Re-set. Reboot.  These are key words for the New Year.  I am doing my own reboot in this blog space.  My last post was in May 2013.  My apologies for dropping off the face of the Internet, but that was the month my mother-in-law, Leonia Hanson passed away.

Over the past few months, I’ve been able to move from think about what I lost to remembering what I learned from her about educating children of color even though she was not an educator.

She lived in rural Arkansas all her life.  She raised eight children when school segregation was the law of the land across America and only could find work as household help.  Despite challenging socioeconomic conditions and enormous racial barriers, she held high academic expectations for children.

Hear that, Ruby Payne?

Despite the limits society placed on her as a poor woman of color in the 1950s and 1960s, she managed to guide seven of her eight children through college, adding a lawyer, a doctor, two social workers, and a professional musician to a family just a few generations out of Jim Crow.

I think her secret can be summed up in her simple advice about self-determination, grit, and independence she wrote in my husband’s high school yearbook when he was a senior.  “You’ve been given a book of rules, a formless rock, and a bag of tools.  You can make your life your very own: a stumbling block or a stepping stone.”Bag of Tools Quote

In addition to the “bag of tools” she gave her children, she helped them each cultivate an “academic mindset.” According to the University of Chicago’s report Teaching Adolescents to Be Learners, the four belief statements that make up an academic mindset are:

  • I belong in this academic community.
  • My ability and competence grow with my effort.
  • I can succeed at this.
  • This work has value for me.

She would have never used the words “academic mindset” to describe what she was instilling in her kids. Instead she focused on actions like holding high expectations and insisting they become independent learners.  I loved the fact that her words were plain, but always full of wisdom.

She is with the ancestors now.  I stand on her shoulders as a parent and an educator.

It’s good to be back writing in this space.  Happy New Year.

Who are you remembering fondly from 2013?