Commentary

A Radical Approach To Educating Young Black Males

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The inability of urban public schools to stem the tide of failure that characterizes the plight of black male children in the inner city is well documented. The myriad reasons given for this situation are also well documented, and appear always to focus on the children or their environment as the cause. The most common reasons cited for their academic and social failings are that such boys come from poor, single-parent, female-headed households, that they have no positive male role models, and that they view the educational setting as feminine and not relevant to their daily lives.

However true or false the reasons given for our failure to help this group of children may be, the widespread blame-the-victim mentality does not begin to ameliorate the problem. Yet, the consequences of this failure are quite evident in the high dropout rate of black males, in the large numbers of young black males who populate our prisons, and, most alarmingly, in the epidemic of homicide among black males in their teens and 20's.

A vast array of intervention strategies have been and continue to be tried to bring about scholastic success among this group of youths. However, like many attempts at correcting problems in our society, most of these remediation efforts are introduced after students have already failed. The absence of preventative strategies contrasts sharply with the proliferation of remediation models.

In attempting to override aspects of the cultural environment in which these boys exist outside the classroom, we must begin to develop new and creative models that are intrinsic to the educative process--models that are aimed at preventing the development of negative attitudes toward academic achievement displayed by many young inner-city boys.

The literature and research in the field of social-learning behavior, specifically that which deals with imitative and modeling behaviors of children, may provide some clues as to why inner-city black girls are generally more successful academically than their male peers.

A variety of factors appear to determine whether a child will imitate the behavior of an adult model. Sex, race, power, authority, attractiveness, and perceived similarity to self are among the determinants that have been found to be important antecedents to imitative behavior in children. This knowledge may provide us with an approach to the prevention of academic failure in inner-city black boys, specifically, and male students, generally.

One of the most obvious psychosocial deficits in the environment of inner-city black boys is the lack of consistent, positive, literate, black, male role models. It is here, I am certain, that urban school systems can begin to make a difference in the lives of young black males. By creating all-male classes in kindergarten through 3rd grade, taught by black male teachers, I suggest that many of the negative attitudes toward education developed by inner-city boys in the primary years can be overcome. I believe that current strategies of educational intervention simply start too late in the academic experience of these boys.

Generally, girls enter school more prepared than boys for the activities that characterize early schooling. In addition, inner-city black girls are exposed very early in their academic careers to positive, consistent, literate, black females who offer alternative role models to those encountered in the girls' non-school environments. And just as important, perhaps, is the fact that many of the instructional strategies used in early-childhood and primary education require children to copy the behavior modeled by the teacher.

This early exposure to different and new options for imitation and modeling--ones that might not be available in their home environments--may constitute the most crucial element in such girls' initial academic achievement.

However, to the young black male, the early school environment may appear no different from his preschool surroundings. Since the majority of such boys do come from single-parent, female-headed households, their most significant role models for the first four or five years of their lives have been their female relatives. Early school experiences provide few, if any, adult male role models for these young boys.

In most elementary schools, the principals, assistant principals, teachers, and counselors are frequently all female. Is it any wonder that young boys often begin to view school and academic activities as feminine, when their early primary experiences are devoid of adult males, with the exception of the maintenance staff? Most boys do not have male teachers until they enter the later elementary grades or junior high school, and for the inner-city boy this is much, much too late. However, men who are trained in early-childhood education can make a difference by their very presence as part of the instructional staff.

The educational community must examine the possibility that the lack of positive, black, male role models in the early lives of inner-city boys may be the basis for their reluctance to pursue academic achievement. These boys need to be exposed to alternative black male role models as early in their lives and academic careers as black girls are to female role models.

I believe that black youths in our inner cities, consciously or unconsciously, begin to reject females as inappropriate role models, because women cannot provide the example these boys find realistic for survival in the milieu they must live in outside the home and school.

No matter how nurturant, loving, and kind women may be, they just do not constitute appropriate models for these boys to emulate, because the behavior associated with them is always viewed as feminine. Unfortunately, for that reason, the only consistently available role models, who exhibit behaviors these boys consider appropriate for imitation, are males who have already, in most instances, rejected educational achievement as inappropriate for them. Thus, the cycle continues.

If we are to bring about a greater measure of academic success for inner-city boys, and provide many with the only father figure they will ever know, we must consider recruiting many more males to teach at the early-elementary level. The first task is to expand the number of males applying to institutions of teacher training. For instance, school systems, private enterprise, foundations, and other sources could offer scholarships to males who want to enter the early-childhood field.

Finally, the black community, with its wealth of resources, should assist the schools in the training of young black boys. The many fraternities, Masonic lodges, men's church groups, and athletic organizations should start dialogues on how they can assist teachers of young boys.

We must remember that, unlike the enforced segregation of the past, when black communities contained a diversity of men and women from all occupational and class groups, today's segregated black communities of the inner city are devoid of such diversity.

As a people, we must have renewed faith in ourselves, and in our ability to provide the assistance necessary to save our children. We must undertake the arduous task of training the current population of young black boys to be responsible for their actions, and to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that are available to those who are willing to accept schooling as the road to success.

Vol. 06, Issue 26, Page 24

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