Equity & Diversity Opinion

Failing on Purpose or Socialized to Fail?

By Richard Whitmire — October 24, 2011 1 min read
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Note: This is a guest post by John Michael Lee Jr., PhD., policy director for the Advocacy and Policy Center in the Advocacy, Government Relations and Development unit at the College Board.

A recent BBC article asserts that African -Caribbean males are failing on purpose, and advances the notion that educational achievement by African-Caribbean males is deemed as Feminine.

The story says:

Black schoolboys can choose to perform poorly to avoid undermining their masculinity, the head of the Jamaican Teachers' Association has said. Adolph Cameron said that in Jamaica, where homophobia was a big issue, school success was often seen as feminine or "gay". He was concerned the same cultural attitude was affecting African-Caribbean male students in the UK.

Though the article is directed at African-Caribbeans in the UK, the same is true for African American and other men of color here in the United States. However, I don’t think it is the case that these young men are failing on purpose. Instead, these men of color are the victims of a society that has feminized education, and communities that reinforce this notion among men. The first thing that males recognize as they traverse primary and secondary schools is the fact that the overwhelming majority of teachers are women. This fact alone reinforces a notion that males are not and do not become educators. This fact also leads to a lack of males who enter the education field in America and around the world.

Further, young men are socialized to the fact that being smart is not cool in their communities, while minority women do not have this same expectation. For example, African American females can be smart and still be considered cool. However, African American males who are smart are considered to be gay, weak, and unpopular. The environments that harbor minority males reinforce these social interactions and then they become habitulaized in minority male behavior. In general, masculine behaviors are rewarded by society and through social interaction, and men have been socialized to reject feminine behaviors. The concept of capital is important to fully understanding how men, and men of color specifically, develop their particular forms of masculinity. Yet I will post on this topic later in the week
What must be changed though is the notion that academic success is associated only as feminine behavior, and we must stop the social and cultural rewarding of the lack of this behavior in men of color.

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The opinions expressed in Why Boys Fail 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.