Why Am I So Hard on Parents?

This is Part 8 of my series “Letters from John.” In Part I, I wrote, “I’m in a beautifully loving marriage to John Dukes, a man who is truly one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. My husband is also incarcerated. During our friendship, courtship, and marriage, John and I have spent a lot of time tracing his trajectory from the various schools he attended as a boy in NYC and on Long Island  to his current status as an inmate in a New York State correctional facility. Part 2 is here, Part 3  is here, Part 4 is here,  Part 5 is here, Part 6 is here, and Part 7 is here.

In my last blog post I came down pretty hard on parents. I told them in no uncertain terms that they need to step up their game when it comes to being actively involved in their children’s education. I then received some responses suggesting that perhaps I’m coming down too hard on parents or that my expectations, in this day and age, are unrealistic. They are not, especially if you are raising a young Black or Brown child.

You see, you can either invest in their education now by paying for after-school tutors, attending their school PTA meetings, helping them with their projects, and educating them in the school-of-hard-knocks when such teachable moments of life arise. Or you can spend money on defense attorneys, visit them in correctional facilities, and spend many sleepless nights wondering “where did things go wrong?” You don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to what my husband John, an inmate in prison, has to say about this matter:

Dear Vivett,

    I realize my family environment and teachers created my lack of interest in school. Although parents raise us children, who taught them?

    My mother raised me the best she could with the education she acquired in public school. In fact, I was only required to earn a high school diploma in the household I grew up in.

    Oftentimes coming from urban communities, we’re suffocated by our reality. For me, teachers/the Department of Education fail to acknowledge certain students’ living conditions.  

    My mother took care of me, but mom had no time for after-school talk. Unfortunately, school seemed like a baby-sitter, like punishment, and I never seen people making money off of Department of Education diplomats.

    When you come from neighborhoods where prison is celebrated and illegal activity appears profitable, it becomes almost impossible to escape what’s in front of you, especially immediate gratification.

    Having said that, by no means am I excusing actions that go against law-abiding citizens. I’m just stating hood facts and the values that plague our communities.

    In addition, witnessing your parents struggle with a high school education and peers around you succeeding without education makes it extremely difficult to believe education is the key.

    Perhaps experiences like mine are all too common and help explain some students’ disinterest in school. Even out celebrations are different: We look forward to people coming home from prison as opposed to graduation from college. I believe that our values and skills need to be addressed.

Love, John


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