Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Rewards of Hard Work & Perseverance

A few years ago, while awaiting the arrival of family at National Airport, I heard my name being called by a well-dressed African-American stranger. “Don’t you remember me?’ he asked “You encouraged me to take your physics course and promised me that if I worked hard I would succeed,” he said, identifying himself. I was thrilled to see one of my former students and offered to walk him to the departure gates. He hesitated, and almost embarrassedly admitted that he was flying via corporate jet. Our voices broke as we said good bye and I stood transfixed as I watched him stride away confidently. He had been a troubled kid who had walked into my office blaming racism for his ills. I had bought him lunch and convinced him, if he took my class, a requirement for graduation, and worked hard he would earn his just rewards. Forgive me, for saying I felt he was my own son in so many ways.

I intervened in this young man’s life because I believe what my all time hero Elie Wiesel once said “…indifference can be tempting -- more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.”

To me, this young man embodied the promise of America. As I wrote sometime back, “The promise of America is not in lowering the standards to give the appearance of everyone succeeding. Instead, I believe, it is in giving everyone the opportunity and resources to succeed at the highest standards possible. The promise is not of sidewalks paved with gold. Rather, it is of hard work and perseverance having its just rewards.

No, I don’t seek to minimize the prejudices, the racism, the stereotypes, or the competition that permeates our society like it does any other. Instead, the promise of America is in leveraging the different thinking and visions that are necessarily part and parcel of this colorful mosaic people we call our nation

On July 22, 2009, at 9:00 AM, my wife and I met with Ms. Tamara Bishop at Luxmanor Elementary School - 6201 Tilden Lane, Rockville, Maryland 20852 for my daughter’s placement in middle school with all the documents requested by Ms. Bishop. My daughter was tested for appropriate math placement, her certificates of satisfactory grade 4 & 5 completion as well as residency information copied, and information entered into the MCPS information system in our presence. My daughter was personally congratulated and welcomed into CJMS. Ms. Bishops email of Wednesday, July 22, 2009 2:54 PM, specifically memorializes this event, stating “[my child’s name] will be a great addition to Cabin John Middle School this coming school year.” The school further confirmed my daughter’s placement by an email from Dr. Cora Neighbors, on Thu, 23 Jul 2009 12:31:02 -0400 and stated “[my daughter’s name]’s scores suggest that she should be in IM math (an 8th grade pre-algebra class).” In further confirmation of her acceptance to Cabin John Middle School, Dr. Neighbors emailed me a few minutes later, stating “By the way, please go to the Cabin John Middle School website and print out the reading and IM summer math assignments.” On Friday, July 24, 2009 11:09 AM, “the math resource teacher at Cabin John” emailed me to set up a phone call to encourage my daughter’s placement in Math IM.

My daughter had received the promise of America.

Then, out of the blue, just four days before orientation, on Monday, August 17, 2009, Ms. Bishop called my wife at work to insist that my daughter’s placement had been rescinded.

My daughter has suffered the indignities of MCPS welcoming her with open arms and pulling the rug out from under her at the eleventh hour. She has surmounted every hurdle that they have thrown in her path with quiet dignity. In second grade (chronologically), she showed that she could complete third grade MSAs at an advanced level beating district averages by a wide margin. She outperformed most MCPS students even in higher grades on the Map-R—again while she was a chronologically a second grader. Mr. Marty Creel, wrote to me yesterday at 6:20PM and said, “I believe [my child’s name] is an academically gifted child.”

Now MCPS is asking that she suffer the humiliation of being told that MCPS has changed its mind just days before school and well after she completed the summer assignments at their instruction.

Perhaps, hard work and perseverance having its just rewards, is not in her cards.

I look into her eyes and my heart aches as I watch her dangle in educational limbo. Please forgive me if I sound emotional.


  1. What in the world was the reason they gave for rescinding the placement? That is crazy.

  2. I have similar issues with the my sons school. He is now in fifth grade. For example, I was informed that students who were already in math advance placement at elementary schools, would be transported (daily) to local middle school which would provide the student with full studying potential. A elementary school teacher is not likely to be trained and well-versed in middle school math curriculum (my son was already doing what might be 7th grade math in fourth grade).
    I'm concerned whether or not he actually will get a chance. Principal already told me "only one student from the elementary school had been bused to middle school last year".
    Shouldnt a parent be a 'partner' and 'involved' in his/her childs education?

  3. I got chills reading the quote from Elie Wiesel and the story of how you helped that young man. And the shift to the story of your daugther. That is just outrageous! After notifying your family and your daughter it's horrible that they wold rescind the offer. Thanks to @switchedonmom for sending me this way.


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