Thursday, December 25, 2008

Your Black World: Interview With Iconic Educator Dr. Janice Hale

Interview with Iconic Educator, Dr. Janice Hale, by Tolu Olorunda.

It is rare for an educator to reach great heights of popularity and acclaim, but Dr. Janice Hale has earned every stripe of fame. As an internationally-renowned scholar, Dr. Hale is no stranger to controversies surrounding her work and theories. No other than Rev. Dr. Jeremiah E. Wright Jr. acknowledged her in his, much-talked about, speech in Detroit earlier this year. Wright celebrated Dr. Hale as someone we owe “a debt of gratitude.” Unfortunately, the mainstream press would seem, soon after, less concerned with her scholarly contributions, but more fascinated by the claim/theory, documented in her first book – “Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles” – that Black kids and White kids possess different cognitive learning styles – hence, think, learn, function, and process information differently. Picking up where she left off a decade earlier, was “Unbank the Fire: Visions for the Education of African American Children,” her second book, which explored Dr. Hale’s family’s history and educational lineage. Her third, and most recent to-date, is the well-known “Learning While Black: Creating Educational Excellence for African American Children,” a biting exposé of the encounters of Black students at private learning institutions – using her son’s experiences as a case study. recently had the esteemed opportunity to engage Dr. Janice Hale in dialogue on a wide array of topics. Included in the conversation were issues surrounding the recent selection of Arne Duncan as Sec. of Education, problems confronting Black students, the ISAAC program, Early Childhood education and more. As one never known for mincing words, Dr. Hale took no prisoners as she expressed her feelings about Bill Cosby… Excuse me, Dr. Bill Cosby, modern-day Civil Rights Organizations, Oprah Winfrey, and the public/private school system. Get your pens and pads ready. Class is in session:

Thanks for being with us, Dr. Hale. To kick things off, how did it feel being snubbed for the Sec. of Education position, which you lobbied so tenaciously for?

*Laughs* That’s so funny. I don’t feel snubbed about that. What I feel snubbed about is that, I feel in my book “Learning While Black,” I really provide solutions for what is wrong with education and how to fix African-American education, and I don’t feel my solutions have gotten any attention. Nobody has told me it’s stupid, or it wouldn’t work, or publicly critique it. I go out to speak; I get a standing ovation, and everybody tells me it’s great, but it’s just ignored. My book, “Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles,” came out in 1982, and is still being mentioned today.

Based on the selection of Arne Duncan – who holds a bachelor’s in Sociology – as Sec. of Education, what is incumbent upon Black folks in pushing an agenda that would improve learning conditions of Black students?

We’re going to have to make some noise as a community, and develop some clout and unity. We’re going to have to respond to this kind of thing. There are a few organizations out there, but we need a vehicle to respond to inappropriate governmental behavior, and be heard. We need to begin bringing issues to the table. In many inner-city school districts, we have teachers with less teaching-experience, and the state, and federal governments, use that as a conduit for giving less money to the school districts. But the White school districts, with more teaching-experiences, receive better funding, which equips them to offer more advanced-placement courses, and a broader curriculum. So, we got to sit down and think through what our goals ought to be, and draw out a plan. This is why I started the ISAAC program.

In Black Children, you mentioned that Black kids and White kids have different cognitive learning styles. Why do you think there’s so much contention surrounding this, otherwise logical, theory?

When Carol Gilligan wrote her book, in 1982, about white female learning styles, she suggested that White girls have different cognitive patterns, compared to boys. She was, as a result of her book, given awards and grants. If we, in society, don’t believe that there could be different learning patterns for different people, why was she lauded with numerous grants and awards? Yet, when I talk about Black people, I’m a big joke. People have tried to interview me like it’s a big joke. On a radio interview in Toronto, the interviewer was asking, in a sarcastic tone, “Dr. Hale, are you saying that Black people’s brains are hotwired differently from White people’s brains. You mean if we cut the brains open, it’s going to look differently?” Even CNN came to my house, telling me that they wanted to “get it [the theory] right.” But when the interview came out, she had searched all across America to find some Black person – which nobody has ever heard of – to refute my theory. He was characterized as an “expert.” How are you an expert when nobody has ever heard of you? So anything that benefits Black people is a joke, but if it pertains to White boys and girls, they receive funds and grants to advance the theories. My book, Black Children, came about because I couldn’t get any funds for my projects. I kept writing, and writing, for grants, but nobody gave me anything. When I looked at what I had amassed, in the process of writing for grants, I thought to myself that I could publish it as a book.

In Learning While Black, you chronicled your son’s experiences in a private school, and how the pedagogical methods employed by his teachers were bound to impair him intellectually. Is this something that still goes on today, and how do we put an end to it?

I would say: Yes, Yes, Yes! Being a mother, everywhere I go, I have well-educated Black Women, with their children going to the best schools, telling me about their similar experiences. Everybody was so happy I wrote it because they are going through this stuff, and it’s so subtle, and people need to understand that Black children are having difficulty in every arena. I was sacrificing enormously for my son to go to that school, and I couldn’t afford for them to mess it all up. So, by the time he got to the third grade, and they found out that my critiques were accurate, they started placing him with good teachers. I’m fortunate because I have a PhD and I’m a full professor, but for the average person, it’s a struggle. In my next book, I’ll be discussing what he went through in High School. My son plays basketball, and he went to a Detroit private High School – and I got stories to tell, brother.

What must Black parents – especially single Black mothers – know about the public/private school system?

It’s very difficult. That’s why I created ISAAC. One of the divisions under ISAAC is an educational aid society. So, when they’re trying to medicate Black students, and put them on Ritalin, you can pick up the phone and call an expert. It’s very hard for a single parent walking into a PTA conference, and there are five administrators with clipboards telling you ‘the truth’ about your child. It’s very overwhelming. I can’t be like Alvin Poussaint and Bill Cosby, and say, ‘All this parents need to do is read to their children every day.’ Well, 42% of Black adults in Detroit are illiterate. So, Black parents must think very critically about anything that is going to take your child out of the mainstream of the classroom. My son used to come home and tell me, “Mom, I’m in a group where the other kids can’t read, and if I try to tell them the words, the teacher wouldn’t let me, and I don’t want to be in that group.” When I go up to discuss this matter with the teacher, she subsequently moves him to a higher-reading capability group. I would have preferred a reason for why he was in a lower group, but I was left to think, ‘so, I complain and now he’s in a higher group.’ Well, why was he there to begin with? If you go in with the idea that everything the school does is right, they’ll do whatever they want. With standardized tests, nowadays, they provide white kids with all the help they need, so when Black kids fail those tests, they try to make it appear that something is wrong with us; but it’s unfair, because we’ve been excluded from everything.

How do Black female-headed, single-parent homes exert more pressure on the schools to exercise better judgment with their kids?

The first thing we’ll have to advocate for, which I’m doing on a personal level, is get through to Black females to stop having these babies out of wedlock, and at a young age. I think we are starting to see a decline in teen pregnancy, because younger females are beginning to see what their relatives are going through. In most relationships, the burden is predominantly on the woman. So, we need to look at that as a community. The next issue is that the whole community has to step up and be an extended family for these children. We can’t have Black Women out there, by themselves, without the support they need. There were a whole network of men who helped me raise my son, and I think that we have to draw upon those resources, in the situation we’re in.

You’ve also championed the cause of Early Childhood Education. At what age is it most appropriate to begin focusing on the educational needs of a child?

The first step is when you’re at the hospital at birth. When my son was born, I took books with me, and from the minute he laid eyes on me, I began to read to him daily. The most important thing that differentiates Black and White kids is vocabulary. I have a vocabulary initiative with the ISAAC program. White students come into school knowing, sometimes, twice as much words as Black students – regardless of income level. And the more words you know, the better your reading capabilities. One of the equalizers that should be in place should be preschool, but we don’t have those structures anymore. So, vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary, and it’s something every parent can impact upon his/her child, at a young age. Reading is important because it captures kid’s attentions at young ages.

What is the ISAAC program?

It is the Institute for the Study of the African-American Child, and I want people to think about it as a Civil Rights organization that has one basic agenda; and that is educational equity for Black children. Civil Rights groups are acting like firefighters, and I don’t think anybody is addressing education in a systematic way; I feel education is being lost in the shuffle. Right now, we are arranging conferences to bring people together, and putting our best minds together. We are also trying to create an income-stream for the organization, because people are not handing money to me. I’ve been given the runaround, and it is terrible, but we’re going to move on with/without the money. I have some volunteers who are spending their personal money to support me, so that’s encouraging.

What is the key difference between ISAAC and other programs advocating for a rehabilitation of African-American Education?

Well, the first thing you have to ask yourself is, “What other programs are you talking about?” I have written a Preschool curriculum, Visions for Children, that we hope to make available to Preschool programs throughout the country. We are about empowering the community, creating some dialogue, and making some noise. ISAAC seeks to have an impact on every Black child in the country. I want to set up a network of pre-schools across the country that utilizes my curriculum. We also hope to offer accessible, affordable, high-quality tutoring. The vision of ISAAC is to form an apparatus that would alleviate these problems to give Black students a chance. In the Black Community, we don’t have a healthy respect for intellectual activities. We need to step up, and be the ones researching Black children. We should have structures that can speak out, and be heard, and be consulted on what steps to take forward.

In your working paper, you mentioned W.E.B. Du Bois as central to the theme of ISAAC. How does ISAAC implement Du Bois’ philosophy of street-activism fused with the academy?

Just the creation of ISAAC is following in Du Bois’ footsteps. Du Bois was a scholar. I’m a scholar. I had a choice of whether to simply stay in the ivory towers, write papers, write books; or go ahead, step out, make some noise, and make things happen. I’m a full professor. I have tenure. So, I feel that I’m stepping out like Du Bois, to make those much-needed changes.

The ISAAC program is structured in the U.S., but do you have any plans for expansion to reach Black kids internationally – mainly in Africa?

That is what is in my heart. Du Bois was a Pan-Africanist, and in my own heart, I want to see us step out and unify our struggle. If we can get this going, we should include Africans in the Diaspora. There’s no question about that. I don’t think Oprah should jump over her community here, and run away to Africa to build a multi-million dollar school. I think it should be a symphony. I think we should start here, in the U.S., and then move to Africa. We need to come together with a plan. That’s the problem: We don’t have a plan.

Lastly, are you hopeful about the future of Black Education?

I feel so wonderful with the response I’ve gotten. My founding sponsors have been very generous. I couldn’t believe that in this economical climate, people were sending me $1,000 and $2000. Rev. Wright was the first one to send me a $1,000. So, just the fact that people are entrusting this into me makes me hopeful about our future.

To find out more about the ISAAC program, pls. visit:

Dr. Janice Hale on Early Childhood Education:

This interview was conducted by Tolu Olorunda, for

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Your Black World Speaks With Motivational Speaker Caitlin Powell

Interview with Youth Motivational Speaker, Caitlin Powell, by Tolu Olorunda.

Caitlin Powell is a role-model, motivational speaker, writer, telecaster and singer – all packed into one. The catch: She’s a mere 10 years of age! Though a fifth grader, Caitlin’s exceptional intellect is inspiring kids and parents across the country. Caitlin, who loves reading and studying math, is also the host of her very own webcast titled, “Caitlin’s Corner TV.” As one who takes advanced courses in her school, Caitlin knows, first hand, how challenging school can be. In her nationally-syndicated webcast, Caitlin offers tips and advices to her peers, on how to lead a fruitful life and embrace the challenges that come. Caitlin Powell is also a role model to her two younger siblings, who look up to her, being the oldest, for leadership. recently had the opportunity to speak with Caitlin on her interests, the joy of reading, motivational speaking and much, much more:

Thanks for joining us, Caitlin. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I’m involved in my courses at my school; I love to sing; I’m on the telecast – it’s a lot of fun. I do the announcer #1, announcer # 2, camera-director and sound. My favorite is actually announcer #1, because you get to share a lot of information about what’s going on in the school.

How did you begin telecasting?

In Kindergarten, when I began schooling, I saw that people were doing it, and I really wanted to do it. Once I got to the fifth grade, I applied for it, and actually got in, because they said I’m a good speaker, and I do well in front of a crowd. So, it’s just a lot of fun, and I have a good time doing it.

What do you talk about in the telecasts?

I talk about the after-school activities, and clubs.

In your latest webcast, you mentioned math as your favorite subject. Why is that?

Well, it gets my brain working; it’s really hard and challenging – and I love a good challenge. So, I stay really smart, and I hope I have a good future.

A lot of your peers dislike math for this reason. Why? And how can you help them come to love it, just as much as you do?

Well, people say that they don’t like math because it’s too hard, and too challenging, but I tell them that if you keep on practicing, you’ll get better and even come to like it; and It’ll build your self esteem. If you try something hard, you’ll bring yourself up, and will have a good future.

You also enjoy reading. Why?

Reading helps you be creative, and understand how you’re supposed to write and make sense; and if you do research, it would build up what you know about it.

How has reading helped you in the classroom?

Reading has helped me, because they give me definitions, and when my teacher asks me about certain words, I already know them from what I’ve read.

Why do you think most 10-year-olds are not too fond of reading, and how can you help them gain interest in it?

I think that they don’t like it because they like to play more video games and things like that. So, they should just stop doing that and read more to build up their knowledge. Reading could be fun, because most authors try to make it fun for kids, at their age. It also makes you use your brain, such as in mystery, where they give readers clues to figure it out. But video games don’t teach you anything. You just sit down, wasting time, and getting addicted to it. So I think people should read more, because it’ll build your knowledge, vocabulary, and how you speak.

Besides reading and telecasting, though, what other interests do you have?

Well, I like to write short stories and plays. I like to speak a lot and sing. I do anything I can with my voice and hand. In 6th grade, next year, I would love to play the violin, because it just sounds really pretty, and I would love to play instruments.

What are your plans for High School and College?

I plan to focus on math, reading and writing, so when I grow up I can be a mathematician, a singer, and/or a writer.

What does it take to be a role model – especially at such a young age?

Well, you have to make the right decision, and learn from your mistakes. You have to learn what to do and what not to do. You have to do the appropriate things. You also have to choose your friends wisely. Don’t hang out in gangs, or at bars that sell alcohol. Don’t do any kinds of drugs or anything like that. So, you have to think wisely and be smart about your decisions.

As a role model and motivational speaker, what is missing in the younger generation that you plan on impacting upon them?

You have to set goals for yourself, and follow them to achieve them; and I think a lot of people either don’t make goals, or don’t follow them. For instance, I just did a webcast on my New Year’s resolution, and I was talking about what things to do at a certain age, and all kinds of things.

So, young people should become more interested in their future?

Yes, because they would have a more successful future if they do those kinds of things. You have to know where you are going, so you can make the right steps and be the right person.

Thank you very much for the opportunity, Caitlin. Pls. visit her blog, and subscribe to her webcasts.

Watch Caitlin in Action:

This interview was conducted by Tolu Olorunda, Staff Writer for