English 112 Ashkenas
Mon-Wed 11-12:15
Critique and Synthesis paper
In his essay “A Day in the Life of Rafael Jackson,” Patrick James
McQuillan observes a typical day in the high school life of an urban
African American male, Rafael Jackson, with the hopes that he can answer a
simple question, “Of what worth is this education” (487). Of course he is
referring to the education that this particular individual was receiving.

But his main objective was to point out the flaws in the urban education

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Rafael Jackson was not at all a poster boy for high school students
all across America, nor was he a model citizen in American society. He was
suspended at one of his schools, and had to constantly move schools because
of behavior and attendance problems. His senior year at Russell High
School he was placed in low level classes “because he skipped classes and
school so often, not because he lacked intelligence” (476). McQuillan
asserts that even though Jackson was not a typical student, his school day
was the same as most of Russell High’s other students; easy, and “not an
education worth wanting” (486).

McQuillan contends that the classes are too easy, and criticizes the
teaching methods at the school. According to McQuillan “During a dictation
quiz the teacher provided students with hints regarding errors they might
make (“there will be no commas”)” (486) and that was making the exam far
too easy. He also disapproves of the way teachers handle their classes
saying that they never follow up on detentions, and don’t deduct points
they previously said they would. McQuillan observes, “While Rafael
violated numerous classroom and school rules, he experienced no negative
sanctions” (486).

McQuillan says that in the urban school systems the easy work that was
offered correlates with authority. McQuillan gives an example of that when
he says “The teacher who left class plans for the substitute in Rafael’s
cooking class knew how to maintain control: Give students something as
simple as a TV viewer’s guide to interpret” (487). Giving out easy tasks
makes for a higher work completion rate, but it does not seriously
“control” the students effectively, as seen in the drop out rates of urban
school systems.

In a Similar article, Shelby Steele says it’s the lack of high
standards that keep black students behind the rest. Although racism, and
poverty are reasons for under development in the black community according
to Steele, it does not “prevent a group from achieving excellence when it
takes agency over an area and begins to live by the values that allow the
will to be applied” (495).

Steele uses two scenarios to explain his logic, one actual the other
hypothetical. He compares the actual life of Charlie Parker (a poor black
saxophonist during the 1930’s) to a hypothetical life in this day and age.

In the hypothetical life of Charlie Parker, it is assumed that because he
was a poor black man, he would seek help in learning how to play music
instruments. Help through special programs or through a tutor; in this
case Steele uses a tutor as an example. Steele uses the argument that
because Parker is a poor black man, playing a instrument that is played
mostly by people with a European background, that he will not have high
standards set upon him. Steele later goes on to say “But does this mean
that the social program and the tutor were actual disadvantages for the
fictional Charlie? I think so.” (493). Steele says that during the real
Charlie Parker’s life, no one cared if he succeeded, “during the depression
there were no programs or tutors devoted to black musical development”
(492). According to Steele, Parker had another thing going for him, and
that was the fact that he was trying to be a black musician during a time
where many blacks excelled in music and standards for black musicians were
very high. His economic situation therefore, was going to be irrelevant to
his success in music.

Although Steele makes a good point that in Charlie Parkers
hypothetical life he has the odds stacked against him, that doesn’t
necessarily mean that his standards are lowered. His odds perhaps might
increase because of more resources available to him now, compared to back
during the 1930’s. But I do agree with Steele’s overall conclusion that
“Still, the challenge for today’s educators is to do what the black
identity is currently failing to do: to enforce for black students at all
levels a strict and impersonal accountability to the highest standards of
excellence” (498).