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Livingstone speaker: Education vital

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
Dr. Henry Johnson introduced Dr. Henry Johnson as the keynote speaker at Livingstone College’s American Education Week Celebration Wednesday.
Really. Dr. Henry V. Johnson is chairman of Livingstone’s Division of Education, Social Work, Psychology and Sport Management.
Dr. Henry L. Johnson is the former U.S. assistant secretary of education for elementary and secondary education.
“It is indeed an honor and pleasure to actually introduce you to Henry Johnson,” said Dr. Henry V. Johnson.
The two first met about 15 years ago when Dr. Henry L. Johnson was assistant superintendent for the Johnston County Schools, and Dr. Henry V. Johnson was assistant superintendent for the Tarboro City Schools.
“I remember when we first met,” Dr. Henry V. Johnson recalled. “He would always say, ‘Namesake. Namesake.’ But there’s a lot to be said about the name. He has really made my name look super great, and I’m highly appreciative …
“When I think about Dr. Henry L. Johnson, he is truly the epitome of quality, the epitome of a true advocate for education.”
Dr. Henry L. Johnson, who earned his undergraduate degree from Livingstone in 1968, said, “There is no more important work that we do than education. This is important stuff.”
Thomas Jefferson recognized the importance of education more than 200 years ago, he said, reciting two of his quotes: “The purpose of schooling is to train the citizenry to participate in the democracy,” and, “No people can long be both ignorant and free.”
Johnson talked about four categories of factors he believes impact students’ educational outcomes. The first is schooling factors, he said, “those factors over which the bureaucracy has control, those factors for which the public ought to hold us accountable …”
If the curriculum is no good, if the quality of teachers is less than desirable, the quality of the leadership at the central office and the type and use of assessment inadequate, “it’s our fault,” he said. “There’s no excuse …”
The second category is family factors. “Those factors we don’t control,” Johnson said, “but the encouraging piece about that is we can influence them.”
One of the family factors affecting a student’s education is whether the family has a routine for encouraging success in school, he said, such as dedicated time for homework and study and a limit on watching television.
Johnson, who earned his Ph.D. in school administration from N.C. State University, said a study conducted when he was with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction found that watching more than 20 hours of television a week had a negative effect on students’ grades.
“That’s not to say that all TV watching is bad,” he said. “There are limits, though.”
Another family factor is the dialogue about education that occurs in the home. Johnson said the book, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children,” reported on a study that found qualitative and quantitative differences in the typical interactions of middle-class, successful families and those that are not.
“For example, they observed that in the more affluent families, the nature of the conversations with the young kids was encouraging and (included) probing questions by the adults,” he said. “In the more challenged family environments, the dominant talk was negative directed: ‘Don’t. Sit. Shut up.’
“Now, those folks don’t love their children any less, but it’s probable that they are unaware of the impact that negative-directed conversation can have on intellectual development and verbal acquisition.”
While educators can’t control family behavior, Johnson said they can help parents understand the impact of conversations with their children.
When the student arrives home from school, he said as an example, the parent or custodial adult might ask, “How was school?”
“And the kid says, ‘OK.’ If that’s the extent of the conversation, you’re in trouble,” he said. A better question might be “What did you learn today? followed up by “Tell me about it.”
“Now there’s magic in that,” Johnson said. “If you take the time to explain to somebody else what you think you know, it forces a high-level cognitive operation because you’ve got to think about it. You’ve got to synthesize all that stuff … and make sense of it.
“Isn’t that what schooling is all about, helping people to make sense of the world?”
Johnson, who has also served as Mississippi’s state superintendent of education, said the third category is community factors. “Now I was fortunate to grow up in Salisbury, N.C.” he said. “I am being very serious about that. I was not only my parents’ child. I was Ms. Scott’s child.”
He described the community he grew up in as “the projects.” On his way home from Monroe Street School every day, Johnson said he would pass by the house of Ms. Scott, a retired teacher. “If I got in trouble at school, Ms. Scott would give me an earful on the way home.
“We shy away from that today. There is power in that sense of community. You know ‘It takes a village.’ There is power there.”
But beyond that, he asked, what are religious, civic and fraternity organizations doing to help with children’s education? It’s powerful, he said, though students may not realize it until later on.
“I can recall all of my teachers from first grade through the various teachers I had in high school,” Johnson said. “They had an impact on me, more than I ever realized.”
The fourth category is individual factors, he said. “The interest, abilities and attitudes of students make a difference …,” he said. “But again, we can influence them.
“What we cannot and must not do is use the circumstances of their learning as justification for not providing a quality education. The research is just too powerful that regardless of background, excellent teaching with all the supports made such a difference that a child from the most troubled background can still be successful.”
Johnson was so passionate at one point during his address that someone in the audience shouted, “Preach.”
“I feel deeply about this,” Johnson responded. “It is my calling. It is my ministry. My father, grandfather and great-grandfather and two of three brothers and one of my sons is a minister. So ministry runs in my family, but education is my calling.”
Johnson is now senior advisor with B&D Consulting’s education team.Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

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