How Do We Help Black Boys In School?

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Most of the African Americans I know are concerned about the dismal high school graduation rates for young Black men, which are now below fifty percent. It’s something that concerns me because I’ve seen the impact of males dropping out within my own family.

Recently, Mark Anthony Neal blogged about this issue over at Here’s an excerpt from that post:

Though there are examples of “boys being boys” that deserve heavy scrutiny and critique, particularly in relation to male gender privilege and personal interactions with women and girls, the racialized dynamic of boyhood in America means that White males are viewed, as Ferguson puts it, as “naturally naughty” while black boys are seen as “willfully bad.” In this context the behavior of Black boys takes on adult attributes and their transgressions, according to Ferguson, “take on a sinister, intentional, fully conscious tone, that is stripped of any element of childish naïveté.”

This dynamic is more fully manifested in the criminal justice system, where young Black men are incarcerated for minor infractions, whereas their White peers are more often offered counseling in response to comparable infractions. Black families are often complicit in this process by endowing boys with monikers like “little man” or “big man” in response to the absence of adult males in the family. Additionally the Black male body is also policed as the gestures associated with the performances of Black masculinity are often viewed by teachers as evidence of insubordination and disrespect. This is also a situation that affects Black girls, whose performances of “Black Girlness” are often read as examples of insolence.

Though this post discusses racism toward Black males in the education system, Brother Neal offers some real–and new–solutions, ones  that don’t just end up at the same stale brick walls. This post was seriously eye-opening and you can read the rest of the post by heading over to

3 thoughts on “How Do We Help Black Boys In School?

  1. This is so true. For almost 15 years I worked in a large midwestern school District with students considered “at-risk” in grades K-12. The twin-cities are the home to a prestigious university. Black students in general performed badly in comparison to whites in the schools and black boys were at the bottom of that list. In one of my positions I spent lots of time in the suspension room and put together a report one year. The numbers revealed the students who got the least amount of referrals looked like teachers–white and female–and those who got the most referrals had the least in common with the teachers. Black boys are disprortionately labeled BD and as the years progressed the numbers who were on drugs grew. I’ve seen children medicated into an almost zombie-like state–unable to eat, communicate coherently or anything. They’re just there. As an aside, I am a single parent of two young men and there was an effort to label both ADHD by teachers. I refused to put either on on drugs and the attempt to label just went away. My youngest who is now 20 later tested as gifted. He scored a 26 composite on his ACT and a 29 in Science, yet was in the bottom of his class at graduation. My oldest who is now 30 didn’t graduate from regular high school. He received his degree through the Job Corps program. I am so grateful that even after an unsuccesfful first year at EIU, my youngest was accepted into Tuskegee University this year as an Electrical Engineering major. He already seems more “settled” into a work mode and I do believe he’s going to be successful there and I think the black male faculty has a lot to with it because these are the first intelligent black men he’s been exposed to as teachers.

    Anyway, in my time in the schools I definitely have witnessed that white female teachers have difficulty with boys in general and especially with black boys. I felt some were inappropriate in their demeanor with young black men in middle- and high-school–often too deferential to them and unable to interact with them comfortably as an authoritarian. At the elementary level I watched boys respond totally different to male teachers, female AA teachers and to white women teachers who were effective. I agree that white boys often are given counseling rather than punitive consequences for behavior. But, they are also often drugged by their parents and given all sorts of diagnoses for their issues. The students who typically seem to do the best are those in the middle and who are the most docile. Students living in poverty and students who are wealthy tend to have the most difficulty. Of course weathier and whiter parents can afford to “fix” their students problems, while the “free-lunch” student may be locked up in suspension room, determined LD or BD, or put into an alternative program. Some low-income parents are complicit in this labeling, because they can receive SSI with a determination of BD or LD. Of course labels tell a student they are unable to perform or control their behavior, drugs can teach them the same and since some studies show Ritalin to be comparable to cocaine, they could be started on a path toward addiction once they are older, and they are als0 being taught to be dependent on a state check rather than becoming secure in their own abilities and skills to earn a living.

    During the time I’ve worked in the District, I’ve watched untold numbers of boys go to jail, some of gotten killed, some have killed. I was blessed to interact with one young man who went into the juvenile justice system and came out better, but he’s the only one. I grow weary of reading about the demise of young black men that I remember as youngsters. I could go on and on, but definitely more black teachers are needed to help ALL black children do better in school. While girls may make it through high school and into college, they still have a host of other issues because they have not been exposed to a diverse sampling of black male and female role models. I think young folks should consider teaching for a number of years and then moving on to another career if they must. It is a way of giving back to the community that can affect many lives in an unmeasurable way. Teaching our youth is a gift that keeps on giving…

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