The lost boys of Detroit
Among all the major demographic groups in US, African-American (black) males experience the poorest educational outcomes…African-Americans lag substantially behind other groups….At its heart, such educational inequality for black males is a moral issue; a challenge to fairness or justice in a society in which education is the major public instrument for ‘leveling the playing field’ (Levin et.al., 2007).
On Sept. 3, 2013 Detroit’s Public Schools will open their doors for another academic year. The trials and tribulations of African American males’ educational status has always been a point of contention in America’s Public Educational system.
Historical agendas have predetermined what persons of color can and cannot do in America’s educational systems. In 1895 the United State Supreme Court decided, via Plessey v Ferguson, that equal facilities could be separate for blacks and whites.
Accordingly, this decision created the separate but equal doctrine that was practiced until 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education stated in part “In the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal and to separate those [black children] solely on basis of their color may affect their hearts and minds in a way likely ever to be undone.”
The vision of this court ruling, “…may affect their hearts and minds in a way likely ever to be undone…” (1954) appears to have energized a self-filling prophecy.
The United States’ government has been playing catch up for decades. President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty (1964) which denied federal funds to public schools with racially discriminatory programs, a Nation at Risk (1981), and No Child Left Behind (2001) were all designed with additives for children of color to gain the needed resources that would provide equal educational opportunities. Accordingly, black adolescent males have been (and are) shaped by “historical events and their residual effects” (Tatum, 2005).
Their current circumstances have placed them at risk of educational failure, and their immediate alternatives can determine if they remain part of the problem, or become part of the solution—a disproportionate amount are remanded to juvenile correctional facilities.
Clearly, the political history cannot be discounted when examining the overall structure of the educational system in America as it relates to persons of color. Black males did not spontaneously become at risk of educational failure.
The ramifications of these at-risk factors range from learned helplessness to low self-esteem, unemployment, and ultimately juvenile delinquency.
The American educational system maintains the ideology of an equal opportunity educational policy. However, this ideology requires and begins with an equal access to the same facilities, but persons of an African heritage traditionally have had less access to the economic and social opportunities that pave the way for equal educational opportunities.
Jawanza Kunjufu (1986, 2008) insists that educational institutions in America have historically established practices that deny black males access to equal opportunity. Kunjufu blames the educational system for destroying the aspirations of Black boys more than any other social institution in America.
Kunjufu contends those black boys’ aspirations are destroyed by tracking, ability grouping, special education, and standardized testing; thereby placing them at risk of educational failure.
Counseling third grade males, as a peer mentor for the Detroit Board of Education, gave me additional insight into the hopes, dreams, and traumas of little African American boys. Visiting their classrooms would always be an adventure. The stories they would tell about school and family would go uninterrupted as my team would become their sounding board, advocates, and role models.
On any given visit there would be fifteen to seventeen little boys seated in the classrooms who were energetic, wide-eyed, and very curious. Comparatively, this was a very different configuration from the classroom that I occupied as a faculty member at Wayne State University (WSU) during the same time I served as a peer mentor.
For over ten years I taught speech communication in the College of Fine, Performing, and Communication Arts at WSU. The classes were full with twenty-five or more students. However, I could count the African American males in my communication classes on one hand.
Where are the little third grade boys who started out? Is addressing the crisis of the black males mine and mine alone? I think not. My grandson will be in the first grade on Sept. 3 in a Detroit Public School. I am standing on my watch.
Tatum, A. W. (2005). Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males. Portland, Maine. Stenhouse Publishers.
Levin, H., Belfield, C., Muenning, P., Rouse, C. (2007) The Public Returns to Public Educational Investments in African American Males. Economics of Education Review. Vol 26. pp. 700 -709. www.elsevier.com/locate/econedurev