Community’s Role in Schooling Stressed at ‘Black Family Summit’

By Susan G. Foster — May 16, 1984 4 min read

Nashville--Citing the failure of the public schools to serve black students adequately, participants at a “Black Family Summit” here urged representatives of the nation’s leading black organizations to develop educational programs of their own that will motivate and improve the students’ academic performance.

The meeting was convened by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League to examine educational, social, and economic conditions that affect black families and to devise strategies to help them to attack their problems.

Among the 200 organizations represented at the three-day meeting earlier this month were the National Black United Front, Jack & Jill of America Inc., the National Black Child Development Institute, the Association of Black Psychologists, the National Council of Negro Women, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the National Alliance of Black School Educators.

Goals for Parents

Reaffirming their commitment to “high quality education,” members of the meeting’s education task force produced a series of recommendations, developed during several closed-work sessions, intended to help black students and their parents deal more effectively with their schools.

The recommendations call on black organizations to help parents: create a “supportive learning environment” in the home; foster and sustain self-esteem, pride, and6motivation to learn in their children; discuss career goals with their children that are related to the changing marketplace; and monitor school-board activities and decisions, as well as programs in their children’s schools.

To improve the academic performance of black students, the task-force members suggested that black organizations develop supplemental programs in academic subjects, in test-taking, and in analytical and critical-thinking skills. In addition, they cited the need for programs in the community that provide career counseling, teach black history and culture, and are designed specifically for the children of working parents.

“The problems of the black family relate ... to problems in housing, in health care, in education, and a host of other fields,” said John E. Jacob, president of the National Urban League. “In concentrating on the wrongs of discrimination and poverty, we may have neglected the fact that there is a lot we can do about our own problems ourselves. Government and private-sector action is a necessity, but so too are the services and the concern black organizations can provide.”

Problem of Pregnancy

A number of those who spoke at the meeting cited the growing number of teen-age mothers as a major concern for the black community. About one-fourth of all black births, according to Mr. Jacob, are to teen-age mothers and four-fifths of those births occur outside marriage. As a result, he said, a disproportionate number of black households are headed by females and those families are more likely to be poor.

“The birth of a baby often means the end of schooling for adolescent mothers,” Mr. Jacob said. “Forty percent of black female school dropouts leave school because of pregnancy.” About half of those students never receive a high-school diploma, he added.

“That’s about 45,000 young women per year, or more than the number of black women who graduate from college each year,” Mr. Jacob said, referring to the number of black teen-agers who become pregnant.

Call to Institutions

Asa Hilliard, Ernest Callaway Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University, said in a keynote address that “every black institution must now become an educational institution” in order to teach traditional values that will strengthen black families. “You cannot leave it up to television or families to find out who they were,” he said, urging black churches to use their publishing houses to publish the works of black educators, historians, and other writers.

James Cromer, professor of psychiatry at the Child Study Center at Yale University, attributed some of the prob-lems experienced by many black students to the changes that have occurred in the roles schools play in children’s socialization.

Schools’ Role Faulted

During the last two decades, Dr. Cromer said, educators have ignored the responsibilities “for developing the family” that the schools formerly accepted. “Education failed to do this because it saw its role as giving people the kind of information that would allow them to function in an information society,” he said.

“Children now receive more information than ever before, have more options than ever before, but they have fewer trusted adults in their lives than ever before,” said Dr. Cromer, who is the associate dean of the Yale Medical School.

Because of the increasing mobility of individuals in society, Dr. Cromer said, there are “fewer people supporting the development of our children, which means schools must do more, and do more systematically.” He said schools cannot continue under a system that sets up the “principal as the total authoritarian figure.”

“It’s possible to modify school programs so that children can achieve at their expected levels and better,” Dr. Cromer said. “But until you do something with parents, teachers, and principals, you’re not going to [achieve] anything with the educational system in this country,” he added, urging black families to build “partnerships” with school officials.

A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 1984 edition of Education Week as Community’s Role in Schooling Stressed at ‘Black Family Summit’