I think the issue of whose "fault" it is that inner-city students
fail is complex.  I've sometimes had the impulse to blame them
and then realize that I had many advantages and supports from an
early age that they didn't have.  On the other hand, if we are
too indulgent and allow excuses we are not helping the students.

I try to deal with this dilemma by getting away from the "who's
to blame" question.  I don't blame students for not having the
knowledge or wisdom to make the best choices.  But I do expect
them to rise to appropriate standards because I want them to have
a better chance.  Sometimes I get annoyed when they are not
receptive, but when I can put that aside and not judge them
personally I have more success at reaching them.

I also try to remember that, at 16 or 17 when they make choices
about their high school track, they are still kids.  Incidentally,
Mike Rose's book _Lives on the Boundary_ makes a good case that
students really don't make these choices themselves but get
tracked at an early age by adults who do or don't believe in
them.  He tells his own story as a kid who was mistakenly put
in a "dumb" track because his scores got confused with another
kid with the same name, and by the time the error was discovered
he not only believed he wasn't smart, he had missed out on a
whole academic culture.  His parents, Italian immigrants without
a college education, didn't know how to question what had
happened.  He was saved by a teacher who believed
he was capable of catching up and going to college.  His book
has many interesting observations about developmental students
who are trying but who don't understand the norms of the academic
culture and what is expected, and ways that teachers can help
once they understand what this is about.

It also helps me to realize that often the behavior we see is
masking students' fear of finding out that they are stupid.  (I see this
especially in math.)  That helps me to be more patient and to
reach those who are ready to take more risks.

Annette Gourgey
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