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It's all about connecting with students

Eva Doyle spent 30 years in Buffalo classrooms and knows that something is wrong in the predominantly African-American district with the lousy results for students of color.

But unlike many others, she has a concrete first step: She wants to bring to Buffalo the author of "Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys."

"With the crisis we have in education, and I do feel it's a crisis, I felt we needed to hear another voice," said Doyle, who in 25 years at Campus West had already used techniques like those in the book to reach "unreachable" kids.

No, the book wasn't written by Superintendent James Williams, whose contention that public schools were never meant to educate black kids has put educators in the cross hairs of parents.

It is among several written by educational consultant Jawanza Kunjufu for parents and educators open-minded enough to realize they need to change an approach that's not working.

"We need different ways of reaching the at-risk student," said Doyle, who recalled rearranging her classroom to accommodate "hyperactive" boys who needed to move around. She would bend the rules rather than penalize kids for their learning style.

That's a central theme in Kunjufu's work, as he explores differences ignored by too many teachers who shunt black boys off to special education or suspension in disproportionate numbers rather than try different teaching methods.

In a phone interview, Kunjufu noted that black parents have a vital role to play, including cutting off the TV and rap music and making kids study.

But what happens in the classroom also is key in a district where parents complain that only a quarter of black males graduate. Why so few? Kunjufu argues that many white teachers aren't prepared for the cultural differences.

For instance, the black extended family with relatives constantly in and out of the house, multiple radios and TVs blaring and the active inner-city street environment produce kids used to functioning amid a high degree of stimuli rather than studying alone in a quiet room.

Female teachers, many from the suburbs, who don't grasp the cultural differences -- or find such boys intimidating -- can be too quick to write them off.

It may not be that such kids are hyperactive, Kunjufu writes, but that "the curriculum is too slow." He notes that such kids are easily engaged by video games and other stimulative activities. What they may need are fewer lectures and more hands-on learning.

That's what Doyle learned in her career, and why she wants to bring Kunjufu to Buffalo. A fundraiser from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library will include poetry, a video featuring Kunjufu and a panel discussion in an effort to raise enough money to pull off the June 13 forum.

Amid calls for school boycotts and turning schools over to a dysfunctional state government, Doyle's focus directly on what's happening in the classroom makes as much sense as anything.

"It's not the be-all and end-all," she said, "but it's one more piece."

Given that the district is 56 percent African-American and 15 percent Hispanic, teaching in ways that reach those kids instead of pursuing the same failed approaches is not just one piece of the puzzle, it's the piece.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com