A pathway to a better future

Larry Sutton Contributing columnist

February 16, 2014

February 2014 marks the 88th anniversary of the observance of Black History Month, honoring the past achievements and present status of black Americans. This celebration is sponsored annually by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1915.

Our 2014 National African American History theme is “Civil Rights in America” with particular emphasis on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One of the major features of this historic act was Title IV — Desegregation of Public Education, encouraging desegregation of public schools and authorizing the US Attorney General to file suits to force desegregation.

Today, 50 years later, equity in education is still a vital civil rights concern along with equality of opportunity, with President Obama suggesting that success should depend on “work ethic and scope of out dreams,” believing that if you work hard, you can get ahead. That same notion was expressed by Paul many years ago when he said in Romans 14:13, “let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or cause to fall in our brother’s way.”

As we pursue equity in education, the process of leveling the playing field needs to start with high quality early education intervention programs, making our children and young people our number one priority. Investing in our children for all demographic groups will benefit us all. This is an important lesson our community should learn before it’s too late.

While we are introducing our children to enriching preschooling activities, we must also find ways to engage parents in activities that create strong home learning environment. These positive relationships between the home and school will go a long way in fostering and sustaining student learning and achievement. According to the National PTA, “when a child knows parents and teachers are regularly working together, the child will see that education is a high priority requiring commitment and effort.” So, parents and student advocates, let’s encourage our children to dream big and to have the fortitude to reach them, removing obstacles to drive, determination and a willingness to work hard.

As Americans, we must resolve to put into practice our belief that each individual should have the same opportunity to realize his or her potential. Getting quality education is the pathway to opportunity, and it can be a path to a better future for all who are willing to work hard.

As I’ve said before, Sampson County schools have some great students, dedicated teachers, competent leadership staff and concerned parents, with strong community support. However, as a former high school teacher and a concerned citizen, I am bothered by the fact that along the way, from starting school to around late elementary school, far too many students become “infected” with what I call “learned hopelessness”.

For the most part, these students had been eager to learn and achieve, but gradually they became resigned to doing just enough to get by, losing the desire to be academically successful. These individuals become some of our schools’ most vulnerable students, becoming suspended and expelled, and drop out at higher rates.

I do applaud the school systems’ administrations for setting goals and seeking solutions to better address the needs of our most vulnerable students, helping each individual realize his or her potential.

As a community, we must continue to invest in out country’s future prosperity by fulfilling out commitment to equality of opportunity for all. Our schools, businesses and government leaders must engage more young adults continually in school and work, knowing that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.