In this episode, Dr. Hackie Reitman speaks with educator and author John Mavros.
John is an educator and the author of two acclaimed research studies, “The Educational Needs of Black Youth in Princeton” and “Sorting, Territoriality, and Rule-Making Outside the Walls of Seward Park High School”. He cofounded two innovative nonprofit programs in New Jersey that still serve youth and their families. A graduate of Princeton, John’s first book, Enough Iz Enough: a guide for teachers and parents to stop finger pointing, stop playing the ‘blame game’ will be released in the first half of 2019. (22 minutes)
For more about John and his book, visit: enoughizenoughbook.com
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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman. Welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. Today we have my old friend John Mavros, and he’s the author of the upcoming book Enough iz Enough: A Guide for Teachers and Parents to Stop Finger-Pointing and Stop Playing the Blame Game. You can tell by the title of his book John don’t mess around. John, welcome to the show.
JOHN MAVROS (JM): Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Family and education
HR: Well that’s great. now John, I know about you, but tell our audience about you. Introduce yourself.
JM: Well, I’ve been in education since my junior year in college and I regret to say I want to get those years back. But that was many decades ago. I retired as a guidance counselor for Pinellas County Schools. I live in St. Petersburg today, and I am, have wandered on a path using educational concepts. I formed, I founded, I ran a family services organization in New Jersey called The Joint Connection and what The Joint Connection did was to allow families to make the connection between cities in New Jersey, Camden and Newark in particular, and the 17 or 18 New Jersey prison sites that were inaccessible by public transportation service. So that service was a bus, charter bus service. People had to pay a certain fee. It really, it provided service to over a million-and-a-half customers, riders, you might say. And along the way, at the very outset, I learned that the family relationship of a person with his family is or with her family is most important to their living a fulfilling life. One without crime, one where they can express themselves and pursue their goals and dreams.
HR: You have said that it is of utmost importance to have family involvement with this, okay, that this is essential. Now we fast-forward to 2018 now. You know, in many places, especially in certain groups and everything, in the lowest socioeconomic status, families don’t exist to a large extent. You want to elaborate on that?
JM: Let me say this: I think that too much is taken for granted as far as the inability of the low-income family to be able to support itself so in terms of the loving, the caring, the commitment, that exists within the family. Now, one premise of the book which brought out in the title is that parents have a duty to establish a relationship with a child’s teachers and another, the flipside of that coin is that teachers have an important responsibility as teachers to help the parent learn ways that the parent can help the child learn. So let me say that in the low-income communities, some of this, as you pointed out, lacking. The family structure seems to be convoluted, to say the least. There’s a lot of grandparenting going on. There’s a lot of, there are a lot of instances where other persons in the family are raising the children, but that sense of love, caring, and commitment, it hasn’t gone anywhere, and it’s something that’s existed since we were so young, that we remember instances where there is seminal instances. Where events that helped us to become the type of person, the person that we are today. Now, many of those things involve our families. Sometimes it involves a teacher, because the teacher has a special effect on a child’s upbringing, and this is the reason that the parent and the child and the teacher must join together as a force to be reckoned with in the child’s learning.
John’s research studies
HR: Tell us about some of the research studies that you’ve done.
JM: Well, I’ve looked at what happened in Princeton, New Jersey, which is a relatively high-income community, but has its own section of, residential section that is a neighborhood where low-income families reside and after many years, that low-income population was predominantly African-American, and that’s changed somewhat since the time that I was an undergraduate and became involved in the community of Princeton. Along with six other undergraduates with us, we strove to set up what we call the Community House that would serve the entire community in that low-income area. It was very near the Princeton campus, just a few blocks away where people were employed. It wasn’t a neighborhood of high unemployment. It was a neighborhood where people were doing work at the university and in positions of very low income, so this situation existed in the public schools where students were in need of help, and over the course of what we were doing to try to serve the community, we found that the children were the ones who were accepting our effort to reach out and help. So I spent two years, my last two years at Princeton, attending classes of course, to get my degree, but at the same time very much involved with the middle school population. And what I found is that much of the, the difficulty that exists between the schools, for students in school, is that they feel a lot of discomfort. And it isn’t a discomfort that they can just get rid of it by saying, “I’m not going to feel this way.” It’s something that the school can help them to overcome.
HR: Now does that overlap into trauma-informed approaches?
JM: What it overlaps into is very much so. Like you say in Aspertools, brains are like snowflakes; no two are alike. What happens is that the premise that one-size-fits-all, that we can deal with students of color the same way that we can deal with students who are of Hispanic origin, students who are of Germanic origins, Italian origin. That is, we can, the caveat is that we have to want to achieve very similar goals and objectives, but the process that we have to use, it has to has to differ because no two brains are alike, and people learn in different ways.
Education for different brains
HR: Let’s elaborate on that with your experience with those of us whose brains are pretty different. Now sure it’s an anthropological study too, with people from different backgrounds, different cultures, but let’s get into now those of us whose brains learn quite a bit differently. You know?
JM: Yeah. What happens is that we can help the school. When I say “we” I’m speaking as an educator. The school can help to the parents to understand that there’s certain ways, techniques parents can use that vary at different age levels. Parent with having this duty to want it to help the child learn. The parent can be informed by the teacher to pursue these different methods. For example, at a very early age it’s very important for parents not just to turn on the TV, turn on or get educational programs for their child. They’re interactive programs of course, that are the most effective, but it’s also important for the parent to spend some time reading to the child. Even if the parent is looking at a picture book, they can point to put the book and say, “This is what it’s saying,” so the child internalizes the desire to be a good reader, to learn to read. It’s important for the parent to use nursery rhymes, to use different ways of communicating with a child so that the child will learn. This can happen, believe it or not; this can happen during pregnancy. The last trimester of pregnancy, they found a, research has found in this last decade that when children come out of the womb, they already understand language. They know this by, if they have a newborn, newborn child comes out, then they can play tapes. The child will hear the tapes of course and when the tape is played in the language that the child is, of the child’s mother, the child’s eyes will focus in the direction of the sound. If the tape is played in the language of a different version, the child doesn’t pay any attention. So they know that the child is learning language while, during pregnancym and even further than that, some isolated cases, anecdotal cases have been children have been born with superior, advanced, just knowledge and intellectual ability to grasp language, and they credit that to the to the fact that the parents were reading and singing to the child while before the child was born and in that very early age.
Enough iz Enough
HR: Wow. Wow, that’s amazing. Now, John, tell us about the book Enough iz Enough, I Z is how it’s spelled by the way, Enough iz Enough: A Guide for Teachers and Parents to Stop Finger Pointing, Stop Playing the Blame Game. When is that coming out?
JM: Next summer.
HR: Next summer.
JM: June the 1st, July the 1st. I’m playing with the dates now. It’s not published yet, but definitely next summer.
HR: Oh, OK. Now, what is one piece of advice that you’d give to parents struggling whose child is struggling with some behavior in school and other things in school, and they don’t know how to help him or her? What is your advice?
JM: OK, start with the child. Show interest and support. Ask the child questions. Try to understand what the child is feeling, what the child is going through. Go to the teacher. Go to the teacher after you talk with the child. Don’t jump to conclusion that it’s anybody’s fault, anybody is to blame. Communicate with the teacher. This is something that I advocate. School districts, schools, and school principals to get to happen the first month of school. The teacher reaches out to talk with the parent to have just some casual conversation, like, “How you doing? My name is Mr. Mavros, I’m concerned about doing the best I can to help your child learn and would you just tell me a little bit about what I might be able to do, how I might best work, how this might work, if there’s any ways that you would suggest for me to be helpful.” This can happen in the first week of school and without even talking about what the, what the grading system is, what the child has to get to learn. This is normal protocol in any situation where you have a group of people and in this case, a student, a parent, and a teacher, that’s going to be working together. We’re going to be together whether they’re working or not they’re going to be hopefully joining together for the entire year. I suggest that there be a family orientation month. Not just a family night, not just a family open house, not just a formal PTA, but a whole month in which teachers are encouraged to reach out and then they carry that out for the the rest, every, every month to try to make a contact with every parent once a month. After the big holiday that we generally celebrate at the end of December, going into January, this order should start over again. Not with the whole month of services, but just to be sure that they reconnect.
HR: That’s great. When you go back to your your days as an Ivy Leaguer at Princeton, and you fast-forward to now and your educational path, and let’s say one of our viewers here wants to go into your field. what is the best educational path to follow for them?
JM: I would suggest that they do as many of practicums as they can to get into the teaching. Teaching is a talent that you developed by experience. You can’t just learn everything in a laboratory and decide that it’s going to work. It’s kind of like a residency in the medical profession. You have to get the feel for what you’re doing. In addition to that, if they’re, I suggested that the preservice training that’s offered by the universities for teacher preparation, that that preservice training include at least two or three courses on how to interact with the family, with the community. That’s very important and it’s often overlooked. We’re talking about it. We always have a course of history, of education, and that’s good to know, but that doesn’t help a person who wants to teach in the classroom to be equipped to handle the situations they have to handle.
HR: How can our audience learn more about you?
JM: Well, they can go to a website, which is enoughizenoughbook.com. That’s the website. It’s as you said, it is spelled i z. e n o u g h i z e n o u g h b o o k .com.
HR: At the present time, what other projects are you part of?
JM: At the present time I’m developing a series of speaking, a speaker series, in order to be able to present what I’m talking about is for Enough iz Enough and the way that can be directed to audiences depending on if it’s early childhood or middle school or high school level of audience, of parents, and teachers. I, also in St. Petersburg, I do a lot of volunteer work and I am working actively right now with the upcoming political season I’m working for the Board of Elections, supervisor of elections here in Pinellas County, Florida, just as a poll worker and early voting. I am also a volunteer coordinator at my church, and I see to it that we have persons every week on hand to be greeters at the church, healers, we have a healing segment that’s available to people who come to the church, ushers.
HR: What’s the name of your church, John?
JM: Temple of the Living God, St. Petersburg Florida. Temple of the Living God. It’s at tlgtemple.org.
HR: Is there anything else we haven’t discussed that you’d like to discuss, John, with our audience?
JM: What I’d like to suggest is that no matter what the level is, we, I talked about early childhood, but at the secondary, at the level where a child starts to make decisions, the hold, the thrust of my book, it really overlaps in many ways with the book that you wrote, Aspertools, because at every level, a parent can start out the year by getting to know the teacher, by explaining to the teacher, taking some time to communicate to the teacher, to have conversations that let the teacher know the parent is concerned and that gives the parent information to know what the teacher is concerned about. It’s very important at the period when a child starts to make their own decisions that the parent discuss these decisions in terms of what their options might be. I’d like for it to point out that the the whole idea of parent-teacher interaction is something that needs to be looked at, revisited, at every level of education, because we have, as I said at the beginning, I worked in a program with families of prisoners, and even a prisoner at that late stage in their 20s, has a very strong desire to be part of a family unit and in needs to have love, caring, and commitment.
HR: Very well said. Well, our mutual friend Dr. George Mitchell, up in Boston, is right about you John. You’ve dedicated your life to this. You’re emphasizing all of the hot points, and the takeaway from this that I have is that the educational system and the parent-family system have to come together more. The teachers have to be interested in the family; the family has to be interested in the teacher, and the result will be a better result for all of our students.
JM: That’s right. That’s right. And I think, too often, I have a tendency to say they have to work together. But they really have to join together, and in joining together, the work will be done.
HR: That’s great. John, it’s been a pleasure to have you here at differentbrains.org. Thank you so much for being with us.
JM: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you, so much for having me, Dr. Reitman.