Into Africa
October 5, 2005 7:12 PM   Subscribe

From Baltimore to the Bush. Until 2003, the Baraka School in Kenya was home to 20-40 underachieving teenagers from inner-city Baltimore. As Time Magazine reported in 2000, the experiment was not without complications, ranging from curriculum deficiencies to disciplinary issues. PBS also did a short piece on Baraka the same year.

By 2002, though, things were shaping up. The Baltimore City Public School System found that students at Baraka improved markedly in their academics. One alumnus is an up-and-coming hip-hop star.

Baraka was closed indefinitely in 2003 due to terrorism-related security threats. But a new documentary, The Boys of Baraka, recaptures the essence of the place, its successes and its failures alike.
posted by greatgefilte (8 comments total)
"The Baltimore City Public School System found that students at Baraka improved markedly in their academics." followed by "One alumnus is an up-and-coming hip-hop star." begs me to question what sort of academic standards are we talking about? Shouldn't One alumnus is an up-and-coming doctor or lawyer be the next line?
posted by j-urb at 7:46 PM on October 5, 2005

Better than being a drug dealer, or dead, for that matter.
posted by greatgefilte at 7:48 PM on October 5, 2005

OK on last comment but the j-urb comment is can be a great hip hop artist or blues singer or basketball player etc without going to a good high school or doing well at such a school or even graduating from a school. The usual mark of success in high schools is percentage of grads going on to college. Another measurement: the percentage of those dropping out of the school. In N.Carolina they are having very fine results by making sure that there is a percentage of middle class (by income) students mixed with lower income (usually minority kids) students. The minority students latch on to values of middle class kids and the results are startling. This reported two weeks ago in NY Times.
posted by Postroad at 8:03 PM on October 5, 2005

I don't mean to moderate this thread, but there's one thing to bear in mind -- the kid's still in high school, and a competitive one at that.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:09 PM on October 5, 2005

I remember when this started - I was still living in Baltimore then. And I thought at the time what I still think: you don't have to take the kids all the way to bloody Africa to have amazing results. You just have to get them out of the same tiny locked in inner city neighborhood where they and their families have lived their entire lives and whoa, the world will open up. I worked for a while with inner city Baltimore kids and it's frightening how many of them have never been more than 10 blocks away from their home. Africa was no stranger to these boys than the Pennsylvania countryside would have been; either would have worked wonders; a lot of money went into this (worthy, okay) experiment that could have been expanded considerably much cheaper much closer. And when it closed I'm sorry that they didn't think of just moving it geographically closer.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:07 PM on October 5, 2005

greatgefilte, did you see the film last night at Doc Soup? I have tickets for the series but missed this one.
posted by jmcnally at 9:45 AM on October 6, 2005

as someone who taught the same type of kids in this story, i had the same thought about proximity. we always found that it was the simple removal of a child from the environment that was dragging on them that would help a great deal. a simple camping trip in Wisconsin could go a long way toward giving someone some perspective on themselves.

however, i don't think you can entirely discount the immense value of having African-American children visit a) another country and b) the "motherland". both of those things would have to have a tremendous impact on children who otherwise would likely never have that opportunity.

also, the dismissal of the academic improvement of these kids based on the "hip hop star" comment is a little narrow in experience. these kids, these types of kids, are the sort that often end up in jail and/or dropping out of school. if they were suburban white kids, they'd be in and out of psych wards/"treatment" all through junior high and high school with a few alternative BD schools thrown in between. (and because of all that, they might end up okay. costs lots and lots of dough, though.) to use "going to college" as the only arbiter of success really sets the bar to a standard of "normal" based on suburban, economically secure, and socially well-adjusted norms.

kids who require behavior-mod point systems "take-downs," "group," and heavily monitored dorms are college material only rarely, i'm sorry to say. most of them have various learning disabilities that have gone unaddressed until they get into a school like this (which is way late in the game). it is sometimes enough to hope that they can read and write, manage to graduate, hold down a steady, decent job, and don't require on-going psychiatric care. for kids from the "ghetto," whose parents wouldn't be able to afford to either get them out of that environment or get them mental health care, this program was probably a godsend, as limited as it might have been.
posted by RedEmma at 9:50 AM on October 6, 2005

jmcnally, yup, all the way in the upper balcony of the Bloor, which looked like it sold all seats for the evening. Hope you're able to catch it some other time.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:39 PM on October 6, 2005

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