Black Children, in 'Crisis,' Said Getting Little Help
Washington--The nation's 10 million black children, burdened by severe and persistent effects of poverty and discrimination, are in a state of "crisis," according to black educators, social workers, and community leaders who met here this month.
"It is not overstating the case to say the black child is a child in crisis," said Evelyn K. Moore, executive director of the National Black Child Development Institute, which sponsored the conference.
"Our children are dropping out of school at higher rates than white children," she continued. "Our children are being placed in special-education programs in disproportionate numbers. Our children are falling victim to teen pregnancy and drugs. Our children are unemployed."
American institutions, from the federal government to schools and social-service agencies, she and oth-er speakers charged, are failing black youngsters and can no longer be relied upon by the black community to provide solutions. Instead, they argued, the community's own institutions--families, churches, and black-run organizations--must develop the capacity themselves to aid black children.
Donald H. Smith, president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, warned participants not to view less rigorous academic standards as a way to improve the educational performance of black children. "Academic excellence is attainable by all children," he said, arguing that parents and educators should instead raise their expectations for black students.
According to National Black Child Development Institute statistics, 43 percent of black males ages 14 to 17 and 38 percent of black fe-males in the same age group currently are not achieving at grade level.
The National Alliance of Black Educators has set up educational goals for black children--in mathematics, science, political science, and other subjects--that are higher than standards set for most students, according to Mr. Smith. He suggested, for example, that black children should be encouraged to take such advanced work as algebra in the 6th grade and calculus in the 12th grade.
"Even if the person behind the superintendent's desk is black, we mustn't be afraid to push," he said.
In addition, Mr. Smith said, education for black students must include learning about black culture, starting with the history of African people and including discussions designed to encourage self-esteem. "We have raised a generation of kids that hate black people," he contended, suggesting that little improvement in the academic prospects of such students is possible without concomitant growth in their sense of self-worth.
Suggesting a grass-roots approach echoed in many of the sessions at the conference, Mr. Smith encouraged members of black communities to devise their own curriculum to fulfill the needs of black students and to teach it in homes, churches, and black community groups.
One of the most serious problems in black communities is teen-age pregnancy, according to Joy Dryfoos, adjunct associate professor atthe Center for Population and Family Health at Columbia University. She urged participants to support the establishment of school-based health clinics, which she called a promising strategy for preventing unwanted pregnancies and for improving the health of black teen-agers.
At such clinics, she said, students could receive routine medical care for minor injuries, family-planning counseling and referral, and, in some cases, prescription of birth-control methods.
Interest in school-based clinics is growing rapidly, Ms. Dryfoos reported. She said a few dozen people interested in and involved with such clinics attended a conference on the subject last year but 250 people attended a second conference held recently in Chicago, and another 100 people were turned away for lack of space.