Kwanzaa #3: Collective Work & Responsibility—Smith County 2015 Education Report & Kwanzaafest of Dallas are Examples, by J.D. Meyer

Welcome to Principle #3 Night: Collective Work & Responsibility. According to Dr. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa, Collective Work & Responsibility is “to maintain and build our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our own and solve them together.”

The Public Intellectual

I believe that Kwanzaa is the effort to serve as a public intellectual. Dr. Ali Mazrui of the Institute of Global Studies in New York defined the intellectual as “a person who has the capacity to be fascinated by ideas and has acquired the skill to handle some of these ideas effectively.” Dr. Mazrui continues that a public intellectual “communicates and influences debate outside of one’s own field.” He was a Top 100 Thinker, according to in 2005.

My former teaching colleague, Ibiyinka Solarin, offers a description of the public intellectual and how Wole Soyinka of Nigeria fits that model. Mr. Soyinka was the first African Nobel Prize in Literature. Dr. Solarin notes that the the real intellectual is engaged with society and contributes in his/her own way to impart knowledge and lower ignorance. The intellectual has varied reading , exposure to other cultures, and shows courage versus the establishment.

Smith County 2015 Education Report & Claritas/PRIZM Zip Code Clusters

We saw a great example of the Third Principle of Kwanzaa at the Rose Garden, October 20th. The Tyler Area for Partnership in Education launched the Smith County 2015 Education Report—an unprecedented collaboration between education groups, city leaders, and non-profit agencies.!community-report-card/ax6nf

They discovered that only 20% of Smith County students earn a post-secondary credential, a figure that sinks to just under 10% among economically disadvantaged students. Economically disadvantaged students are defined as those who qualify for a free or reduced price lunch. Not only is this a slump from the 35% figure for adults with a post-secondary credential, but 65% of jobs will require such education nationally by 2020.

Tyler (71.8%) and Chapel Hill (71.3%) have the highest percentages of economically disadvantaged students in the eight-city Smith County—well over the 60.2% for Texas. Meanwhile, Bullard (34.8%) and Lindale (45.9%) have the fewest poor kids.

However, Tyler has a solid average income of of $47.4K per year. How can both figures be possible? Could that mean we have a tiny middle-class here? Let’s look at Claritas/PRIZM zip code clusters for zip codes 75701, 75702, and 75703. Out of 66 clusters, only #53 Mobility Blues is present in all three Tyler zip codes in the Top Five. Furthermore, 75702 ranks in the top 1/5th nationally for #62 Hometown Retired. Only 3-15 clusters rank in the top half while two barely miss the top half at #34 and #35.

The Three Focus Areas for Education

There are three focus areas: (1) Kindergarten Readiness, (2) Middle School to High School Transition, and (3) Post-Secondary Readiness, Access, and Success. One statistic really jumped out at me: the discrepancy between high school graduation rate and college readiness. Virtually all graduate from high school: 94% in Smith County and 88% nationally. However, only 56% of both groups are college ready, and just 58% in Smith County and 54% nationally even enroll in education after high school. Students could take the traditional four-year bachelors degree or two-year associates degree routes, but there also shorter certificate and apprenticeship routes.

The answer for lacking readiness beyond an apprenticeship is developmental, or remedial, education. There are three subjects: (1) Developmental English/Writing, (2) Developmental Reading, and (3) Developmental Math.

Post-Secondary Readiness: Developmental English/Writing Study Guide for the Exit Exam

I taught Developmental English/Writing for ten years: five as an adjunct in Mountain View Community College in North Oak Cliff and five full-time at Texas College, the HBCU in North Tyler. By the way, this course is called Developmental Writing in junior colleges and Developmental English in four-year colleges. The Smith County Education Report called for a “restructuring of Developmental Education,” a common suggestion. I wrote an article that I called “Follow-Up to the Smith County 2015 Education Report.” It’s 6 1/3 pages with ten sections and a staggering 21 references. I published four of these articles. I concluded the article by asking if the over-emphasis on literature in high school at the expense of grammar after middle school could be a major cause for a lack of readiness for College Composition, the first official college English course. The final link goes to my study guide for the Developmental English/Writing exam. It’s based on the official practice exam and includes that link. My analysis reviews the test maker’s categories and my impressions, along with questions and answers.

Middle School to High School Transition: Bilingual All-Level Academic Vocabulary (BALAV)–A Focus on Cognates

Let’s backtrack to the Middle School to High School Focus Area. I’ve published material on Bilingual Academic All-Level Vocabulary (BALAV)–A Focus on Cognates. While informal English has most of its roots in German, technical English has most of its roots in Latin, and French is the main source for formal English. Spanish and French are Romance languages, meaning they’re descended from Latin. Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian are the other Romance languages. For example, “inundacion,” is the Spanish word for “flood.” If  I were to say that the Bangladesh prime minister is a leader in climate change because her country is frequently inundated, that’s using sophisticated English.

The Hispanic population in Smith County is rising, especially among the young. Meanwhile, the African-American population is remaining steady and the White population is falling. Tyler ISD’s largest ethnic group has been Hispanics for several years, and many are in the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) group—those who need ESOL or Bilingual Elementary education. Most secondary education textbooks actually have glossaries in both English and Spanish. I like the glossaries that alternate back and forth between languages for each term, rather than first all the heavy words in one language followed by the other.

I can attest to figuring out a new language through an incredibly great lesson in ESOL class. Our instructor divided us into groups, and we deciphered an essay in Portuguese based on our knowledge of Spanish. I love reading public signs written in Spanish and English to keep my skills solid. At Church’s Chicken the other day, I found out the Spanish word for “simmer;” “biscuit” is exactly the same in both languages. There’s a weird myth that Mexicans and others from Spanish-speaking countries move to the USA with little kids only, so they don’t need Spanish subtitles after fifth grade. Maybe their teachers can get away with grunting to them about the glossaries. I’ve seen LEP newcomers in high school simply copying their English textbook into their notebooks since they didn’t know what was going on in class.

Eds & Meds” and the Local Home Construction Boom: Help the Home Health Care Aides & Start More Construction Apprenticeships.

The main approach I took in follow-up article was to analyze the dominant occupations in Tyler, especially Colleges and Hospitals, affectionately nicknamed “Eds & Meds.” More descriptive than prescriptive, I cited the pros and cons listed by experts on urban planning, such as Dr. Richard Florida. Many of the success stories are in large cities, such as Houston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.

Later, I found a list of the 15 fastest growing occupations in the USA. Home health aide is by far the largest nationally, and it’s a low-paying job that doesn’t require a high school diploma. What if there were grants, scholarships, and maybe communes available for star home health aides so they could pursue a certificate or associates in fields like surgical technology and physical therapy assistant at Tyler Junior College?

A sound man/boat house builder friend told me about the home construction business boom. Then a star local construction business owner (home and business) liked my article, as well as the idea of apprenticeships. My Twitter M.D. friend voiced her support for apprenticeships as a way to move up without debt. Think about it; if post-secondary credentials are rare among the poor, have quick programs.

Kwanzaa Today: Kwanzaafest of Dallas and More

Now that we have shown how a major city project fits in with a Kwanzaa principle, how is Kwanzaa doing these days? It’s spreading around the world from the USA. Education World reported in 2014 that Kwanzaa is “the world’s fastest growing holiday.” I noticed celebrations in South Africa last year, England this year. Older folks born between 1948-1964 are more likely to celebrate Kwanzaa in this country , but there are more Black Studies programs in colleges than there used to be.

Kwanzaa spin-offs have had major success, notably Kwanzaafest of Dallas–held on the second Saturday weekend of December. This festival had its 25th anniversary this year, selling 60K tickets. Kwanzaafest has health screenings, recycling, high school debate, an obesity 5K walk/run, and more. John Wiley Price, long-time councilman, is the master-mind of this project.  Amherst University Black Student Union presents awards to students exhibiting the best of the seven principles in early December


Once again, the seven principles of Kwanzaa–Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work & Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith–are principles universal to all humanity.The “made-up” accusation carries little weight in the light of Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and the other folks’ religions or holidays. But Kwanzaa endeavors to improve the community and to offer activists a chance to serve as a public intellectual.

Bilingual Academic All-Level Vocabulary (BALAV) with Attention to Cognates & Influence from Robert Marzano

Introduction: Academic vocabulary is more difficult to learn than conversational language. In fact, low intermediate English speakers with some conversational English ability are assumed by the general public to know far more English than they really do. My folksy way of summarizing my thesis for Bilingual All-Level Academic Vocabulary  (BALAV) is the following, “If the newcomer just learned how to say, ‘Mr. Meyer is complaining again.’ then the newcomer better have the chance to read about the recession, tectonics, hyperbole and the quadratic formula in Spanish.” To quote Jane Spalding–a French/German professor: “To understand the culture, you need to understand the language.” This applies to content language too. Dr. Spalding made this remark during her address at the kickoff event for the University of Texas at Tyler’s Global Awareness through Education (GATE) program on September 25, 2011.

One particular situation really bothers me in secondary education for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students. Beginners often copy material from the textbook, and they have no idea what the book or the teacher is talking about when they are not in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). The study guide for ESOL certification declares that the “linguistic challenge of content should determine the method of instruction; it’s the first consideration of planning.” Fortunately, most secondary Texas textbooks have Spanish glossaries; strangely, English is the major exception. I like the glossaries that do not separate the English Glossary from the Spanish Glossary but instead repeat the same term in English then in Spanish. That way, it’s easier for the student to notice the cognates between the two languages.

I. The National Council for the Teachers of English (NCTE) calls for Limited English Proficient (LEP) students the chance to use their first language to achieve competence in English and develop an understanding of content in the curriculum. “IRA/NCTE 12 Standards for the Teaching of the English Language.” Standard #10 pertains to allowing English language learners to make use of their first language. Cognates study forms a bridge from Spanish to English, and cognates can be grouped by prefixes and suffixes. According to Dr. Jill Mora “Of the twenty thousand most commonly used words in English, four thousand–or 20 percent–have prefixes. Fifteen prefixes make up 82 percent of the total usage of all prefixes.” Here’s a chart with 2000 roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

II. Technical and formal English have roots in Latin and French—the main ancestors and a relative of Spanish—a Romance language. Thus, cognate study is more important for technical and formal English than informal English, which is German in origin. Furthermore, cognates seem to be far more common in essential vocabulary for English and Social Studies than in overall English a difference of roughly 85% to 62% in a preliminary survey. So this program is a type of transitional bilingual education that is never all Spanish. It’s not a dual immersion program.

III Bilingual education is not confined to the U.S. Edmonton, Canada is the leader in bilingual education in North America with several bilingual programs, not just French, but eleven languages at the Institute for Innovation in Second Language Education (IISLE). India is another country with extensive bilingual education programs. Some feel that bilingual education is a case of Americans being too nice and not a legitimate program. Becoming fully bilingual improves mental flexibility.

IV. Bilingual assistance for secondary age children could lower the dropout rate. Concern for the dropout rate is a component of national urban planning together with education. Lessening gaps in achievement between the various ethnic groups and socioeconomic levels seems to be a universal goal for all school districts.

V. Immersion (English only) does not provide comprehensible language. Comprehensible input lowers the affective filter. Success in one’s first language is the best predictor of success in the second language. Once you can read, you can read, according to Dr. Stephen Krashen. This is the transfer of literacy. Go to this article by James Crawford, “Does Bilingual Education Really Work?”

The Tennessee Academic Vocabulary Project by Connie Mayo and Deborah Boyd, is based on the research of Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering, the recognized leaders in vocabulary instruction. Marzano and Pickering wrote a book with even more vocabulary terms that has over 7900 words.

VII. Let’s group vocabulary according to essential as well as unit, chapter, and section. Testing students over essential vocabulary in their native language in past grades would be an important way of assessing their education in their homeland. The LUCHA program at the University of Texas at Austin examines the transcripts of Mexican students, and it offers Spanish courses on-line to help with the transition from Spanish-only to fully bilingual. Furthermore, if a student arrived in this country after the start of the school year, missed essential vocabulary for this year’s subjects could be given to the student.

VIII. Vocabulary instruction compensates for socioeconomic gaps in vocabulary knowledge, according to Marzano and Pickering. Children from poorer socioeconomic levels don’t hear as many as words as those from wealthier backgrounds.

IX. A school-wide vocabulary program could include Bilingual All-Level Academic Vocabulary as a component. Native English speakers would participate in an all-English program. Check out “Using English for Academic Purposes.”

X. At times, we should use the phonetic alphabet since there are more sounds than letters in English. For example, there is a voiced and unvoiced version of the “th” sound. “This” and “that” are voiced while “thick” and “thin” are unvoiced. Also, the “oo” sound when it’s long sounds like the Spanish “u,” such as the “u” in “impromptu” while the “oo” sound when it’s short is like the “u” in “put.”


Suggesting a cognates-oriented bilingual approach for academic vocabulary after fifth grade doesn’t have to be viewed as heresy. Standard #10 of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) proclaims, “Allow English language learners to make use of their first language.” Finding ways to reduce achievement gaps between English learners and native speakers should be a priority—not to mention reducing dropout rates.

Most importantly for the administrator who wants to lessen the ensuing attacks, one could bury the cognates instruction for ESOL students within an overall Direct Vocabulary Instruction program (Marzano and Pickering) for the entire school or even school district. Vocabulary instruction reduces achievement gaps between socioeconomic groups and was a key component of the state of Tennessee winning the first round of Race to the Top—a National Department of Education contest.

The formal and technical roots of English are in French and Latin while informal English is descended from German. Spanish is a Romance language like French, and both are descended from Latin. Thus, academic language naturally lends itself to cognates study.

Make tables of essential vocabulary available for all core courses. I use four columns, starting with the English word and Spanish translation. Then I give a check as to whether the words are cognates or not, something that isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, especially when two-word terms are present. The last column is for comments, usually left blank, but can mention fine points of difference in grammar between the two languages. Essential vocabulary lists can really help when a student enters the school at a time other than the start of the school year or semester—a bigger possibility for ESOL students. Furthermore, you could quiz the newcomer on the previous year’s vocabulary for your state’s school. I noticed quite a bit of difference in essential vocabulary between Texas and Tennessee.

Refer to the phonetic alphabet. Spanish and English don’t share all the same sounds; some sounds in English don’t even have letters of their own, such as strong and soft “th”, as shown in “Like this and like that, we go through thick and thin.” Many sounds in English can be spelled a variety of ways, such as short “e.”

In short, if the newcomer has just learned to say “Mr. Meyer is writing again,” don’t expect them to understand academic terms, such as stimulus plan, photosynthesis, analogies, and y-intercept without some English-Spanish cognates and direct vocabulary instruction.

BALAV Revisited: When Spanish Instruction Sites Use Cognates Instruction.
My journey on Twitter has led me to Real Fast Spanish @rfspanish, by Andrew Barr. One of their articles is “Words You Already Know: 1001 Cognates.” Since teaching Spanish with cognates instruction is acceptable, then teaching Spanish-speakers cognates isn’t heretical either. I also met Juliana Suarez, founder of Kinder Bilingue @KBilingue and @Bilingualedchat. One of her articles was a bilingual guide for LEP parents to ask questions to their children’s teachers.