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A Black Males Strengths & Weaknesses in Education

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A Black Males Strengths & Weaknesses in Education

Today's education is often viewed today as failing in its major goal of educating students, especially those students characterized as minorities, including African American, Hispanic, and Appalachian students (Quiroz, 1999). Among the minority groups mentioned, African American males are affected most adversely. Research has shown that when Black male students are compared to other students by gender and race they consistently rank lowest in academic achievement (Ogbu, 2003), have the worst attendance record (Voelkle, 1999), are suspended and expelled the most often (Raffaele Mendez, 2003; Staples, 1982), are most likely to drop out of school, and most often fail to graduate from high school or to earn a GED (Pinkney, 2000; Roderick, 2003).

Research has also shown that this record of poor performance by Black male students during their elementary and secondary school years limits their involvement in education at the college level (Cross & Slater, 2000) and correlates strongly with their disproportionately large numbers in the country's jails and penitentiaries (Males & Macallair, 2000; Yeakey, 2002). Adult Black males lead the nation in being undereducated, unemployed (Boyer, 1988; Hornor, 2002; Pinkney, 2000), and incarcerated (Drakeford & Garfinkel, 2000). Black males are also characterized as having more health problems (Kirk, 1986) and dying at a younger age (Boyer, 1988; Hornor, 2002; Kirk, 1986; Pinkney, 2000), regardless of race and gender, than any other group in America.

The challenges faced by Black males in American society are well known. What may not be widely recognized is the role America's schools play in perpetuating these problems. The purpose of this paper is to make more generally accessible recent research that attempts to isolate factors leading to conflict between Black male students and increasingly White teaching staff in our public schools (Cooper and Jordan, 2003). This paper also describes ways in which schools and school districts are beginning to implement programs designed to resolve these conflicts.

From A historical perspective the unsuccessful journey of the Black male student from public school through to his unfulfilled place in society did not end with Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision that ended de jure school segregation in 1954. Even though a series of civil rights bills in the 1950s and 1960s eliminated the Black codes, repealed Jim Crow laws, and guaranteed voting rights for Blacks, the plight of Black male students in our schools did not improve (Ascher, 1995). There is no single overriding factor to explain this lack of success, but most scholars and researchers point out that beginning in the colonial era and continuing through most of our nation's history, the experiences of Black males in White society have been so negative and psychologically damaging (Pinkney, 2000; Staples, 1982) that they have given birth to and nurtured a deep-seated and tenacious belief in their own, and the entire Black community's, inferiority. At the beginning of this history, Black male slaves were looked upon by White society as the most undesirable and least trust worthy of people, and they were treated accordingly. Black male slaves were closely associated with and compared to animals, and were said to have a deceptive and violent nature and to be uncontrollable and in need of the whip (Kunjufu, 1986). Given this formative experience in slavery, the fact that Black males have continued to be disadvantaged from birth to death throughout our nation's short history hardly seems to need explanation.

A Broader Problem that plagues Black males are not totally the responsibility of the public schools, but are a responsibility of society as a whole (Delpit, 1995). We can say, however, that the public schools do play a major role in addressing the problems of Black male students. The educational experiences and the support services afforded Black male students could play an important role in helping them reverse their dismal school performance and subsequent journey through life, to a life with the potential for success. Research has shown that when public schools provide a more relevant education with services that address their psychological and emotional needs, Black males begin to experience greater school success and their feeling of inferiority begins to fade (Franklin, 1999). What is needed is academic reform that addresses the way Black males are educated, a more caring support base, and more relevant social services.

When Black male students have assimilated the message that they are in need of 'discipline,' teachers, now faced with preparing students for state and national achievement tests, begin to place more emphasis on the importance of disciplined behavior: I call this 'the confrontation point,' because at about third or fourth grade, when schools begin national achievement testing and have established their tracks, poor children - especially Black boys - begin to get the message about their place in society. Too many of them have not been taught to read well, and they have not assimilated successfully into the school culture. They are no longer little and cute, and the teachers' dislike of them and distain for their abilities show through. Even when their early achievement is up to the level of other students, after fourth grade they fall farther and farther behind, usually entering junior high school one or two full grades behind. (Gentry & Peelle, 1994, p. 35)

One solution to this problem is to recruit more African American teachers, especially male teachers. But, though there is some recent evidence to suggest that Black male students accomplish more in classrooms led by Black teachers (Murrell, 2002; Tyson, 2003), this is not always the case. In Gouldner's (1978) classic three-year ethnographic study of four all-Black, inner-city schools in the Midwest, the researcher found that Black kindergarten teachers "directed the lion's share of their negative responses to boys rather than girls" (p. 73) - more than 5 1/2 times more in one classroom - and that "these early divisions tended to become permanent during the kindergarten year and generally carried over through first and second grade" (p. 130). Teaching Black male students is the concern of all educators, but the focus of concern for the foreseeable future will continue to be on the challenges Black male students present to White, mostly female teachers.

The public school system, and indeed society as a whole, send multiple messages to young Black males, which tell them they are undesirable and will not amount to much in society. Eventually, many young men accept and internalize this message and begin



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