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Rapping With Queen Latifah

More on the Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference in New York this weekend

There were some rumblings in the conference press room that Queen Latifah might not show after all. But rest assured, she appeared as scheduled for the final event on Saturday, donning a conference t-shirt and exhibiting an ease on the ballroom stage matched only by McFerrin. Alas, she didn't sing. Her role was to moderate a "Youth Voices" discussion with six distinguished inner-city high school students.

I can't do justice to the range and nuance of the students' observations, some of which were quite shrewd. But I can give you some general take-aways that I scribbled down in my notes. Here goes: These kids value teachers who trust them and set high standards for them, and they know when expectations are being "dumbed down." They know the difference between teachers who are deeply versed in their subjects and those who merely apply a "cookie-cutter curriculum" (as one of the participants stated it). They are strongly affected by negative perceptions of their schools and believe such perceptions contribute to poor academic performance. They value the safe places in their lives, including community centers and after-school extracurricular programs, and could probably could use more of them. And they are keenly aware of the opportunities that great teachers give them. "Your job is a matter of life and death," one young man told the audience, without a shred of irony. "It doesn't get any more serious than than that."

And, by the way, who knew that "dancing gangs" are apparently a problem in some inner-city neighorhood today? That one caught even Queen Latifah by surprise.

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