Experience is Still the Best Teacher

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Someone once asked me if I graduated college. And if I didn’t; how, as a single mother, did I raise college-educated daughters.

Not only did my daughters graduate from one of the top universities in the world; one also received her Juris Doctorate.
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At first, I was offended because the implication was he didn’t consider me one of the better-Blacks. To him, I was an outlier.

Then I took a step back from feeling butthurt and realized I was an outlier due to the experiences my parents afforded me.

When I attended public school, we went on trips to the Hayden Planetarium, Bronx Zoo, Botanical Gardens, Museum of Natural History, etc.

My daughters are brilliant because of their environment; not in spite of it.

I remembered that conversation while reading the editorial, “How to Get Your Mind to Read.” that asks us to rethink reading skills and comprehension

I rarely agree with the leaps Op-Ed writers take in articles. This one, however, is right on the money.

He identified how schools in the inner-cities or impoverished areas are failing its students.

Poorly implemented standards and educational budget cuts have chipped away at any additional exposure these children could have to become literate.

During my years of hands-on parenting, I learned that exposing children to a variety of activities and high-information content is the key to educational excellence.

When I gave birth to my oldest daughter, my closest friends were childless. She became our mascot. Soon after my daughter was born, my family and friends took her to places that I couldn’t.

When I could; I took her on trips, such as to museums, art shows, dance recitals, lectures. Most were places I wanted to see or visit.

I fashioned a career in media & entertainment. It offered a modest life filled with a wealth of experiences.

It paid off too.

When I enrolled my daughter in the first grade, in the 90s, her Stanford-Binet test scores measured between 130-140. She started in New York City Public Schools’ the LEAD program for the Gifted and Talented.  By the time she entered public school, only the gifted and talented classes went on field trips.

a photo of an elementary student in a classroom
PS 282 Scholar

We left New York soon after and moved to West Virginia. During my research for schools, I learned of Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. By the mid-90s, most schools in the Northern Panhandle had the internet giving the students access to the world and beyond.

My girls, the oldest 12 and 5-year-old twins, participated in activities, such as the very first Live from Mars event in 1997. NASA’s Classroom of the Future was one of the Jet Propulsion Lab’s satellite sites where Sojourner, the mobile, and wireless telerobot, transmitted pictures from Mars.

When my oldest daughter graduated high school, she received a full-ride scholarship to West Virginia University to study in their newly created program, Forensic Science.

The next move landed us in Illinois. Once again, I searched out the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. In this new area, the twins were peer-pressured into joining the school’s marching band. My middle daughter was admitted into Project Arrow (another Gifted and Talented program) in the 7th grade.

When the twins were in high school, I began another career this time as a flight attendant that would provide them an opportunity to see the world.

In their Grammy award-winning public high school music department, they sat First chair in the band, with their respective instruments, the flute, and trumpet.

Whereas girls their age may have been looking for the latest club to hang out over a long weekend; my daughters spent their weekends and holidays in Rome, Dubai, Tokyo and famed spots here in the U.S. to name a few.

I remained a flight attendant until they graduated college. 

All this to say, it is possible to circumvent what the article highlights as the reasons for the educational disparity between the haves and have-nots.

Although I wasn’t part of the two-parent-household, Martha’s Vineyard in the Summer – Aspen in the Winter “better Blacks crew, I refused to let my children suffer.

So, I did one better. I sacrificed myself, my pride and took every handout and hand-up while using my talents to give my girls the World and even Mars.

I succeeded, but what about a single-parent with no help, working from sun-up to sundown how can they expose their children to rich experiences that will broaden the knowledge base?

Some say street knowledge and the school of hard-knocks will help our children succeed. But it’s only useful if we want them to survive the streets.

If we hope for a better education for our children; better than tales from the hood, we must elect legislators who also value public education.

If we want our children, the next generation, to thrive; we must find a way to supplement their education with experiences that will provide a foundation for learning and critical thinking.