Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life

Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812984897
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/14/2014
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 572,469
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Joe Brewster, M.D., and Michèle Stephenson are the directors of the award-winning documentary American Promise. Brewster is an attending psychiatrist at Harlem Hospital in New York and an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University. He was raised in Los Angeles and studied medicine at Harvard University. Stephenson has worked as an international human rights lawyer and a film producer. She is a graduate of Columbia Law School.
Hilary Beard is the co-author of several books, including the New York Times bestsellers 21 Pounds in 21 Days: The Martha’s Vineyard Diet Detox and Venus & Serena: Serving from the Hip.

Read an Excerpt

CLOSE THE GAP BEFORE IT OPENS How to Make the Right Choices for Your Son— Before He’s Even Born
It was an accident, but understanding how things work, maybe it wasn’t really an accident. I could have been more careful. I took a “morning after” test but was torn about my desire to become a mom. I already had one abortion back in my twenties. I’m thirty- five now; I want to get married and have a family. But my biological clock is ticking, and I haven’t met the right man. I can work on myself, but I can’t manufacture a partner.
Some of my friends who are my age and a little bit older are starting to have problems conceiving and are starting in vitro fertilization. One of my girlfriends is forty- three and just devastated about her inability to conceive. That scares the crap out of me. I don’t want to be that woman. When my boyfriend and I didn’t use a condom a couple of times, I figured we both knew what could happen. Even though I have to admit I didn’t think I would really get pregnant because my doctor had told me some things during my twenties that made me doubt if I was even fertile. When I found out that I was actually pregnant, I panicked.
When I told my boyfriend, he basically told me that I was on my own; he didn’t want me to have his baby. We weren’t exactly in a committed relationship, and he already has a child. That’s what happens to a lot of my girlfriends— they get pregnant and the guy gets scared because he has kids or doesn’t have enough money or doesn’t want the commitment. Dudes run. That’s what they do. I’m choosing not to judge or blame myself or demonize him. There wasn’t any animosity between us before I told him I was pregnant. Maybe he’ll change his mind sometime in the future. In the meantime I’m having the baby. My family has already told me that they’ll support me.
— Janelle, age 35
A TIME OF HOPE, A TIME OF ANXIETY We know that for many couples— women, in particular— pregnancy is a time of great anticipation but also of fear. No one can protect the unborn fetus from every risk factor, but there are choices that both expectant mothers and fathers can make to reduce some of the biggest risks.
In this chapter we will share information that will help black mothers-and fathers- to- be make lifestyle choices before conception and during pregnancy that lay the foundation for a strong and stable brain:
• We’ll talk about the important role that mom and dad’s health play in determining the quality of egg and sperm.
• You’ll learn how nutrition builds a fetus’s brain and learn about foods that support brain development.
• We’ll also talk about the important role men play before, during, and after pregnancy in determining the strength of a baby’s brain.
• We also hope to shine a light on some challenging topics in the hopes of sparking fresh dialogue— kitchen table conversations in which partners, family members, babysitters, childcare providers, caregivers, and others can roll up our sleeves and work together to create new solutions that help our sons get a head start on the achievement gap before it gets ahead of them.
A SIGN OF THE TIMES He loves to play peek- a- boo, pull himself up in front of the entertainment center, and jabber with you as though he’s making a point. Although nine- month- old children can’t yet tell us what’s on their mind, if you test their cognitive abilities— which at that age include their ability to explore, make sounds, gesture, and solve problems— children of all races and backgrounds tend to perform pretty similarly.
“Around the age of one, there aren’t many differences,” says Ronald Ferguson, head of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education
But when child development experts test their skills at age two, developmental differences begin to clearly emerge. Smaller percentages of black, Hispanic, and Native American children than white and Asian children are proficient in communicating, understanding what they’re told, discriminating between different objects, and knowing their counting words and quantities. So even before black boys have been potty- trained, we see early indications of an achievement gap.
Surprisingly, these differences span the socioeconomic spectrum.
“It doesn’t matter whether they’re high- income or low- income,” said applied developmental psychologist Iheoma Iruka, of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, while speaking at a conference on black boys and the achievement gap convened by ETS.
The gap widens by preschool, when experts can test early language, literacy, math, and numeracy (the ability to understand and work with numbers) skills. By the time black boys are between ages three and five, they lag behind white children by “about half a grade,” said Dr. Iruka.
“By age two, the differences start to become apparent, and we think it has to do with early- childhood parenting and early-childhood experiences more generally,” Dr. Ferguson says.
The experts are quick to admit that they don’t have all the answers, and the answers that they do have don’t apply to every child— although, as you’ll learn, these statistics apply to more children than you might think. What they do know is that a child’s experience as a fetus and during his fi rst months as a newborn, when his brain is developing at an explosive rate, sets the stage for his physical health, ability to think and learn, and emotional well- being for the rest of his life.
THE GREATEST WONDER Of course, our brains all begin in the same truly wondrous way. During the first hours following conception— long before women have any idea they’re pregnant— their baby’s brain and spinal cord have already started growing, and an intricately choreographed dance of cells forming, neurons fi ring, and structures forming has started to unfold.
During the first few weeks after conception takes place, the neural tube— the precursor to the brain and spinal cord— begins to form. Shortly after it closes, at the four- week mark, immature brain cells begin to proliferate. At this point the mother may still not know that she’s pregnant.
Next, a phase of rapid cell migration occurs as immature cells differentiate themselves and travel to their designated locations, where they take on their preprogrammed roles.
“Think of it as cells taking the subway to a stop,” says Charles Nelson III, chair of pediatric developmental medicine research at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. Once a cell reaches its destination, “then the cell matures, which means it starts to be capable of forming connections with other cells— synapses,” he adds.
The cortex— the wrinkly outer covering— of a baby’s brain begins to form between the sixth and twenty- fourth weeks. The first synapses begin to appear a little after week twenty. And if a fetus survives to the twenty- fourth week, it reaches what’s called the age of viability. If a fetus survives for this long, the chances are good he will live. At this point most doctors will intervene to save a fetus’s life if something goes awry The next phase of brain development occurs during weeks twenty five through forty (the third trimester), as synapses proliferate and myelination, the process of coating certain neurons (nerve cells that send and receive messages) with an electrically insulating substance, takes place.
Synapses continue to form, and myelination occurs even after a baby is born and into late adolescence.
“When you insulate these circuits, the efficiency gain is a factor of one hundred,” says David Grissmer, research professor at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia. “But if you don’t build the circuits and get them myelinated, they’re inefficient when you use them later.”
The cerebral cortex and cerebellum explode during the final twelve to sixteen weeks. The cerebral cortex is responsible for thinking, feeling, conscious experiences, voluntary actions, and memory. The cerebellum processes movement, balance, posture, coordination, muscle tone, and some cognitive functions. Both are vital to our ability to learn, think, process, talk, and apply information to things we’ve already learned— or our cognitive abilities.

Just between the end of the second trimester and full term, a baby’s brain weight triples, from about 100 grams to about 300 grams. Eventually it will reach approximately 1,500 grams, or about 3.3 pounds.
These mind- boggling processes almost always go right. As a result most U.S. babies (including black babies) arrive healthy, with brains perfectly positioned for sensing, learning, and carrying them through life. A child’s brain doesn’t fi nish developing until he’s well into his twenties. Yet most of his brain’s foundational architecture is in place at the time he is born. The challenge of this extremely rapid development process is that the brain remains extraordinarily impressionable. Anything that impacts an immature brain— whether a fetus’s or a young child’s— will have a disproportionate effect on the rest of his life, for better or worse.


Excerpted from "Promises Kept"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Joe Brewster.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xv

The Price of Admission xviii

Mind the Gap xxii

It's Bigger than Us xxvii

Canaries in the Mine xxviii

About This Book xxix

Embracing Change xxxiv

1 Close the Gap Before it Opens: How to Make the Right Choices for Your Son - Before He's Even Born

A Time of Hope, a Time of Anxiety 4

A Sign of the Times 5

The Greatest Wonder 7

A Different World 9

Cutting across Class 10

Do You Kangaroo? 13

Oops! I've Done It Again 14

Two to Tango 18

Preconception Health for Future Moms and Dads 20

2 Build Your Son's Brain: Using Brain Science (and Common Sense) to Develop Our Sons Throughout Early Childhood

First Impressions Last 37

Laying a Firm Foundation 38

Promptly, Warmly, Sensitively 40

Executive Education 44

Handle with Care 47

Keeping Dad in the Picture 51

New Conversations 54

3 Be his First Teacher: How to Begin Your Son's Education at Home

Searching Upstream 59

Give Him a Leg Up 63

Set the Pattern and the Tone 66

Open the Gateway 68

Play, Not Worksheets 75

Talk That Talk 76

Number Words Count 79

Navigating the Daycare Crisis 81

4 Put His Armor On: How to Talk to Our Sons About Race

Really Postracial? 90

Preventing Sticky Stereotypes 92

A Monster in Training? 95

Let's Talk about Race 97

A Space to Do Really Well 99

What to Tell Him and When 101

Dumb, Cool, Athletic, Popular 108

Keepin' It Real? 111

Forewarned and Forearmed 115

Put Your Own Mask on First 117

Change the Mirror 120

5 Hug Him and Tell Him You Love Him: How to Use Parenting Styles that Work

The Power of Positive Parenting 128

The Burdens of Black Boys 128

Creating Good Vibes 130

What's Your Parenting "Personality Type"? 134

Kiss "My Way or the Highway" Goodbye 142

Knowing Better, Doing Better 157

Teachers, Coaches, Schools, and Organizations Parent, Too 159

6 You Brought Him into this World, Don't Let Other Folks Take Him Out: How to Discipline Our Sons for Best Results

Prisoner or Promising? 164

Suffer the Little Children 166

A Menace to Society? 169

Racial Profiling in School? 174

Knowledge Is Power 176

Discipline for Success 178

Spare the Rod, or Not? 179

How Does It Free Us? 183

Passing the Test 184

Fourteen Ways to Discipline Your Child 188

7 Protect Him from Time Bandits: How to Teach Our Sons to Manage Their Time

Time Management Is the Key to Success 198

Chasing Asians 199

Blame It on the Boogie? 200

Opportunity Knocks 205

Getting in the Zone 207

Create a College-Bound Environment 211

Stopping Summer Slide 215

8 Education to Match His Needs: How to Understand Our Sons' Learning Styles and Special Needs

He Doesn't Fit the Profile 220

Boredom and Learning Styles 222

Keep It Moving 224

A Different World 226

Interested as a Person 228

Great Expectations? 229

Attention Deficit Policies? 232

The Special Ed Trap? 236

Locked Out of Opportunity 238

9 Working Hard Will Make Him Smarter: How to Teach Our Sons to Combat Stereotype Threat and Develop Persistence

Sizable Differences 242

Nature or Nurture 244

The Threat in the Air 246

Stereotyped and Stigmatized 249

The Flipped Script 250

Doubling Down 251

Twice as Good 253

Better, Faster, Stronger 255

Time on Task 260

What's My Name? 261

What Educators Can Do 264

10 Make Your Presence Felt in His School: How to Participate in Our Sons' Formal School and Advocate for Change

Make Your Voice Heard 268

All Hands on Deck 270

This Is How We Do It 273

Creating Relational Fiber 274

Engaging Your Mutual Interest 282

The Intimidation Factor 284

On the Right Track 287

Keeping a Watchful Eye 290

Playing the Data Card 292

Outwit, Outlast, Outplay? 299

Epilogue 303

Acknowledgments 309

Notes 317

Index 329

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