Experience is Still the Best Teacher

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Someone once asked me if I graduated from 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.
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 their 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 were online in the Northern Panhandle. The internet gave 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.

Instead of hanging out at the club during long school breaks; my daughters spent holiday weekends in Rome, Dubai, Tokyo and famed spots here in the U.S. to name a few.


I remained a flight attendant until they graduated from college.

It is possible to circumvent 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.

NYT Opinion | How to Get Your Mind to Read

This an excellent Op-Ed on the state of literacy in the U.S. and how to make it better.  If you don’t have an NYT time subscription here are the highlights. The article indicates how the proper approach to reading will increase literacy – especially in under-performing public schools in America.

Daniel T. Willingham (@DTWillingham) is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author, most recently, of “The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads.”

Says in his op-ed,

“those who score well on reading test are those with broad knowledge; they usually know at least a little about the topics of the passages on the test.”

He also suggests reading comprehension is misunderstood.

“It’s treated like a general skill that can be applied with equal success to all texts” Rather, comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge”

Three significant changes in schooling

  • (1) Decreasing the time spent on literacy instruction in early grades.  Use high-information texts in early elementary grades
  • (2) Understand the importance of knowledge in reading.  What a child studies she should be good at reading and thinking on.

“Don’t test reading comprehension on random passages.  If topics are random, the test weights knowledge outside the classroom” (such as knowledge that wealthy children have greater opportunity to pick up”

  • (3) The systematic building of knowledge must be a priority in curriculum design.

Current common core state standards for English Language Arts & Literacy, states the standard values reading skills but doesn’t include what content students show know.


Willingham says state officials should write content-rich grade-level standards and support district personnel in writing curriculum to help students meet the Common Core standards.

Success stories using this method include Massachusetts in the 1990 and newcomer the Louisiana Department of Education where official says launching a coherent curriculum is vital.

* * *

Both links provide great insight into the current state of education.

I share my experience with educating my daughters using this approach. You can read it here: “Experience is Still the Best Teacher.”

Also, to my own experience of creating a generation of readers – The “becoming literate” movement is near and dear to my heart because it means more readers for us writers.

Smart People Show their Work

Just like diamond sparkles when light hits it, showing its superior cut and clarity– smart people have evidence of their brilliance.

Think back to elementary school when a teacher assigned a math problem, you supplied the answer, and the teacher marked it wrong.

Or maybe your teacher wasn’t so harsh and instead gave you partial credit for supplying an answer.

Do you remember her remarks next to the math problem?

Did it say something like that?

“didn’t show your work.”

Showing your work allowed the teacher to see her own reflection in your level of understanding of the concepts she shared.

Years later, when you or others still seem to be able to pull answers out of the butt – and others label you “the smart ones”; do you gloat over the accolade, or does it frustrate you because you have nothing to show for your alleged brilliance?

If you’re anything like me, it frustrates you to no end because smart people show their work.

They rarely say

“I’m, like, a smart person”

they don’t have to; there’s evidence.

“Show your work” is the best direction a teacher could have given me.

Not only is it humbling when you find yourself becoming a narcissist, but it also allows you not to be bamboozled by the ole razzle-dazzle

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

(FYI: Teacher Appreciation Day was Tuesday, May 9, 2017.   I had this stuck in my draft folder. smh)