THE BLOG
09/15/2014 03:05 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2014

5 Life Skills to Teach Black Boys: A Parent's Addendum to the Common Core

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More than 55 million American schoolchildren enrolled in public and private schools are back in school this month. In Chicago alone, 400,000 Chicago Public School students entered classrooms for the first time for a new school year.

My son is one of those millions, as he recently entered first grade in Montgomery County, MD. Along with so many other parents and educators, I am determined to give both him and his younger brother the best educations possible. I know what it means for their chances of success beyond school.

I have spent a career analyzing, writing and speaking about racial disparities in nearly every realm of American economic and social life. According to the National Urban League Equality 2014 Equality Index, the average African-American male is twice as likely as a white male to be unemployed, earns 72 cents for every dollar earned by a white male and is six times more likely to be incarcerated. Education plays a critical role in ameliorating these disparities.

Common Core is our nation's latest attempt to equip all students, regardless of race or gender, with the math and English language arts skills they need at each grade level to be ready for college and to compete in a global workforce.

Whatever Common Core does or doesn't do for students academically, I'm sure of one thing, and that is that in a nation where recent high school graduate Michael Brown, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder all had racially-motivated negative experiences with law enforcement, academic skills alone (though important), will not be sufficient to shield black boys from marginalization and mistreatment.

Preparation for that will require an entirely different set of skills.

To be sure, nearly all parents, regardless of race, class or family structure, identify with the internal struggle between the hopes and fears we hold concerning our children and their place in society.

From my perspective as the mother of African-American boys, I offer five critical life skills to black boys as a Parent's Addendum to Common Core. I believe these ideas are universal, but I welcome others to adapt them as needed.

1. Absorb all the positive reinforcement, self-confidence and self-worth your young, impressionable mind can hold. This builds immunity against negative images, lies and stereotypes that conspire to destroy you.

2. Distinguish between the rules that are in place to legitimately protect you and the cleverly disguised limitations on your full potential and rights. Follow the first and disregard the second.

3. Know the balance between deference toward authority and personal dignity. At times, you will have to exercise incredible restraint in the face of humiliating circumstances. At other times, you will be compelled to take a stand. Both options require strength and courage, but the outcome is unpredictable.

4. Use your experiences with marginalization, disrespect and disregard to help you recognize and empathize with others facing similar struggles. In doing this, you will find allies and build bridges.

5. When you're blessed to survive attacks against your mind, character or body, let each lesson be a reason to succeed and never an excuse to quit or fail.

These are not easy skills to teach or to learn. But they are critical for navigating some of our children's greatest challenges to life in America. And they will last longer than one back to school season.