Americans take a lot of pride in being members of a diverse society - one of opportunity for every citizen. When matters of racial disparity are raised, we point to our current President and pat ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come as a nation. While there has been significant progress in narrowing prejudices and racism throughout the nation, we still have a long way to go before we can declare true equality. One of the most glaringly obvious examples of our failures when it comes to true quality of life for our citizens centers on Black men in America - who begin as Black boys in our K-12 classrooms.
In the first three installments of this series, I have looked at how the educational process, judicial systems and workforce work against the needs the Black boys, often ignoring their plights in their early stages until they have escalated to a point where they cannot be fixed. I’ve looked at ways to turn these dismal statistics around and called for better acknowledgement of the actual problems in order to find resolutions.
Today I want to look at the state of Black men today and whether as a demographic, the group has separated itself from mainstream culture. With low levels of educational achievement and high levels of incarceration, Black men as a collective demographic run counter to the rest of the country and the roots of that outsider’s life are planted in K-12 classrooms.
A Life of Crime
It may seem stereotypical to think of the prisons in America as overflowing with Black criminals, but the statistics tend to back that up. It appears that the plight of black men and the law is actually getting worse too. In the 1970s, a black man was twice as likely as a white one to get arrested. By 1998, that number had risen to five times as likely. The NAACP estimates that one in every three Black young men will face incarceration at one point or another in their lives, and African Americans account for 1 million of the total 2.3 million Americans in jail or prison.
As I mentioned in an earlier post in this series, in school Black boys tend to face harsher punishments than their White and Hispanic peers for the same infractions, and receive two-thirds of all suspensions in the nation’s K-12 schools. It’s not a stretch to connect these statistics; what happens to any of us in our formative years often has a profound effect on the people we become as adults. For Black boys who find themselves involved in a life of crime early on, even non-violent ones, there is a “do your time” and then move on mentality. Receiving the label as a young adult, whether deserved or not, often is not a wakeup call for Black young men but instead perpetuates a stereotype that they struggle to escape for the rest of their lives. Black boys who are quite literally pushed out of their schools at a young age are forced to start down a path outside mainstream society - one that is unlikely to right itself as they grow older.
Not Enough Education
More high school graduates than ever are going to college, whether pursuing traditional four-year degrees or earning associate degrees at the increasingly-competitive community colleges of the nation. Black men are not keeping up with the momentum though - in fact, many still struggle to simply obtain a high school diploma. Only 54 percent of the nation’s Black students graduate from high school on a traditional path and more Black women than men earn that distinction. When it comes to college, the Black women again outnumber the men in enrollment and graduation rates but still only 14 percent of the African American population has graduated from college by their mid-20s. Without a strong proportion of Black young men attending college, the demographic as a whole falls behind the rest of society when it comes to workplace achievements and earnings. Once again, the group lives outside of the mainstream, steps behind where the rest of the nation is headed. The end results of lacking education are born in K-12 classrooms though. It’s an epidemic that needs a closer look if we hope to keep this group of Americans in the mainstream and away from further isolation.
It will take concentrated efforts on the part of educators, administrators and lawmakers to reverse the trend of underachieving Black boys in our schools, who live below their potential as adults. It may be too late to change the outcomes for the men in society now, but with the right initiatives we can change the course of the young men in our K-12 schools today.
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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.