped?
This question needs to be broken apart into two halves. The first is the behavioral interventions, which is a science and practice question that is easy to answer. The second is about decreasing the number of assessments for eligibilities (sic) for special education, which is politics.
BG: As far as behavioral interventions, ensure that you as school psychologists have a tiered system with high quality interventions. In California we have the Diagnostic Centers information at www.pent.ca.gov. Too often, African American students, in particular males as well as a smaller but growing number of African American females, are the recipients of none of these high quality state approved resources. They are suspended or worse yet expelled without being able to take advantage of tiered monitoring systems for behavior or supports for special education. Be available to your administrators to provide the best in behavioral intervention before they are out of options and only consider suspension/expulsion.
The number of assessments and politics has to do with zero tolerance policies, keeping track of who actually makes it to the pool of students who are referred, and then the quality of placements in general, alternative, or special education once a student is placed. This is not something that a new school psychologist can or should take on in a year but it should be do-able in 3-5 years. I suggest you develop a coalition of at least 3 to a half dozen other educators who can help you monitor these issues as well as lobby school board members for policies grounded in science not kicking kids out or “0 tolerance”. That is my short version but that should get you going.
GRAD SCHOOL PROFESSOR: Did the Larry P case help or hurt the assessment practice of African children? Do you believe that it is actually harmful and/ or discriminatory? Do you believe that Larry P targeted the wrong culprit instead of attacking the real systemic issue?
Back to the issue of testing....
BG: As far as hurting or helping the assessment practice of African American children… I cannot say for certain, but I will give it a shot. The real people to ask that question to are those who tried to get their test kits back in task force meetings and state organizations for school psychologists but did little to nothing about the actual issue of over-representation.
This question can lead to an ontological debate that is old and worn, with no results that are better for students. I take a different path towards the end of the over-representation of Black students. I see this as a discussion or better yet dialogue, because in a discussion people are only trying to make points. Court cases have debates, which only end with “winners” and “losers”. To me the court cases made us all losers. It has been school psychologists who have been unable to have real dialogue with parents, students, and their colleagues in education who are African American about what it means to be fully developed Black person in California and how each child as well as the collective group of Afro Californians can live a better life.
I do not believe anything that was done with Judge Peckham’s decision or the following court decisions were harmful or discriminatory but were efforts to promote the dialogue. However, on many fronts, not just simple one side or the other, many organizations wanted to make points or debate and win rather than get to a point of synthesis that dialogue allows to help us develop not just better assessments but better instruction. I know this sounds controversial but the more I delve into this it is true, “test don’t discriminate, people do”. However, there are good and bad types of “discrimination”.
An IEP can be a good type of discrimination and promotes the idea that we need to protect the needs of a minority such as in the cases of 504 civil rights laws. Also, in the examples of African American students, a positive type of discrimination is that per No Child Left Behind from the U.S. Department of Education, and other directives from the state, we are required to keep track of the achievement gap and our efforts to reduce that gap. The ire I believe comes when my school psychology colleagues are unsure about what to do or choose not follow the rules or the spirit of law with resultant directives from the state. For example, from 2005-2006 Drs. Dawson and Simmons from the California Diagnostic Center’s northern office conducted a study and found that just over 60% of school psychologist still use IQ or cognitive tests to assess African American students, there was over 50% dissatisfaction with the current procedures, and worse yet school psychologists are not given clear guidelines in many districts. What this tells me is that there is a benign neglect for the issues rather than a direct effort to negatively discriminate against African American students. This neglect is occurring despite all the legal and academic effort. Perhaps, there is a resistance due to incompetence, lack of efficacy, or just plain being overwhelmed that school psychologists. Also to consider are school psychologists may have supervisors who demonstrate a great deal of inflexibility. As I trainer I also have to consider that training programs are not doing enough to inform school psychologists about how to address high quality assessment and intervention issues.
Sadly, I am not optimistic enough to think that a school district is even attempting to address over-representation unless they are sued or given a Modified Consent Decree (MCD) as was done with LA Unified School District. However, LAUSD has done an amazing job of recovering by becoming more thorough in their assessment process and all schools that serve African American students can learn a great deal from how LAUSD has responded to the MCD. My mentor Dr. Alnita Dunn has done amazing things in LAUSD to turn that situation around but there is still much work to do there.
Finally, the “wrong culprit”, IQ tests or school psychology? The culprit is so slippery as to avoid even giving an apology to ancestors of those enslaved in the American chattel system of forced servitude, rape, and even experimentation via psychological methods. I am referring to racist and White supremacist and their war against Black people due to their fear of our skin, culture, intellect, and/or all of the above. Any people who has exposed to the toxicity of the racism, ire, and pain in in Larry P court case and similar cases (e.g. Lau v. Nichols, Diana v. Board of Education, PASE v. Hannon etc) are living with the toxic effects of discrimination that was condoned by the state until some parents decided to stand up for the humanity of their children. However, as in all civil cases where there are injured parties, there is still plenty of pain and suffering to go around. Collateral damage has occurred on all fronts. I think the Judge did the best he could do given the circumstances. To me it is a very creative decision that I believe gave birth to Response to Intervention (RtI). For example, many districts acted in the way that Long Beach Unified School District did. They started treating all students as if they were Black (i.e. did not give any students the tests not supposed to be used with African Americans). LBUSD won a 9th circuit court of appeals case backing up their practice. This case was cited in revisions for federal changes to RtI in 2000 and 2004. The American people got a chance to put in the history books a serious debate about IQ. There are not winners or losers in this case only progress for people committed to freedom via dialogue and the price for that freedom is eternal vigilance.
GEORGIA SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST (PART 1): How can we get states like Georgia to ban administering standardized IQ test on AA students like California did using the Larry P. Riles case? There are way more AA students here than in California, and I can't believe they continue to use the WISC and stuff.
BG: This is a political issue. I suggest you review the court case in CA. Contact your local chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists (AB Psi), where Dr. Hilliard was a member in the Atlanta area. Consider the local chapter of the NAACP as well as ACLU. I am sure they are very aware of the issues in your state. Now, I mention Dr. Hilliard because he wrote a book about the assessment of African American children. In this book he outlines courts cases in CA, Chicago, and provides suggestions on exactly what to do. I would also refer you to the Mindladder Corporation by Dr. Mogens Jensen that is based in Atlanta. Dr. Hilliard recommended Mogens Jensen's mediated learning experiences as espoused by the Israeli Nobel Prize Nominee, Dr. Reuven Freurstein. You cannot do it alone so again, join AB Psi! www.abpsi.org
GEORGIA SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST (PART 2): Also, how can we get Georgia to recognize LEP? Here, you have to have your Phd for any psych license. Thanks!
BG: Again, join your local Georgia state association for school psychology. Contact NASP and see what they are doing and/or how they can provide you assistance. I know Texas and Georgia are similar in that you must have a Ph.D. to be a practicing “psychologist”. Take a look at our exemption from our Board of Behavioral Sciences in CA. This will also take a serious political effort but would begin with your state association and/or a large contingent of the members desiring this idea. To me, it may be easier to earn your Psy.D. or Ph.D. but if you are up for the battle this is how to begin, in my humble opinion.
ELDER with AB Psi & PSYCHOLOGIST WHO TESTIFIED ON LARRY P: My persistent question is, When will the school (and clinical) psychologists insist that the American Psychological Association (ABPsi, NLPA & SIP) and the national school board member organizations take the position that they will instruct their membership to obey federal laws pertaining to the assessment of students with disabilities and those who are treated as disabled, to stop employing tests that are discriminatory and are not validated for the specific purpose for which they are used, i.e., the assessment of African American, Hispanic American or American Indian students?
BG: In your question you are also making a powerful statement! Thank you. There is some promise in the latest handbook that came out from the State of California's Diagnostic Center for Children. It is an old practice but it is called “reviewing the technical manual”. My sense is local chapters of AB Psi can begin to take a look at the norms of tests which are used on African American students as well as construct and content validity. Often, even the new tests cite content and construct reliability with the old tests such as the WISC, KABC, WJ-Cog, or SB. Ironically, theses tests sometimes have as little as 9 Asian American in a test sample of 200. That tells me they are not trying to actually assess Asian Americans for what they are doing well with in the educational system but find pathology in other groups, but I may be wrong about that. At any rate, call them out in the media as well as their state organizations. Go to the media to get the information to parents. There is a parent in Antelope Valley, CA who has stopped the local schools from doing discriminatory suspensions and placements in special day classes due to an Emotional Disability by taking her plight to the media. Her story needs to be told and has been by a local magazine reporter Brittany Walker, who wrote about the mother in Our Weekly magazine, which ran several stories between October to November of 2011. The parent's name is Cynthia Beverly.
CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: For those of us who routinely provide psychotherapy and assessment services to African American families, Do you have preferred and most effective alternative cognitive assessment measures for African American students? These assessments would be response to parental requests rather than school personnel.
BG: As indicated in a previous answer, Dr. Asa Hilliard’s book about the assessment of African American children comes in many editions is the premiere resource. As a lasting legacy in this book he outlines courts cases in CA, Chicago, and provides suggestions on exactly what to do. I would also refer you to the Mindladder Corporation by Dr. Mogens Jensen that is based in Atlanta, which the late Dr. Hilliard and my mentor Dr. Harold Dent recommended for mediated learning experiences as espoused by Nobel Prize Nominee Dr. Reuven Freurstein. The information you get from the Mindladder Corporation helps you to really know nuances of how the child thinks and behaves in a way that the parents can readily identify. When I gave these assessments I schools, parents said quite often is, and I paraphrase, “I had thought that about my kid but did not know how to put it into words, thank you for seeing my child, you really know them”. It is beyond assessment to a way towards interventions that help the child grow in their area of need. Here is the website for the International Center for Cognition and Learning (aka Mindladder): http://www.mindladder.com/index.html
PARENT: Assessments are set up according to the time that it is convenient for those doing the testing, regardless of how inconvenient it is for children being tested or parents of children. I think "legitimate" assessments should include weeks-months of video in the environment where a child functions at their best while also recording possible triggers that preceded their "worst". Although I respect those who do assessments, the "one size fits all" testing has left me a soured on the entire system.
BG: I totally agree. I even think children are better at recording video than us adults, so that may contribute to the hold up. School psychologists are trained to rely on their training. I will let that sink in. Until someone breaks the mold, many will stay with the technology they know. In fact one of my thesis students completed a very challenging thesis on video-modeling for children with varied abilities and disabilities. The challenge is that not all parents are receptive to having their child video recorded but evidence is growing at universities in the mid-west and now UC Santa Barbara, thanks to my former thesis student who is a Ph.D. candidate at UCSB. He will be presenting at the upcoming conference for the California Association of School Psychologists October 24-26, 2012 in Costa Mesa, CA.
“Larry P Moved Down the Hall”: From EMR to ED
The overrepresentation of African American students in special education courses has been a documented challenge to public education for just over the last half century (Algozzine Enwefa, Enwefa, McInsotsh, Obiakor & Thurlow, 2002; National Alliance of Black School Educators, 2002). The background for this specific challenge is in regards to African American students overcoming barriers to achievement (Singham, 1998) even after integration-based legal decisions (Stephens McIntosh & Duren Green, 2005). Another challenge is the disproportionate sentencing of minority youth to school based discipline, which is a precursor to the issues African American youth face in juvenile corrections systems (Noguera, 2003). In California, during the 1970’s, many Black students were evaluated based on test scores only and the psychological testing done in the school setting did not take into account the unique challenges that Black students had overcome in their community (Dent et al, 2008; Hilliard, 1992) due to mainstream psychologists’ limited view of how assessment could be conducted, as noted psychologist Dr. Harold Dent, who testified in the Larry P court case, has pointed out (Elliott, 1987, p. 13; Dent et al, 2008). The special education evaluation teams too often made the decision to place the African American students in classes for the “Educable Mentally Retarded (EMR).” Since the first court rulings, EMR classes no longer exist in California. However, the name of the placement has changed but the practice of subjective assessments has not (Powers, Hagans-Murillo, & Restori, 2004; Hernandez &Ramanathan, 2006). Within the past 10 years, at a large Southern California school district, poor assessment practices in regards to Emotional Disabilities (ED) have been monitored by an independent auditor to insure that the rights of students and families are not violated in assessment and placement (Hernandez & Ramanathan, 2006). According to studies done for the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Alliance of Black School Educators, these findings are not unique to Southern California, thus these are national trends (NASBE, 2002; Reschly, 2003).
What has rarely been highlighted in the literature regarding African American and the term “emotional disturbance”, with the exception of Hernandez’s and Ramanathan’s research in a legal consent decree and the “Larry P Court case” (i.e. banned IQ tests in the placement of Black students in special education) has been the specific detail in the neglect regarding poor quality of the assessment (Dent et al, 2008), and lack of psychological services provided for African American students in the school setting and in the community, even when it was agreed that there were emotional and behavioral challenges (Hernandez & Ramanathan, 2006). It would seem the issues with “Larry P” have moved down the hall from the EMR classes to the classes where students are labeled “ED”. The need for authentic and accurate assessment is still evident. Other challenges such as a lack of medical insurance, access to honest healing medical professionals, and/or wherewithal to get to mental health settings has been an ongoing challenge (Gamble, 2012; Satcher, 2006; Washington, 2006). My ongoing work has been to address these challenges with a focus on eliminating disparities in access to high quality mental health and promoting the well-being of African people in good and bad times to ensure that young people and their families have access to the best services possible, which promote wellness for all people.
More recently, Cynthia Beverly, a parent in the Antelope Valley School District has rallied a group of parents to fight back against over-representation of Black males in special education and the juvenile justice system (Walker, 2011). I hope as psychologists, particularly school psychologists we can support any parent’s efforts to promote a better educational experience for Black students but all students. There are several CA state amendments being discussed (AB 1729 is one of them) coming up to support changes in how schools respond to intervention due to the disproportionate rate of Black students who are suspended, expelled, and jailed. This is as new data from the United States Office of Civil Rights with the U.S. Department of education shows San Francisco Black students are suspended six times more than White students (Mecke, 2012; USDE, 2012). This is not isolated to the Bay area, as it is in the central part of Cain Kern County parents are upset about the disproportionate rate of suspensions of Black youth and lack of psycho-educational alternatives to harsh punishment (Ferriss, 2012). Perhaps school psychologists can be a part of those changes.
On a more positive note, Cordington and Fairchild (2012) have submitted a position paper from the Association of Black Psychologists regarding issues in special education, which can provide guidance as to how we can begin to remedy these issues. Also, the State of California’s Diagnostic Center (DCC) for children is in the process of finalizing a handbook of Best Practices in the Assessment of African American Children (DCC, 2012). This is continued work from the Dawson and Simmons (2006) study which showed from the DCC’s perspective, school psychologists want and need more guidance in how to best assess African American youth. Although this handbook is in it’s initial stages, it shows promise for refining assessment for all children. That said many people often miss this central issue. African Americans are a minority and if the assessment practices of school psychologists are sensitive to bring out the best in their achievement, ability, and wellness then all people benefit. To put it finally this way, as Mano Singham has written (1998), “Black students are a canary in the mine for all of our educational challenges”.
Algozzine, B, Enwefa, R., Enwefa, S., Gwalla-Ogisi, N., McIntosh, A., Obiakor, F., & Thurlow, M. (2002). Addressing the Issue of Disproportionate Representation: Identification of culturally diverse students with emotional or behavioral disorders. Arlington, VA: Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders.
Cordinigton, J., & Fairchild, H. (2012). Special education and the mis-education of African American children: A call to action. A Position Paper of the Association of Black Psychologists. Washington, D.C. AB Psi. Retreived 03/01/2012 from www.abpsi.org
Dawson, R., & Simmons, J. (2006). Assessment of African American students: A survey of school psychologists. Burlingame, CA. A presentation at the California Association of School Psychologist’s convention. Retrieved 06/01/2012 from www.dcn-cde.ca.gov/Reports/CASP2008.presentation.ppt
Dent, H., Hamlett, G., Harp, O., Savage, J., Washington, S., Willians, D., & Williams, R. (2008). Psychological Testing: What are the Issues Then and Now. Paper Presentation at the annual conference of the Association of Black Psychologists, Oakland, CA.
Diagnostic Center of California (June, 2012). Best practice guidelines for the assessment of African American students: Cognitive processes (Handbook). Fremont, CA: California Department of Education.
Elliott, R. (1987). Litigating intelligence: IQ tests, special education, and social science in the courtroom. Dover, MA: Auburn House.
Ferriss, S. (March 19, 2012). Kern tops state in suspensions. The Bakersfied Californian. Retrieved 06/01/2012 from http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/local/x244430812/Kern-tops-state-in-expulsions
Gamble, B. (2012). Minorities' access to mental health services in schools. Contemporary School Psychologist, 16. Accepted and pending publication this fall.
Hernandez, J. & Ramanathan, A. (2006). Study on the Disproportional Identification of African American students as Emotionally Disturbed in the Los Angeles Unified School District: Findings from year 2 by the Office of the Independent Monitor. Monterey, CA: California Association of School Psychologists Convention.
Hilliard, A. (1992). IQ and the Courts: Larry P. v. Wilson Riles and PASE v. Hannon. Washington DC. The Association of Black Psychologists.
Mecke, Q. (April 11, 2012). New data from Office of Civil Rights: SF Black student suspended six times more than whites. Bay View Magazine. Retrieved 04/12/2012 from http://sfbayview.com/2012/new-data-from-office-of-civil-rights-sf-black-students-suspended-six-times-more-than-whites/
National Alliance of Black School Educators (2002). Addressing Over-Representation of African American Students in Special Education. Washington, D.C.: National Alliance of Black School Educators.
Noguera, P. (2003). Schools, prisons, and social implications of punishment: Rethinking disciplinary practices, Theory Into Practice, 42 (4), 341-350.
Powers, K. M., Hagans-Murillo, K. S., & Restori, A. (2004). Twenty-five years after Larry P.: The California response to overrepresentation of African Americans in special education. The California School Psychologist, 9, 145-158.
Reschly, D. (2003). Disproportionality in special education. Presentation on cultural competence for the National Association of School Psychologists. Washington, DC: National Association of School Psychologists.
Satcher, D. (2006). Securing the right to healthcare and well-being. In Tavis Smiley’s The Covenant with Black America. Chicago, IL: Third World Press.
Singham, M. (1998). The canary in the mine: The achievement gap between Black and White students. Phi Delta Kappan, 80, 9-15.
Stephens McIntosh, A. & Duren Green, T. (2005). 50 Years down the road: Have we lost our way? San Diego, CA: San Diego State University College of Education.
U.S. Department of Education (March 6, 2012). New data from U.S. Department of Education highlights educational inequities around teacher experience, discipline and high school rigor (Press Release). Retrieved April 12, 2012 from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/new-data-us-department-education-highlights-educational-inequities-around-teache
Walker, B. (October, 14 2011). AVUSD neglects special needs Black males. Our Weekly. Retrieved November 1, 2011 from http://ourweekly.com/antelope-valley/avusd-neglects-special-needs-black-males.
Washington, H. (2006). Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experiment on Black Americans from Colonial Times to Present. New York, NY: Harlem Moon-Broadway.
This note is response to a question about how schools fail Black students http://www.prx.org/pieces/40313-mind-the-gap-why-good-schools-are-failing-black-s,
And really all students I offer the following.
To answer some of the HOW. It is not the people per say but a system of underfunding and mis-management. Not all of it is the incompetence of administrators even from all Black cities like Detroit (http://www.windsorstar.com/news/Michigan+needs+help+Detroit+failing+schools/4363827/story.html) or Baltimore (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/30/education/30child.html).
In CA local PTA often take in money that affluent parents would have used to pay tuition and buy more teachers thus reducing class size and staff ability to plan and improve rather than think moment to moment. http://laefonline.net/component/content/article/81
Also, there remains a serious problem in many urban areas where most Black students attend in regards to per pupil spending. http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/articles/article.asp?title=california+comparison
Where I live in CA per pupil spending is about $720 less than the national average of $8000. At a good college-prep school parents are spending a minimum of $10k a year. The prep school has the edge. I applaud G.W. Bush's administration for at least addressing the achievement gap with "No Child Left Behind" as he and Dr.Roderick Page were the first. I worry about Obama's agenda with Arne Duncan's emphasis on charter schools with their dubiously worded program "Race to the Top".
I can tell people are panicked because as one friend of mine, Ms. Tammy Chopstixx shared with me there are administrators having white teachers reading crazy things like, "white teachers do not have the ability to teach African-American students". I am curious to know more about the actual article but for now, I can just tell folks are losing their damn minds. http://www.thegrio.com/education-1/pa-lawsuit-whites-told-they-cant-teach-blacks.php
I am also worried that as predominately Black school districts loses to retirement African American teachers who survived segregated schooling, went to college when Black had to be excellent, and this group of new teachers have been given a lukewarm and tepid message about what it takes to educate children in hard times, we will lose another generation of caring and committed teachers as well as students. My parents were those type of teachers. They demanded excellence from me and I was a mediocre student, yet if you follow my career, I have done alright. However, my parents were very intentional about my success. I can's say I have all the answers about HOW to get us out of this mess but some of it is figuring out how we got into it.
Some students need to go to private schools with or without vouchers, some charter schools, some continue in public schools, but greater equity is needed in the outcomes for students, especially Black and Latino student graduation, college prep, and readiness.
I am curious. What are you thoughts on how we improve education for all students?
My high school friend Rochelle posed the question in response to this quote by another FB friend, Minna,
"Suicide may not mean that someone wants to die, it may mean they no longer have the strength or endurance to live."
The main answer to the question, "Do people who commit suicide go to Heaven?" is, I don't know but I do know the Bible says very little about it, other than Judas (Matthew 27), who had bigger problems than suicide, like betraying the Creator of the Universe, which is the only sin which there is NO forgiveness for. Like jumping off a cliff when you defy gravity there are natural consequences, here Judas violated universal laws. Ok, now to the response.
@Rochelle, like a drunkard, adulterer, or murderer the Bible has issues with particular sins that should be put to death (e.g. Deuteronomy and Leviticus) or their actors "will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:8-10*)." Folk got in trouble with God for collecting manna on the Sabbath (Exodus 16) . So, we have to put this in context. Only the DIVINE can judge us, not those of us here on this Earth. Like the Sinner on the cross (Luke 23:37-45), even at the 9th hour it may be just in time or too late. For us to speculate on this side of life can make us crazy in the midst of our grief. There are many factors that bring about suicide, fratricide, homicide, and often many of these are suicide by another name (e.g. "Loc'd out gang-banging, death by cop, eating sugar knowin' you got diabetes, drank herself to death" etc). Some folk see no way out because others have made life unbearable for them. The man in prison who is raped. The child who is abused. The woman who is in a male-dominated country and rather than face an unjust punishment for "adultery" liked being stoned or burned, she takes a poison pill. The main issue is that it is an ILLNESS in self and/or society that brought on the suicidal thoughts, not simply a choice.
It has been said, that in Africa, if a person wanted to commit suicide they would have to go visit their parents, grandparents, and try to ask their "dead" ancestors' blessings before actually going through with the act. In an idealized setting where pain is shared, the idea is there should be enough understanding and acceptance to bring the person back into alignment with the community. In rare cases, famine, ongoing war etc the death may be "blessed by the elders."
Suicide is about a disintegration with society. In other words, a person must find meaning within their own society. Right now, in Louisiana the BP oil spill has increased the suicide rate because people are at a loss to find meaning in their lives. The worse part about BP is that it is a man-made disaster part of which, perceived or not, could have been prevented. People tend to come together around natural tragedies but not as much due to man made disasters, especially one's that should not have happened. http://www.npr.org/2010/12/01/131694848/bp-spill-psychological-scars-similar-to-exxon-valdez
So on the surface, folks may want to die or not have the endurance but underneath the world as the person knows it is not accepting or meaningful for that person. Sadly, in my opinion, to say a person does not have a chance in Heaven may have been meant to deter suicidal thoughts and actions, but it may spur a person on if they have done something that they perceive puts them outside of the community. In this industrial and information age our communities are more varied and fractured even though there is some hope. For example, for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and/or Questioning youth, they are 8X's more likely to commit suicide than "straight" youth. Why, because if they get the impression that their family and religious community no longer accepts them life ceases to have meaning beyond what they know. That is why the "It Gets Better Campaign" is so valuable. See this website for more info on LGBTQ suicidal issues: http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/library/record/2624.html?state=research&
Some folk ARE definitely tired. Music, other spiritual expressions, and/or community can help to renew a person's spirit and revive their soul. The book by Dr. Viktor Frankel, a Jewish Psychiatrist on Logo Therapy, which is about finding meaning in the darkest of places (e.g. in a WW2 Nazi concentration camp), may help folk to harness this power when they are down. The Blues from the Jim Crow era does this for me as well as gospel recordings and arrangements from that same era. To me the gospel music and the blues are two parts of the same whole life on this Earth.
So, Rochelle to answer your question, where we go depends on whether or not we have God's permission to come "home". The Bible does not specifically say but we can KNOW our relationship with God, thus God alone will judge us. For now, folk need to stop being so hard on themselves and each other. We must continue to seek out community as well as positive and meaningful expressions of our pain. We also must continue to find a way to help others. I hope that makes sense. Whatever I got right here is from the Creator and what I got wrong is my own blindness.
p.s. For those that read this message, know you are NOT alone in your pain. Whether from; depression-which distorts our ability to see positive connections in our lives, rejection-which takes us from our sense of meaning in our communities, or tragic situations-which we can not explain thus causing more pain we can all use help. Sometimes the answer to prayer or meaning may begin with a talk with a mental health professional. In any case, please reach out.
Also, here is a link to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
* regarding 1 Cor. 6 or Gal. 5 think about the molestation of children and rape of people in prison or other settings, these folk are not going to enter the Kingdom of God. In Paul's time there were ritualistic pedophiles and slave/master abuses. I am not trying to the use the Bible to condemn anyone only to show that the Bible is open to interpretation and as Luke 18:16 talks about, unless we become like children, similar to the African notion of suicide I mentioned we shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. John 18:36 reminds us God's Kingdom is NOT of this world, so let us not get bogged down with the Earth only.