Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Left unfixed, problems of black males will hurt all Americans

By DeWayne Wickham

As I read the Council of the Great City Schools report on the problems of black males in urban schools, my mind raced back to a day in the fall of 2006 when I took my then-13-year-old daughter to her piano lesson.

Arriving early, we stopped at a Friendly’s restaurant to get ice cream. When the young black male who waited on us said the cones cost $3.32, I handed him a $5 bill. But as he tried to input this payment, his cash register malfunctioned and wouldn’t tell him the correct change.

The young man’s eyes glistened as he mumbled barely audible sounds of his struggle to manually compute the difference. Then, as customers in line behind us began to voice their frustration, my daughter threw him a lifeline. “You owe us $1.68,” she said softly.

Outside the store she asked quizzically: “What school does he go to? He’s a lot older than I am, and he couldn’t figure that out.” He could have gone to just about any school.

“Black males continue to perform lower than their peers throughout the country on almost every indicator,” the Washington-based Council of the Great Schools, which represents the nation’s 66 largest urban public school systems, said in a recent report.

While much of the news coverage of the council’s gut-wrenching report has focused on the failure of nearly all fourth- and eighth-grade black males to read and do math at proficiency levels, less attention has been paid to its conclusion that educational improvements alone won’t fix this problem. What’s needed, the council said, is a “concerted national effort to improve the education, social and employment outcomes of African-American males.”

If you think that’s just a warmed-over pitch for more funding of a liberal agenda, you’re being shortsighted. In 13 years, minorities will be a majority of this nation’s children younger than 18. In just 29 years, most working-age Americans will be black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American. This nation will be hard-pressed to remain the world’s leading economy if a sizeable — and growing — share of its potential workforce is slipping through the gaping holes in our education system.

“It has not become apparent to America yet that we are all in this boat together. In the past it was easier for people to think if something happened in that part of the boat occupied by blacks, it wouldn’t impact the whole ship,” Nat Irvin, a futurist at the University of Louisville, said of the council’s report.

“If people think the nation can continue to do well economically in about 30 years when minorities become the largest population group,” and nothing is done to address the black male education problem, “they’re kidding themselves,” he said.

A comprehensive plan is needed — one that recognizes the connection between the social and economic environment from which these underachieving students come and the educational setting into which they are sent.

The council wants a White House conference to address this crisis. People need to recognize this is a problem that can’t be solved with generalized education reform. It demands a targeted effort to help black males.

If the nation continues this neglect, underachieving black males will produce enough dead weight to sink the American ship of state.


pimplife01 said...

While I understand your premise I must respectfully disagree. The high numbers of incarcerated, unemployed, underemployed, and noneducated African Amercian males serve a distinct purpose in American society. I don’t have the time or space to explain what type of disturbance it would cause in society if there was a predominance of well educated and informed African American males, it would create such a problem for the supposed natural order of things that the tea party would seem diminutive compared to the outcry that would ensue from such a development and seismic shift. Everything in society is set up to keep African Americans dumb and happy, from hip hop culture and the glorification of everything bad, to the education system which purposely miseducates our youth. A permanent underclass is what keeps capitalist societies afloat a nation of uneducated consumers and low skill workers is what made America and has kept America the world’s lone hegemony. In short keeping Black folks dumb is what has made America what she is today.

IndigoErth said...

I would like to see a study that looks at the students in that demographic who are doing WELL. What do they have that the others do not, and what can be done to change that.

If a large factor is, as it often seems, that so many students who do poorly (of any skin color really) have no one in their family that gives a rat's behind, how is a country or school supposed to change what a family instills in these children. How to get to kids if no one in their family cares about their education nor pushes them to be and do their best, how to change the minds of kids taught at home to be completely apathetic about education.

BigmacInPittsburgh said...

Thank you Mr.Wickham for touching on a subject that is so near and dear to my heart.
Here in Pittsburgh where I reside education is the last thing on the agenda of so many Black folk that I encounter.
Most accept the conditions thrown at them without a peep.
Until we all become more aware of the social and economic ramifications of a poor education nothing will change.

I think the first thing before anything is changed,we need to first fix the apathy.

Bigvic said...

Pimplife01 probably has said one of the most profound thing on blogspot that I have read in a long time.

That said, I must add that real problem facing not only Black males today, but Americans in general is a cultural problem. I will try an explain to the best of my abilities in just one post. As has said before, what keeps a capitalist society afloat is uneducated consumers. But uneducated consumers do not just spring up out of nowhere. No, in fact they are manufactured by what is today American "culture", a celebrity culture that idolizes materials and money, and the people who make that money, regardless of effort or ethics. Of course that is what is desirable of a culture in a Capitalist society, they would not want be people questioning the validity Marginal Productivity theory over Labor theory of Value. Now this love and desire of money that is so pervasive in our society as a result of our culture is in complete contradiction to what a real education is about. Is it a surprise that America is at the bottom of industrialized countries in terms of education? We view education in this country as a way of further profiting for ourselves, instead of seeing it as an intrinsic in of itself. We have become Thrasymachus and Glaucon, desiring education and knowledge for its consequences and nothing more. When combining the fact that Capitalism inherently promotes an ethics of minimal effort and cheating at any opportunity that lead to an advantage, to the fact that capitalism also inherently promotes a culture that leads to the desire and obsession of money which alienates people from the values of education (something both Adam Smith and Karl Marx have noted)it cannot be of any surprise the current problem we are in. The great contradiction of all this, or paradox I should say, is that capitalism and society as a whole to function and maintain itself requires education to further reinvent itself, therefore capitalism is bound to weaken itself and eventually destroy itself (at least in one pole of the world, although it can easily be reborn in other poles simultaneously).

considering how a hip hop that is infused capitalism materialism is stuffed down the throats of Black males in this country, it really is no surprise what the outcomes are.

Constructive Feedback said...

Mr Wickham:

As I have observed the naval gazing about this report on Black male academic attainment over the past few weeks I can't help but noting a certain pattern in the responses from the "Black Establishment" (which I consider you a part of per your role in the press).

I have not seen any of you notate that TODAY these students stand in the "Mission Accomplished" zone of "Struggles Past". Favorable people now control the key institutions (and the homes) that are necessary to establish the environment for learning. These young men are our future, after all. At least we are told.

In her speech given on the National Mall on October 2, 2010, I listened to the words given by educational activist Marian Wright Edleman that were broadcast on C-SPAN and noted that I could have easily imagined her saying the very same words on Oct, 2, 1970.

The key distinction, Mr Wickham is that back in 1970's Ms Edleman would have been standing outside of the local school board headquarters seeking entrance. In 2010, with the majority of the seats on the school board now occupied with "favorable people", Mr Wickham, Mrs Edleman, like you now chooses to look past the unmet promises of "the struggle" and instead seeks one more step in the struggle - the NATIONALIZATION of the indictment.

You see Mr Wickham I do not doubt that this is a national problem. None of us can move out of the failing school systems believing that we are immune.

What we have instead is a LOCAL failure of "Human Resource Management" that is now grossly misaligned from our community (and racial) goals. Sadly, Mr Wickham, this failure will go unpunished.

Where are your words remind us "Who is at the wheel" as you would no doubt do if an ideological adversary was primarily to blame?

Why doesn't the "Black Press" lead the challenge for the inspection of "the Machine" that has brought us to this point, making the case for a new direction?

Why is it that the prior protests at the foot of the local school boards implicitly showed their power and culpability for the problems with Black Education yet today as there are "favorable people" empaneled - they are allowed to join the "March On Washington", avoiding being protested against?

We can't go on like this, Mr Wickham.

anotherview said...

As a past catholic school board member, I saw first hand the advantages of private/parochial school educations in some locations. While I know there are many public school parents very happy with their kid's schools, I also know there are many that aren't. The parents that aren't happy are generally from the poorer neighborhoods - where the local public schools are often dominated by a cadre of kids who don't want to learn. They intimidate (physically and mentally) those kids that do want to learn.

I suspect many of the black males that DeWayne discusses are in this category. Sure, some percentage are those that don't want to learn. But for those kids that do want to learn and make something of themselves, we have to give them a chance. Sending them to a local public school that is a battleground - not a learning institution - offers them no chance.

If they could go down the block to the private / parochial school where the intimidators are not allowed they would have a chance. The current government monopoly on education doesn't allow this to happen. Busing solutions, while an attempt to solve the problem, create so many other problems that they have never worked.

So, it is time to let parents - not the government - decide what's best for their kids. Give the parents a voucher and let them decide. Why should the government dictate that the parent tax money must be spent at by sending their kids to a school where they know failure will result for the child.