Rafael Jackson was not at all a poster boy for high school studentsall across America, nor was he a model citizen in American society. He wassuspended at one of his schools, and had to constantly move schools becauseof behavior and attendance problems. His senior year at Russell HighSchool he was placed in low level classes “because he skipped classes andschool so often, not because he lacked intelligence” (476). McQuillanasserts that even though Jackson was not a typical student, his school daywas the same as most of Russell High’s other students; easy, and “not aneducation worth wanting” (486). McQuillan contends that the classes are too easy, and criticizes theteaching methods at the school.
According to McQuillan “During a dictationquiz the teacher provided students with hints regarding errors they mightmake (“there will be no commas”)” (486) and that was making the exam fartoo easy. He also disapproves of the way teachers handle their classessaying that they never follow up on detentions, and don’t deduct pointsthey previously said they would. McQuillan observes, “While Rafaelviolated numerous classroom and school rules, he experienced no negativesanctions” (486). McQuillan says that in the urban school systems the easy work that wasoffered correlates with authority. McQuillan gives an example of that whenhe says “The teacher who left class plans for the substitute in Rafael’scooking class knew how to maintain control: Give students something assimple as a TV viewer’s guide to interpret” (487).
Giving out easy tasksmakes for a higher work completion rate, but it does not seriously”control” the students effectively, as seen in the drop out rates of urbanschool systems. In a Similar article, Shelby Steele says it’s the lack of highstandards that keep black students behind the rest. Although racism, andpoverty are reasons for under development in the black community accordingto Steele, it does not “prevent a group from achieving excellence when ittakes agency over an area and begins to live by the values that allow thewill to be applied” (495). Steele uses two scenarios to explain his logic, one actual the otherhypothetical.
He compares the actual life of Charlie Parker (a poor blacksaxophonist during the 1930’s) to a hypothetical life in this day and age. In the hypothetical life of Charlie Parker, it is assumed that because hewas a poor black man, he would seek help in learning how to play musicinstruments. Help through special programs or through a tutor; in thiscase Steele uses a tutor as an example. Steele uses the argument thatbecause Parker is a poor black man, playing a instrument that is playedmostly by people with a European background, that he will not have highstandards set upon him.
Steele later goes on to say “But does this meanthat the social program and the tutor were actual disadvantages for thefictional Charlie? I think so. ” (493). Steele says that during the realCharlie Parker’s life, no one cared if he succeeded, “during the depressionthere were no programs or tutors devoted to black musical development”(492). According to Steele, Parker had another thing going for him, andthat was the fact that he was trying to be a black musician during a timewhere many blacks excelled in music and standards for black musicians werevery high.
His economic situation therefore, was going to be irrelevant tohis success in music. Although Steele makes a good point that in Charlie Parkershypothetical life he has the odds stacked against him, that doesn’tnecessarily mean that his standards are lowered. His odds perhaps mightincrease because of more resources available to him now, compared to backduring the 1930’s. But I do agree with Steele’s overall conclusion that”Still, the challenge for today’s educators is to do what the blackidentity is currently failing to do: to enforce for black students at alllevels a strict and impersonal accountability to the highest standards ofexcellence” (498).