It’s parent-teacher time. We sit and listen. Our son’s elementary teacher refused to place him into a higher math. It had been done before. We had provided independent test results that showed he was performing at middle school proficiency. The school had already tested him and found him gifted. His teacher said our son was just too immature. No proof would change her mind. My wife and I were convinced that our son didn’t fit her perception of a smart student. As our son now enters high school as a freshman, we wonder if he will survive these societal pressures.
As students start another school year, parents hope for a good one. However, I wonder whether beneath the surface things will improve for America’s children. We regularly hear about bad students and low performers in America’s schools. My discussion isn’t about the ‘bad’ kids but the good ones. In the 1960’s novel Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin, a white man, discovered the perils of black life. His experience transformed his outlook about black people. Likewise, I hope you will have a similar experience as we analyze the plight of America’s children.
Today’s society breeds young black boys to become entertainers and sport heroes, not engineers, lawyers, or doctors. The media showcase young black boys as dangerous, violent, and sexual. Do we really care that Billy is dumb as a rock if he can dunk a basketball or run a touchdown for our team? In general, all boys in America aren’t performing as well as we might hope. However, the storyline for black boys is frightening. Young black males lead every negative statistic you can imagine. They have the worst test scores, drop-out rates, and unemployment statistics.
In many school systems, black males were twice as likely to be suspended as female students. Surprisingly, even in some largely suburban schools where there are few blacks, blacks make up the majority of the suspensions. While they may fail in school, they become more successful in America’s prison system. From the low social condition of black boys, it is easy to understand that every major institution has failed them and allowed to them to become the prey of urban culture. Today’s culture, aided by mass media, bombards impressionable youth with conflicting value systems.
For most involved black parents, the problems with their sons happen regardless of socioeconomic standing. They must deal with the calls for medication, special education placement, or holding their child back. While individuals may find black males missing in honors classes in most high schools, you can be assured that they will make up most of the special education students. Many youth underperform so that they can fit in. Smart and hardworking students are often victimized and hassled by peers. This same culture tells them that an education is associated with being white. Some conform to cultural pressures and underperform. They have no role models. Today, it is possible for a child to go K-12 without ever having a black teacher in some school systems.
Even though the situation is difficult, many individuals continue to fight for these boys. Organizations such as The 100 Black Men attempt to make a difference. However, more black men need to become involved in all facets of America’s children’s lives. Everyone can benefit from a positive male figure. Some feel it is too late. Phillip Jackson, author of America Has Lost A Generation of Black Boys, suggests, “It is too late. In education, employment, economics, incarceration, health, housing, and parenting, we have lost a generation of young black men.”
Clearly, America is at a critical stage of its history. If America wants to compete in a global era, the issue of low-performing students will need to be addressed. Is America serious about the fate of young black boys? We are all interrelated. However, if good people decide to do nothing with this impending danger, it will be a fatal mistake. If so--please forgive us young brothers for not throwing you a life-line. Rest in peace (RIP) or live.