‘Erica on How School Really is’ by Danny Harris

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. He launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. You can follow People’s District on Twitter @PeoplesDistrict, and can read his previous columns here.

“You all need to know school really is, and why kids be dropping out and stuff. People need to know that because them grown-ups don’t get it. They just be like, ‘You should go to school and be somebody.’ Come on now, it is not that simple. If you are put in a place that is not a learning environments, why should you learn anything? You just gonna follow the click. Just because you call it a school don’t mean that people be learning, especially when most of the teachers don’t believe in their students.

“I do my work and all, but school is boring. I used to go to a charter school, and they took us on field trips and gave us activities. People had school spirit and cared about something. Now, I go to public school and we got none of that. I try to do my best, but I be seeing people drop out everyday because they stop caring. They think that school is boring and it don’t prepare them for nothing. They probably right.

“Even if people here don’t be believing in us, my mother and my brothers believe in me. They don’t want me to be no bum. They are encouraging me to graduate and be the best that I can be. I want to go to college and study journalism. I like to write, but it gotta be about something interesting. I want to tell the stories that people actually want to know about in this city. There are a lot of crazy things that happen here. Just look at the schools. I want people to know that we have no diversity in our schools. I spend my life around black people. The only caucasian people I know are teachers. I wish that would change. I want to get on TV and tell stories that will help change our schools and stop all them kids from dropping out.”

145 Comment

  • I think the real travesty here is how she talk.

  • With the sorry state of journalism, maybe it won’t be a problem that she is not a big fan of proper grammar.

    • Hello Fox News next generation!

      • Doubtful she is watching Fox News. If you mean those FNC viewers don’t give a crap about the current state of public schools… or public anything… and ending up voting, then that makes sense.

  • “Just because you call it a school don’t mean that people be learning”

    Yeah, that’s pretty obvious.

  • I agree, this sucks that this woman was unfortunate to be in a public school system that is failing and perhaps one of the worst in the country (I’m assuming DC schools).

    But that is no reason to “give up” and say “well, if the government won’t provide me an education I guess I have no future.” You don’t go to school for making friends and joining “clicks.” Are you really “doing your work?” (cause your grammar is atrocious). The people of this city revolted when we finally got a school chancellor with a backbone and we are now going backwards in making any progress in our school system.

    But what it comes down to is only YOU can make yourself into somebody. YOU have to want it. YOU have to go for it. The government is not going to always be reliable for everything. And while the situation here sucks and is unacceptable. We have to work with and adapt with reality.

    I don’t mean to harp on this girl. I think she has more of a grasp on it than most young people in this city.

  • I like this girl’s message, but it’s incredibly difficult to get past the fact that she speaks (writes?) like an idiot.

    I’d love to hear her in her first journalist job interview:
    “I like to be writin’ n’shit, yooknowwaaahhmsayin’? Real shit, yo. Don’t be trippin’ n’shit.”

    You’re hired!

  • I don’t know why everyone here seems to be comfortable making fun of a child that our system has obviously failed. Just because someone does not know correct grammar does not mean I cannot understand what they are saying. I wish her much success in the future.

    • Agreed. Some of the commenters on this blog are heartless bastards.

      • Or they care enough not to let her off the hook for something that quite obviously will prevent her from achieving success.

        • Oh yes, I’m sure that’s their true intention. They just care too much!

        • Not let her off the hook – Like the school system already has.

          Life is not easy most of the time.

          I find it amazing a young woman of this age speaks like this, casually or not.

          • That said, I think we all have our “adult” grammar and our “friend” grammar. I drop a lot more f-bombs amongst friends. I’d be curious to know if this was how she talks when she’s in a casual environment, or whether this is her best effort “adult” grammar.

    • Wishing her much success isn’t going to help her out too much unless she recognizes that she currently can’t speak proper English and takes some remedial measures. Otherwise, even if she gets a degree from some college, she’ll never be able to find a job in other than some minimum wage position.

      I was once on a hiring committee that reviewed incoming applications. The position we were filling required a BA or BS degree. I received a resume and cover letter from a graduate of Shaw University in NC that was utter gibberish–few complete sentences, atrocious grammar, two dozen misspelled words in a two page document, etc. It made this young lady’s verbal discourse seem like the Queen’s English. That Shaw had given this young man a degree and told him he was qualified to apply for a job in this profession was the worst sort of fraud. It’s the same kind of fraud being perpetrated in DC’s public schools, I fear.

      • Was it an computer or science job because heaven knows some IT and science types can’t write.
        One of my aunts went to Shaw U, she got a good education that led to a teaching position, but that was a million years ago when people had big Angela Davis fros.
        I’m going to guess the young lady was speaking in a conversational voice and not switching to “proper” English in order to grab the “authentic” tone.

    • The “system” has failed her in the sense that the community, her family, and her peers has failed her. The schools aren’t going to fix that.

      Sounds like every one of her peers has contempt for school, teachers, and, from the sound of it, learning in general. You don’t fix that by adding an extra teachers aid or tweaking the curriculum.

      Sucks, and I hope she finds a good mentor, and does a ton of growing up in the next few years.

    • Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one gets filled first.

      You can “wish” her all the success in the world, Kenni, but it’ll never happen unless she learns to stop blaming everyone else– schools, teachers, white people– for her and her peers’ lack of decication.

      Did I enjoy school? Hell no. Nonetheless, I stuck my nose to the grindstone, became the first in my family to go to college, worked over 5 jobs at one point to get through school, and now have a career making over 6 figures only a few years later.

      When things got tough for me, I got tougher and learned to persevere. This young woman– and many of her peers– have no such determination and drive, and simply blame others while not doing anyhting about it themselves.

      “well, school’s hard and shit, so it’s not our fault for not wanting to go”. Gimme a frickin’ break.

      • I applaud your dedication and I hope that she too can find that within herself. I came from a similar situation of putting myself through college with very little help from others. I was merely commenting on the contempt being expressed for a young woman on expressing her thoughts. And while I wish her well, I also do things like donate money and volunteer my time with Horton’s Kids because I realize talk is cheap. I hope you will take some time out of your schedule to get involved with these kids and inspire them to do more instead of putting them down.

  • “why kids be dropping out and stuff…” – This is why.

    Sorry young lady but you get no sympathy here!

    I grew up dirt poor white trash and went to Suitland High School in the late 70s and graduate with honors. How / Why, because I wanted to make something of myself, studied hard, and fought the boredom.

    You seem to have lots of reason why you can’t, and I suspect your sentiments are similar to to those of your friends, but you only need one reason why you can.

    Study hard, and first learn how to speak and write proper English. You will be surprised how fast your life will change for the better.

    • +1
      I went to public schools the whole way through and grew up in a family that really didn’t give a crap about schooling. In fact, my step father used to mock me for doing well in school.

      Sometimes the only person you can rely on IS yourself. Your ability/desire to do so (or not) is what defines character.

      I think people are mocking this girl because (it seems) she doesn’t even want to try. She expects field trips and light shows before she’ll even care enough about her own future to give a shit.

      School is boring? Yes, sometimes, but so is making your way through life. Working is pretty boring and not that much fun, but it’s what being a responsible, self-reliant adult is all about. Suck it up and do it yourself if you have to.

      • +1
        Oh the horror: school is boring. What an unfair torture.

        Interesting that all six, seven, or eight of her teachers each semester are supposedly boring. Amazing that none of them are any good.

        Maybe she should try to become the African American teacher she so desires to have. (Be the change you wish to see in the world. Ghandi)

    • It’s graduated, you don’t seem to know the appropriate use of capitalization, and that fourth sentence is written terribly.

      Study hard, and first learn how to speak and write proper English.

      • i don’t think frankie is aspiring to be a writer.

        • You are correct – Artist here.

          Oh yes – I have written wrote two novels which are still selling after 5 years, but decided it was not my thing even though my third is near completion and a fourth book is right behind that one.

          Click on my name to check out my website – smarty pants.

          How about you NON Sense?

  • I’m sorry. I think this is a remarkable (not in a hyperbolic sense) example of confessional writing. Let’s please not judge her grammar. She is only informing us of her experience. My hope is that some educator in DC (or anywhere) will recognize her. Here is a student that is a at least a candidate for college; let’s talk to her a little further and see what the barriers are to her education — including, maybe, her grammar.

    For real, for real I felt the same way as this girl when I was in high school back in 1982. We black students, especially, go to school because we must. But the conditions for education – yeah, the inspiration for education – is severely lacking. So by the time you “graduate” high school “college” is cut off from you, as if this time in high school was all for naught, a joke.

    • “We black students, especially, go to school because we must”

      Please speak for yourself. I went to school because I was brought up that way and my ancestors risked death so that I could.

  • Opps –

    graduated – for all the grammar freaks out there.

  • Let’s all make fun of her grammar to make ourselves seem really educated by comparison!!

    • we make fun of her grammar because it depresses the shit out of us deep down. you may not get it, you may thing people are only being mean, but it scares out that this is how an aspiring writer in the united states capitol speaks.
      i don’t feel superior to this girl. we all the same. we all breath the same air. we all die. but i do feel fearful of the future when i hear people like her.

  • I went to a good school and it was boring. High school no matter where, is boring. You are always being taught stuff that you figure you are never going to need. That is not an excuse – sometimes you just have to suck it up because it is for your long term benefit to do so.

    As for how this was written – I assume this was taken down from what she said and not what she wrote. I do have to say that one, I hope she knows that if you are writing this is NOT how it is done and two, speaking like this if you want a well paying job is not going to get you the well paying job. There is “with your friends talk” and “with professionals talk” and I hope she learns the difference before she graduates because if she doesn’t, she is never going to do anything but work in fast food joints and other low paying jobs. I say this not to make fun, but to point out a hard truth.

    I wish her luck, she is going to need it. She started in a deep whole that her family and schools aren’t helping her climb out of, and she doesn’t seem all that inclined to push for more (considering the state of U.S. teens no matter the socioeconomic background, that is not uncommon).

    • I agree, although she *does* say that her family believes in her. That’s a HUGE head-and-shoulders above a lot of kids in DC. She need to focus on that and take strength from it.

      I’m encouraged by her desire to tell her story – and the story of her community. There’s a fire inside her that needs to be encouraged. But I’m worried that she’s all too willing to let it go out.

  • bfinpetworth

    Yeah, make fun of her all you want, but understand that she is talking about a problem that impacts all DC residents. Until the schools here are even minimally effective, the crime and poverty will continue.

    We need Michelle Rhee back. Stat!

  • Folks, this appears to be a transcript of her speaking informally–which of course is going to match whatever argot folks around her use. No reason to assume it means she can’t write standard U.S. English.

    • I doubt it.

      So you think in this “informal” interview she is speaking casually but has the ability to elevate her speech to an acceptable “basic level” to do well in a more formal (job)interview.

      Ok – casual slang is one thing and we all use it sometimes. This is clearly not slang but her normal speech.

      This young lady has lots of work to do for herself if she wants to do anything worth while in life.

      First impressions are everything and this is not a good one.

  • Mookie, when you gonna take care o’ your kids, awright?

  • she seems like a bright young person and I hope that she does realize how important being able to speak and write proper English is. she should be able to give an articulate voice to her valuable story. if she cannot speak understandably, nobody will listen.

    I am so disheartened that our public schools can’t even teach children elementary level English. she has no chance at a better life unless she pulls herself out of this. can somebody recommend tutoring services to her? hell, I’ll meet with her once a week if she is serious about it.

  • Crying.

    And I can’t figure out which has depressed me more: This girl’s honest confession about how she feels about school or the obtuse commentary beneath it. Way, way beneath it.

    I’m glad PoP doesn’t nanny his blog and allows for anonymous posting because reading some of the sentiments in these comments sections has helped to dispell some long-held beliefs (I guess they’re myths) about the type of person who comes to live and work in DC. Maybe it’s the influx of Republicans.

    • Sorry but that sounds like a pass to me.

    • Thanks MichelleRD for saying that, now I feel like adding my two cents. And thanks to PoP for posting this. I’m guessing very few of the readers here are current high-school students in DC, and the comments people have left amaze me — does anyone here remember being a teenager? You probably would have said school was boring, too.

      “They think that school is boring and it don’t prepare them for nothing. They probably right.” When you have little hope for a career in your future, no money for future schooling, and no support from your family and/or community (clearly not the case for Erica), it can be hard to see why investing your time and energy in high school is a good idea. I work with DC teens every day and see this sense of hopelessness all the time.

      “This young lady has lots of work to do for herself if she wants to do anything worth while in life. First impressions are everything and this is not a good one.” Don’t we all have some work to do for ourselves? This wasn’t that bad of an impression, at least to me. Chill out and stop bashing this girl on her vernacular style, and maybe applaud the drive she is demonstrating and the fact that she’s still in school. People sure can be ignorant around here.

  • Go Erica! I hope to see some of your journalism in the near future 🙂 In the mean time I hope you join your school paper and look into getting a journalism scholarship for college!

    Also, doesn’t Danny Harris interview these people and then simply write out the transcripts? If so, she probably understands the difference between talking in a casual manner to a reporter and writing in proper grammar. Stop giving her such a hard time!

  • In this discussion of this young woman’s grammar, I think it’s really interesting to note that she points out the lack of diversity she’s been exposed to in her education. I bet the vast, vast majority of people she spends her time around (maybe everyone but her teachers) speak the same way she does.

    To me it highlights the need for more programs in DC that bring together teenagers of different backgrounds. I mean, the schools probably DO teach proper grammar, but when school is the only place one encounters it, it doesn’t surprise me that students like this girl have a hard time “speaking correctly.”

    • Oh, and I agree with the others that if this is indeed a transcript, it is totally crappy of everyone to criticize her grammar. I transcript of my casual speech would include words like “wanna,” “dunno,” and waaay to many “like’s” and “I mean’s.” Clearly, I know how to write and speak formally, too.

      The only thing that makes me wonder if this was written is the misspelling of the word “clique.”

    • Right, because she doesn’t have access to a TV or radio.

      • Exactly. All anyone has to do is listen to the nightly news to hear standard English modeled for them. In this day and age, the no-diversity thing doesn’t give you a pass. I am constantly amazed at the inability to code-switch – change from the way you speak with your friends to standard English. If you’re being interviewed by a journalist, and you know he is going to write down your words for all to read (and judge), you should think before you open your mouth.

        • One of the great problems here is the behavior modeled by adults. This student won’t emulate standard English on the news, or what have you because there’s a very large subset of the culture that repudiates that entirely. You need look no further than the many, many adults you see in DC, dressed like they’re 14 years old, baggy-assed pants, listening to cranked-up gangsta rap. And no, this isn’t particularly a black/white thing.

          If you go to West Virginia, you’ll see 30-year-old men carrying a baby and dressed up like a 14-year-old heavy-metal rocker. Grow the fuck up and be a man. You’re fucking over your kids.

        • Good lesson to learn before you start interviewing for jobs.
          The shame is that no one mentioned it to her before now.

          Good thing we have PoP commenters to impress on her the importance of learning to speak properly in public where you WILL be judged, whether you like it or not or whether it’s fair or not.

  • I’m not sure how this interview was captured but lots of urban kids have two vocabularies – one for the streets and one for more “formal” situations. I grew up in a housing project in NYC and spoke differently in class than I did on the streets where I lived. I’m not sure that it applies here, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

    But if in fact this is the way this young woman speaks all the time, it’s really indicative of how badly the school system (who should be teaching her correct English) and her family (who should be correcting her English) have failed her.

    I have to agree 1000% with the observation about school being boring. One of the common complaints about teachers today is that they don’t make learning interesting. I always did fairly well in school and was one of the smarter kids but I can say that it was a rare occasion when what I was learning was exciting or interesting. I didn’t go to school to be entertained, I went to learn so I could build a better life for myself with more opportunities than my parents had. I certainly had good teachers. But their job was made much easier by motivated students. Even in the high school for the gifted that I went to, there were kids who scraped by because they weren’t motivated to work that hard.

    • we had a 17 year old intern from one of the better charter schools in DC and I was appalled by her basic inability to communicate. I’m sure there are students who turn their lingo on and off, but in the various volunteer jobs I’ve had, I haven’t met any of them.

    • its not just an “urban kid” thing. all kids do this. i grew up talking my smack with my friends. but when i talked with adults, i knew how to talk.
      people make this two language thing out to be a black thing. or an urban thing. thats just ignorant of what really goes on in the world.

  • I do a lot a work through an architectural program in DC public schools. Many of these schools have great resources. I walked into a 5th grade class room where every student was using a Mac Labtop. Many of the teachers have great educations and have all the ability to teach English, math, etc. Problem all lies with-in DC’s African American Society. The teachers, principles, whomever, all have the best interest for their students, unfortantly these students do not look up to them. Instead, they are taught their values from the community they surround themselves with. By the time they hit high school there is not much hope, unless they have already made the decision to dig within and make something of themselves. As far as a diversified expeirence. There are plenty of people, including myself, that would love to send their kids to DC public schools. (white, black, hispanic, doesn’t matter) But until the attiude and problems depicted in this young girls article are changed, she will never have the chance to sit next to responisble children and young aduts in a DC public school

    I’m and architect so disreguard my grammer

    • +1

      I actually quite enjoy seeing this girl’s fresh point of view. It’s informative.

      Imagine entering a classroom today, and it is your job to teach a whole 120 students with p.o.v’s like hers or similar to her each day for 180 days.

      Disparaging the DC public school teachers for ten years going is getting very old now. There have been many overhauls and waves of new teachers hired. I know about five secondary teachers in DCPS — fresh from grad schools and devoted.

      I also know two elder teachers who are still, always great teachers, and not in the union.

      • Don’t even begin to pretend that the ‘public’ disparaging teachers is the reason why kids aren’t doing well in DCPS.

      • It’s not the fault of the teachers, it’s the parents. There are no consequences for poor grades, skipping school, etc. My mother was an inner-city teacher for years and instead of asking her what their child could be doing better or what they, as parents, can do to help, they continuously blamed her for their failing grades and missed homework assignments. The shitty parents need to be held accountable as well.

        • One good inspirational teacher can help a child to do better than their parents did. One rung up is enough.

          A school full of disinterested teacher’s trying to hold onto their jobs won’t do much good at all.

          • You implying that there’s a whole school full of disinterested teachers?

            I’d like to know which one please.

    • yikes, hard to “disreguard” your grammar when it makes it impossible to comprehend your post. I hope you don’t email your clients directly. a conservative estimate would be that there are 15 mistakes in that post. I don’t want to be a grammar nazi, but c’mon… how’d you pass your Registration Examination?

      • relax steve, posts like yours are completely useless and provide nothing. Comments like this are what makes these blogs mostly useless.

        I never brought up any of this youngs girl’s grammer problems. And it was a joke about, how terrible I am myself at the English language. If thats all you can see in her original post and in mine, you have missed both of our points and who says I passed my registration examination… reguards

  • Fundamental Fact: School is your job when you’re under 18. If you’re not treating it like a full time job, you never advance to the next level.

    In DC you even get paid for it (which is rare). Mostly, though it’s an unpaid internship. What you learn is important, but it’s not really the most important part. The most important part is that whatever their teaching, you learn it the best that you can and get the best grade you can. You let the teachers and the adults bicker over what you learn. It’s the same as when you get paid. You don’t get paid to do whatever you want, you get paid to do what your business/corporation/boss/customers want. Sometimes that dovetails with what you want, often it does not.

    Why is the content not as important? Because the grades are what get you to the next level and you NEED to get to the next level. The content isn’t a joke, but it varies widely. So when you think that the stuff is boring, don’t worry about that. Just learn it and get a good grade so you can demonstrate to someone who doesn’t know you that you can take any problem that someone throws at you and address it.

    When you leave school, the only thing you have to separate yourself from the pack is your grades. There are way too many people who think their shining personalities will get them where they want to be in life, but your record in school is the easiest path to success.

    If you speak like someone who is poor, people will assume that’s the best you can do. If you speak properly, people will assume that, regardless of your current circumstances, you have the potential for more.

  • No matter what happens with her education, she should be able to get a nice union job with Metro.

  • Folks:

    Two things. First, the piece opens with QUOTATION MARKS, indicating that this is a transcript of spoken lanugage. As have been all the rest of the posts in this series. Capturing idiom is an important part of capturing personality.

    Second, y’all are assholes. This is a TEENAGE GIRL having a frank conversation about what it’s like to be stuck in a failing educational system, and all you can do is stick up your nose at her less-than-standard grammar.

    All of you who complain about rude, obnoxious, thoughtless teenagers and then make comments like these could stand to take a good, hard look in the mirror.

    To Erica: bravo, and don’t pay attention to these jerks. (But do pay attention to the way you write if you are serious about becoming a journalist.)

    • who’s sticking up their nose? we’re all just concerned that this girl has no future because she can’t speak. I think that the majority of people on here care about this girl and her future. we’re dismayed that our community has failed her and hope that she can make something of herself despite the situation she was born into.

  • Erica: You should look into 826 DC (http://826dc.org/) it’s an after school writing and enrichment program started by author Dave Eggers.

    You may have never heard of him, but he wrote one of the most tragically funny pieces of modern literature “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”.

    It’s a fantastic program that will allow you to grow your creative writing style in new directions.

    I wish I knew an easy way to start a mathematics equivalent to his writing program.

    • +1

      Excellent Idea! And while you’re quoting Eggers, remember that he started this after discovering data that showed him the following:

      If a child spends only 15 MIN/DAY WITH ANY adult (not necessarily teacher), regularly, reading, having attention, etc. their academic scores rise.

      That data motivated him to begin his tutoring centers. ANY REGULAR ADULT can help.

  • This is Bill Quirk, one of the candidates for the DC Board of Education – one of the most interesting points I found about this section is that it highlights the fact that many DC high school senior classes are 1/4 the size of freshman classes (i.e. kids are dropping out each year as they get closer to graduation), while at the same time kids that aren’t mastering the educational standards are still advancing from grade to grade. It begs the question of how do you enforce the educational standards while preventing people from dropping out? And yes, I think high school is boring to most high-school students.

    • saf

      No, it raises the question.

    • Maybe if you enforce the standards, school will be less boring.

      Now there’s a thought.

      And I have actually taught English in a high school, so I know a little bit about the challenges of teaching bored adolescents.

  • At least she gets it unlike some of the posters here. Yes her grammar needs work; perhaps no one attempted to correct her when she makes those errors. I am a grown man, English as a second language, and sometimes make mistakes, but fortunately for me I am surrounded by well-spoken folks who are happy to correct me. How about writing a corrected version of her writing and post it back so that Erica can learn something from it? Just a suggestion.

    • You’re asking the critics to actually comprehend what she’s said. Clearly, that’s not happening.

      Rich irony: 98% of the posts here confirm everything that was expressed in the first paragraph.

  • If Danny limited his journalism to people who spoke “proper” (i.e. white, middle to upper-class, educated English) we’d only hear the stories of boring-ass folks like you all.

    Why do people seek deeper meanings or morals in Danny’s stories? “She speaks poorly so therefore she is doomed to failure and her parents suck.” Erica had the guts to stand up and talk. Isn’t that enough?

    I don’t really spend a lot of time with people like Erica. I bet you don’t either. Aren’t you curious about what they’re thinking? Or are you going to keep yourself from hearing them because of how they speak?

    • Sure, that’s enough if you like treating her like a stagnant museum piece for your own enjoyment.

      If you want what’s best for her in life, you correct her and guide her to a better life.

    • Cookietime, you’re an asshole. You insult people of color to suggest that only white people can speak English properly, and you insult white people who are educated and middle class by calling them boring. Congrats, you’re a douchebag to all folks.

  • All, thought-provoking piece. I understand the construction program at Cardozo High has a surprising side effect. Rather than going into the construction trades, a large number of graduates go to college. I believe this says a lot about giving high schoolers a future, and they will rise above it. All the best to Erica. http://www.dcstudentsctf.org/ACAD/AcademyApplication.pdf

  • so depressing

  • this is frightening.

  • A lot of individuals have made comments criticizing this girl for her poor grammar. But I don’t see anyone offering to help. A little bit of tutoring would improve this girl’s grammar immensely. Maybe instead of bitching, we should be doing something about the problem.

    I encourage everyone to sign up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister.

    • several people offered to help or pointed out resources in the community. Please read the comments before criticizing.

  • There’s some real honesty in what she’s said here and while I’m saddened by some of what she has to say, that feeling is even deeper when I imagine she might read the comments here. Her honesty is being met with lots of undeserved cynicism. She expresses an interest in knowing more Caucasian people–it’s brutal for me to think of what she might mean by that, consciously or not, and what the many implications.

    I think it would be healthy for folks to read up on correspondence bias. When others come up short, we think they didn’t work hard enough; when we fail, we blame the environment. When others succeed, we identify how easy they had it; when we succeed, we chalk it up to how hard we worked. In my view, it’s the cornerstone of lots of misunderstanding in this world, certainly in this country.

    I had a couple friends mention recently they gave up on POP…I didn’t entirely see it. Now I’m scared that the comments here reflect someone I might be.

  • What kind of person is so self-important that he or she sits in his cubicle and casts aspersions on a child who is crying out for help. I read these stories every week and am happy…until I get to the comments.

    You people, yes, you terrible people, who spend your days in front of a screen complaining, but who would never lift a non-virtual finger to actually help a girl in need sicken me.

    This girl is not what is wrong with America. It is the insensitive, elitist, over educated asshole class who have lost the ability to empathize that is what is wrong with America.

    You should be ashamed of yourself. If you are not, let me be ashamed for you.

    • Seriously. It’s no wonder these people have no desire to change their dialect to match that of the insensitive, elitist, over educated asshole class. Would you?

  • I love a good PoP race riot, It has been a long time since the last one.

  • Scan any page on any blog or Facebook, Twitter and it’s apparent that just about everyone born after 1980 is a little challenged in their writing skills.

    What’s remarkable to me is the additional collective challenge to reading comprehension. For all the pitchforks that get raised against DC youth around here, I would think some of you philistines would sit up and take notice at a first hand observation as to why kids are dropping out of school–that is, standing on corners dealing in malfeasance and mayhem instead of getting the education you all seem to think will bring them to your high station. She says it right there in the first paragraph: School is doing nothing for them.

    Moreover, you missed entirely the part where this young person said that she studies, stays in school, intends to graduate and wants to pursue a profession. It’s easy to get distracted by her poor grammar but I can’t understand how so many could then go on and miss the 100% accuracy of her speculation, shared by her peers and nearly all of the Einsteins on this comments board, that school has left them all unprepared for any pursuit whatsoever. It’s not just boring, but the teachers don’t care (at least from the kids’ point of view and, really, that’s ALL that matters) and it’s generally not a learning environment.

    And then you have the temerity to shake a finger at her? Is this the sort of social consciousness wrought by The Real World or what?

    • Dear Erica,

      You are an open and honest young woman, very sweet and interesting too. I’m glad your family is so strong.

      My one wish for you is to stay with school/classes even when its boring. It is true school feels boring sometimes. Really you have no choice about attending school when you’re a kid/young person so at times, it feels not only boring but like prison. Yes, I remember that too, and I am very different from you, but in that regard, we’re the same… and I was normally the type of student who loved school.

      Sometimes when you have a job, there are moments like that too. The trick is to try to find a job where you experience that “boring/prison” feeling as little as possible!

      Nowadays, things even more boring, more often sometimes because we want to be online, on phones, etc.

      Here are some ideas for being less bored.
      #1, Know it’s the middle of the year — this is a hard time for everyone. Just keep going to class and stay with it. The end will come very soon. Keep focused on the conversation.

      #2, There is nothing more boring than a class where the teacher does all the talking. Contribute to your classes. If you have opinions and you share them, you will model for others to do this. Classes where students share opinions (thoughtful ones on the subject) are great. I have a hard time believing your history or government classes are that boring, truly? In this city?

      Keep reading and studying so you can speak up (as you did so nicely here) and continue to share.

      #2, Know it’s okay to be bored from time to time.

      If it’s extremely boring try reading a book in class. The teacher will get the picture, and you can’t be accused of anything!

      #3, Find one friend, even if just for one class who you can rely on. Be helpful to each other with the class. A friend can make a class much less boring too. Study together.

      #4, Know some teachers really do care about you, even though it isn’t always obvious. Notice how many students they work with and the jobs that they have. When you see a crappy teacher, see what you can learn on your own anyway. Those teachers exist. They don’t have the right to take away a subject from you.

      #5, Try to find one class or just one subject that interests you especially, and enjoy pursuing it a little more. It will help you take your mind off of other things when you’re upset.

      #7 H.S. is extremely social. All your social relationships will come and go. They are fun. If you learn anything, it will stay with you and be useful. Don’t sell yourself short and let your days be ruined by social crap.

      #8, Work. (job) Start to go after what you want right away. You will see how the school stuff will apply and some of it will become more meaningful. You will see what you can and can’t get without education.

      #9 It’s going to be over really soon. All of it.

      But still you’ve got time.

      You’ve got a lot of friends who care on here. They want the best for you too. Don’t worry too much about the grammar right now. You will probably have to work on that, and it doesn’t have to be too hard. Right now, just focus on making it through school, each day, finding some days to enjoy.

  • The reactions to this piece are both saddening and maddening. She is clearly just trying to give an honest depiction of an uninspiring school sysytem that is producing uninspired students. While everyone on this blog seems to insist on separating themselves based on race and class she longs for a more “diverse” school. I thought that was interesting. She obviously isn’t a student that accepts the status quo. While her grammar is imperfect the message is clear to me. We have to give our students a nurturing and challenging school environment if we want good results.

    • But the open question, raised by several posts including mine, is whether it is a school system’s job to be “inspiring” – whatever that means. My inspiration to get an education came from my parents (both with high school educations), and elders in my community – particularly in my church. I was never told that school would, could, or had to be fun. I was told that it was hard work that would pay off. It seems as if that is the connection that is not being made with Erica’s peers, who she describes as believing that school is not going to prepare them for anything. I take heart in Erica’s statement that her mother and brothers are encouraging her to get an education, even if some others in her community are not so encouraging.

  • In poor African-American communities speaking “like a white person” is frowned upon, often even more so by parents and other older relatives than by one’s peers. It’s unfortunate because this mindset is at odds with the need to break out of the poverty cycle.

    That said, there’s no reason to assume this young lady is incapable of using correct grammar in writing or in a professional setting when she gets there.

    Besides, we all know that this is not truly an issue of grammar, intelligence, or communication skills, but of race. To put it bluntly, a lot of employers do not want to hire a black person that sounds like a black person. I’ve had countless professors with such heavy accents (Chinese, Korean, Indian, etc) that no one could understand them, and I work with countless engineers that can’t write a complete sentence. They’ve certainly managed to do quite well without grammatical expertise.

    • There was a piece on This American Life a few months back where a kid from east of the river who was an academic superstar at his local high school ended up getting a full scholarship to MIT. he was hugely disappointed because he was so far behind during his first semesters, but said that the most distressing thing was the reaction of his family, friends, and neighbors when he returned home for the summer. They were less than unsupportive–they were actually hostile–as though he’d betrayed his culture by trying to go to a top school.

      As long as basketball players and rap stars are the cultural heroes of not only these kids but a lot of the *parents*, nothing’s going to change.

    • I disagree with your parallel between people who speak English as a second language and people who speak English incorrectly.

      Apples != Oranges.

      • That was in response to those who complained that this girl will never be successful because they couldn’t understand what she was saying here. My point was, there are lots and lots of people who are supposed to be conveying information and concepts orally for a living, and can’t do it at all.

  • she seems awesome to me!
    i don’t know the context of the interview, but it doesn’t sound like it was a school assignment or an essay contest. maybe she was just talking to danny on the train.

    but whatever. keep it up erica!

  • What would your Great Grandparents think of the lot of you? None of you speak like them. Your language is different from what they used. The “Queens English” has dumbed down quite a bit in the past few generations including yours. That’s why people get their asses kicked when they say things like “Huzzah!”. “Ain’t” hasn’t been an accepted word for almost 300 years now, but it’s here all the same.
    Lighten up, grammar nazis. English is an ever evolving language. She can learn to speak like you, hopefully you can control your death grip on proper usage.

    • i consider the reactions of her classmates to be worse than the comments here. people here might be harsh, but at least they care.

  • They were afraid for him. They believed he would fail and his experience bolstered that belief. It’s not a celebration of ignorance that makes a family discourage higher pursuits, it’s a fear that he’ll get within reach of success and still fail because being smart and working hard isn’t enough. Examples of that are far more common than basketball players and rap stars.

    Witness Erica, who has a goal, has support, knows the challenges and perseveres while everyone’s falling around her–and she still gets a tsk and a lecture from a bunch of “grown ups who don’t get it.”

    On a side note, cultural heroes in the sense you’re talking about are those who beat the odds. It’s not these kids looking up to Jay-Z or Kobe Bryant that should be frowned upon, it’s that there are so few paths to that level of success for black kids and they are unbelievably narrow. If policies keep choking off those paths, there will be a lot more kids–not just minority–bottle-necking around Erica.

    • This was meant to be in response to Dr. Pangloss and his This American Life example

    • Which episode was this? I get the podcast, but I must have missed it. I’d love to take a listen.

    • They were afraid for him. They believed he would fail and his experience bolstered that belief. It’s not a celebration of ignorance that makes a family discourage higher pursuits, it’s a fear that he’ll get within reach of success and still fail because being smart and working hard isn’t enough.

      Not saying there aren’t reasons–just saying it’s what’s destroying hopes of poor kids getting into the middle-class. Those parents and peers may have been shaming him for trying to succeed in the hopes of sparing him the heartache of failure down the road–but that kid’s perception was that they were crabs pulling him back into the pot.

      Examples of that are far more common than basketball players and rap stars.

      You’re kidding me, right? For every successful basketball player or rap star there are probably a million failures. Meanwhile, poor kids get educations. They enter the middle-class. They move out of the hood. Statistically speaking, becoming a celebrity is a dead-end.

      On a side note, cultural heroes in the sense you’re talking about are those who beat the odds. It’s not these kids looking up to Jay-Z or Kobe Bryant that should be frowned upon, it’s that there are so few paths to that level of success for black kids and they are unbelievably narrow. If policies keep choking off those paths, there will be a lot more kids–not just minority–bottle-necking around Erica.

      Sorry, but the facts are that paths exist. What’s needed is support from the community. Holding up rap stars and basketball players as some sort of option is totally chimerical, and contributes to the culture of failure.

      It’s one thing to emulate an astronaut, knowing that you’re probably not going to every go into space, because the things you have to do to become an astronaut are beneficial in their own right. Telling some kid to aim at becoming a professional basketball player is corrosive, because, statistically, there aren’t any damn roster positions for them, so they dedicate their young lives to this goal, and unless they’re in the top half of a percent in the country, they don’t even get a scholarship.

      The whole “sports are great because they offer a path out of poverty” is a complete and total scam.

      • A high-profile example of this dynamic was in the movie “Hoop Dreams”. Two kids who were known citywide for their amazing skills on the court, and were heroes to their local communities. Neither of those kids made it to a big-name program, much less to the pros. And these kids were in, what, the top .001% of high school students?

        You sure as hell don’t see poor Asian kids being pushed to take up baseball in the hopes they’ll beat the odds.

      • For every successful basketball player or rap star there are probably a million failures. Meanwhile, poor kids get educations. They enter the middle-class. They move out of the hood. Statistically speaking, becoming a celebrity is a dead-end.

        Reading Is Fundamental, Dr. P. If you try again you might see that I was saying there are far more examples of failure than success.

        In other words, the most abundant, most visible examples of success–at the multi-million dollar level–are in entertainment and sports. It doesn’t make them heroes, it just makes them people who beat the odds.

        That’s not to say there are no black graduates of MIT who go on to wealth and success; that’s to say that for some people, the chances of their child finding that success is right on par with becoming the next Jay-Z or Kobe Bryant.

        nowutmsayin? Or do I need to explain it further? Erica did say you wouldn’t get it.

        • In other words, the most abundant, most visible examples of success–at the multi-million dollar level–are in entertainment and sports. It doesn’t make them heroes, it just makes them people who beat the odds.

          Absolutely. And that’s because it’s the *community* that celebrates these high-profile examples. It’s the old Chris Rock bit: “Ah, so you’ve got a master’s degree? You think you’re my master now?” You can blame “the larger culture”, but even middle-class white and asian parents have to fight against the larger culture. Making heroes out of hustlers is totally corrosive.

          Go back and re-listen to that TAL piece. You obviously didn’t listen very closely the first time. The kid made very plain that–for all the cultural difficulties of operating in the Ivy League–the most surprising and hurtful friction he experienced was in his own neighborhood…from his own community.

      • And really…you think non-supportive parents is what’s destroying poor kids’ hopes of getting into the middle class? REALLY?

        Erica’s got supportive parents. Read her testimony and the response to it again and see what her community–this IS her community, right?–thinks about her chances.

  • ” I want to get on TV and tell stories that will help change our schools and stop all them kids from dropping out.””

    i would put you on tv if i could. i would love to learn more about your perspective on things. you have a perspective that is very foreign to me. in a city i call home.

  • The reason why I can tell that her English is bad and not speaking some kind of street language is because the words she messes up are not slang words.

    She has structural problems with English and needs intensive help. This is not cute and will stunt her economic potential.

  • it’s called code-switching. a lot of “educated” African-Americans do it in enviroments where they feel comfortable not speaking the “King’s English.” Or maybe it’s not. Maybe she doesn’t fully grasp the “King’s English.” It really doesn’t matter, though, it seems like most are missing the point of her story, anyway. Especially since she is telling her story and those of her classmate. It’s too bad that most can’t accept it because they can’t see past her grammar.

  • *classmates. just in case the commentariat wants to hound me for my incorrect grammar.

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