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19 May 2009

Slackness As A Form of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

So last evening was "Graduation Project" night, the end-of-semester event wherein seniors stand in front of adult judges, in front of often-hastily-prepared tri-fold cardboard displays, and strain to speak for at least five minutes on the "product" they worked on all semester which relates to their research paper. Since this grueling night is always scheduled on Mondays - once in deep, dark December and once in beautiful May - among the things it produces are grumpy, tired teachers for the rest of the week.

Last night was the first time I'd been tapped as a judge of the presentations and "products" (which can consist of anything from volunteer time to actually creating or constructing something), and five of the six seniors we graded did just fine. There was, however, the sixth, whose paper and project were ostensibly on "The Effects of Racial Profiling on the Educations of Minorities." Yes, the young man doing this project was black. From what I could tell, he was intelligent, had the ability to be an effective speaker/presenter, and had an engaging personality. He was well-groomed, polite, and neatly dressed. And his project was...well... crap.

What he was supposed to have done was visit two elementary schools, one predominantly white and one black, help teach second-grade classes about something or other (he never was clear on what), and observe how students were engaged with, punished, etc. by teachers and administrators. What he actually did, it seems, is only go to the latter school and help the teacher pass out papers and line the kids up for recess. When asked what evidence he saw of racial profiling at the school, he told about seeing some black and white kids pushing a boy on the playground and calling him a "Mexican". On his tri-fold he had a few pictures from his classroom visit, somewhat random quotes and questions pasted on at slanted angles, and two print outs of surveys. One of these purported to show the rates of gang activity among different races (why?), and the other showed the disparity in rates of suspensions between blacks and whites in five states (not including NC), and Long Island (?). Suffice to say, this was not a coherent or impressive effort.

As judges, we were to decide how well he supported his argument, and what quality of work he did. As you might have guessed, we judged him as below standard. As you might also have guessed, the three of us are white. There was much conjecture as to what the kid might attribute his failure to.

Oh, we profiled all right. We profiled for "kids who slack off until the last minute on the most important assignment of their senior year." Not a race, but a common species, it seems.

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