Walter Backstrom | How not to teach black children

Black kids score the lowest on standardized tests.

I have raised this question to administrators and teachers, and they all gave me the same answer — off the record, of course. My questions: Why are the scores so low for black kids, and why are the scores so high for Asian kids?

They all say parental involvement is a major key, not only to improve test scores, but to improve overall academic achievement. However, when one talks about race in education amid this politically-correct environment, one has to tread lightly. There are several factors that come into play that affect how and why a child learns or doesn’t learn.

In the African American community, a large segment doesn’t see the importance of education because their parents don’t. The first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, discussed several of her experiences in the newspapers about being accused of acting white. She was called that because she got good grades and studied hard. Those same accusations happen to black kids all over this country, and it is a tragedy.

I have asked my white friends, how do you act white? And even they couldn’t tell me.

Teachers, administrators and parents have told me that in the Asian society, education is the key. But in American culture, teachers are not valued. In the black community, education is not valued.

I have been an observer as well as an active participant in my daughter’s school in King County and the school district at large. I cannot put all the blame on parents. However, parents can and should play an important role when it comes to the child’s learning.

In Seattle, a prominent basketball player practices at 5 a.m. with the coaching of his father. I will assume that if the parent spent the same time working on academics with his son, the child may have a different mindset when it came to the importance of learning.

It is unfortunate that success has more to do with sports and entertainment than being a good student. It does not get the same press coverage. The message that black kids get over and over again is to be a rapper or play basketball.

There is a segment of parents who know they have a powerful weapon at their disposal. It is called the race card. Some parents play the rich card, and unfortunately, some parents play the race card. I was shocked: Every administrator and teacher I talked to told me they had been accused of being a racist. “You were just picking on my child because he’s black” — that theme kept coming up.

Some teachers probably are racist. But all of them? I think not. Black children — as a matter of fact all children — should be held to the same standards, no matter what. I realize that people want to blame those racist Republicans, especially George Bush, for those low test scores. Sorry, that dog just won’t hunt.

I asked a principal what it’s going to take to improve test scores for African American children. He was eager to say that we have developed new and improved curriculum and teaching methods that will help improve test scores. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now.

Black children have been victimized by: The soft bigotry of low expectations; parents who don’t care; teachers who can’t teach; preachers who preach on Sunday, but walk away on Monday; politicians who are in the pockets of the teachers union, which stands in the way of progress; poverty, drugs, no fathers and no positive role models. I realize that given those challenges, it is difficult, but not impossible.

I often wonder why we can help kids in foreign countries, but not help kids in this country. It is a shame that we are afraid to talk about race and responsibility. When these kids believe they can, they will. We must restate faith and a God of action in the lives of these children. Faith doesn’t make things easy, but it does make things possible. Let your words equal your deeds. No excuses.

Walter Backstrom's columns appear in the Bellevue News twice a month. Readers can contact him at