Detroit's Male Academies: What the Real Issue Is
I was very disappointed by the federal-court decision in Detroit requiring that the "male academies" there become like all the other schools that disproportionately place African-American males in lower-track classes, special education, remedial reading, and suspensions. There are several issues involved, which include:
- 1. The need for the academies.
- 2. The self-determination of the African-American community.
- 3. The plight of African-American females.
- 4. The legal parameters.
It should be a given nationwide that African-American males are underachieving. They constitute 8.5 percent of the public-school population, but represent 36 percent of the special-education students. African-American males are 37 percent of all students suspended. In New York City, over 60 percent of all males drop out of high school and in Milwaukee, 90 percent of African-American males possess a grade-point average of less than a 2.0. Detroit's male academies were conceived as experimental schools to better understand how to develop high-achieving male students.
I believe there is a relationship between education and incarceration. Presently, there are 609,000 African-American men in prison, compared with 436,000 in college. Judge Eugene Pincham in Chicago has pointed out that 95 percent of the men who appeared in his court could not read beyond a 6th-grade level and did not graduate from high school. It is amazing how the American Civil Liberties Union and the Now Legal Defense and Education Fund can be against this male academy, but not the male academy of special education, the male detention school, remedial reading, suspensions, dropouts, and inmates. When I visit these classes and institutions, they remind me of a negative male academy. The Detroit Board of Education simply wanted to turn a negative experience into something positive.
It concerns me that many black educators said the male academies would return us to segregation. I wonder when they last visited Detroit's or any other major city's public schools. Detroit had a greater than 90 percent African-American student population before the conception of the male academies. How can you integrate a district with 10 percent? If you visit the schools, you will find large numbers of male students in the types of negative classes I have cited. African-American beys in Detroit were segregated before the male academies.
The fundamental question is, do African-Americans have the right to determine what is in their best interests. For some groups, this is a nice theoretical issue to discuss, give media attention to, and form blue-ribbon commissions for further investigations. For those of us committed to the liberation of African-American people, who have sons, and/or are aware that by the year 2000, 70 percent of African-American males will be unavailable to African-American women--this is not a theoretical issue. We are at war to save the African-American male child.
We are very much aware that African-American females are also underachieving, leading the world in teen pregnancy, and are paid less than other American workers. Separate schools for teen mothers before and after pregnancy are currently in existence in Detroit. The reality is that more males go to special education and remedial reading, are suspended, drop out, and go to prison than females, who exceed African-American males in college. They observe female role models at home and in the classroom, while African-American males may not see their counterparts in either. Only 38 percent of African-American children have fathers present, and only 1.2 percent of teachers are African-American males.
Studies indicate that teachers have higher expectations for female students, call upon them more in class, and give them greater feedback. Teachers value females, who by and large have a longer attention span and are less active in the classroom than males. Female students do not discriminate against males, but teachers do compare males to females. This couldn't happen in a male academy.
Ultimately, this issue is not about the plight of African-American males, females, or the community, it is about the legal parameters within which African-Americans can express themselves. African Americans have to petition the same Constitution and court that classified them as three-fifths a person and never fully understood that Brown v. Board of Education was argued by Thurgood Marshall more to secure equality than integration.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was not fully aware that many white children would enroll in private schools, busing would be one way, African-American schools would close, there would be a reduction in African-American principals and teachers, parents would have difficulty attending a meeting miles from home, and, due to "tracking," schools would appear integrated on the outside, but be segregated within classrooms. Many schools have a predominantly white Advanced Placement class and a large African-American basic division.
Though the Detroit Board of Education has decided not to appeal this particular court decision, the battle will continue. We will start additional schools across the country. We will study the judge's favorable ruling in the Virginia Military Institute case--that that institution's for-males-only status could be upheld because it contributed to the larger fabric of American culture.
If the objective is to ensure that females are given equal opportunities, this can be accomplished through the provision of female classes within such schools or by separate schools for females and males. If all else fails, we will operate separate male and female classes within a regular school. We will win because it's not about the A.C.L.U. and NOW, it's about saving the African-American male child from extinction.
Jawanza Kunjufu is an author, educator, and filmmaker. His books include Lessons From History, Developing Positive Self Images and Discipline in Black Children, and Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys.