Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Are Black Boys Expected to Fail?

From the Baby Moses Project

From Tommy La'Pola, Teacer, Seattle Schools:
In those places around the country where black boys are succeeding, to what extent is this the result of “cultural segregation”? In other words are these schools where parents have had to apply or otherwise work to get their children enrolled, thereby indicating a family culture that puts a premium on education and where families are willing to work to assist their child with their education? A follow up question: can a school expect to be able to overcome the influences of a student’s family if the family and school have contradictory expectations of a student?

Michael Holzman:
Some are. Others are not. Those that are can be quite minimally so, with admission based just on application. A school can strive to become as positively influential an environment as possible: open evenings, on weekends and in the summer; offering challenging course with high expectations and a variety of other activities, including sports, field trips and technology.

Eddie Griffin:
Notice how the question is framed: Can a school expect… to be able… to overcome… influences of a student’s family?

Expectation begins in the mind. Ability relates to levels of skills and talents. Overcome signifies the challenge. In other words, do you think that you have what is takes to overcome the challenge?

What is the challenge? We assume, from the question above, that the challenge is a student’s family expectations that contradicts to the school’s expectations.

Instead of a Catch-22 scenario, this is an Escape-22 clause for a teacher’s expectation. In essence, no one expects the schools to do the impossible. The teacher here is absolved of taking on such a challenge, when the challenge is perceived as homegrown. Therefore, any difficulty in teaching a child is chalked up as a problem of poor parenting, poor home life, and socio-economic factors outside of the realm of teaching.

How can schools be expected to overcome these forces?

Maybe we see the problem through a distorted prism. Instead of being a home environment problem, it could very well be a learning problem and lack of socialization skills. A child with a limited vocabulary may not understand as readily as a literate student and his verbal expressions may be a bit cruder. It all depends on how we see the challenge and the expectation to surmount it. Like students, some teachers may perceive the problem as “too hard” and find creative ways to give up. (The dog ate my lesson plan).

Family and school should never have “contradictory expectations” of the student. Contradictory expectation presupposes the one group (parents) has high expectations of the black male child and the other group (school) has a low expectation, or visa versa. Universally speaking, the standard should always be high- therefore, no contradiction in expectation.

In terms of marked academic achievement in “class segregated” schools, this is obvious. The haves have always provided better for their children over the have-nots. It is not a matter of the elite black families placing a higher premium on education, as it is the upper-to-high middle-income families are usually more educated and have more of the financial wherewithal to send their children to better schools. Better schools usually equal higher academic achievement.

The lower-income student may have parents who equally appreciate the value of education and the student may reach the top of his class. However, he will still be qualitatively disadvantaged in not having access to the same resources provided to the upper-income class student.

We note here that the inequality is not necessarily the product of an unequally bias budget for educational materials and supplies. Educational spending must be proportionate, according to law. (No more "Separate but Equal" disparities in education funding). But the high-income parents is able to provide more supplemental resources in their schools, through PTAs and various other charitable and business groups. This disparity in resources makes equal achievement nearly impossible, which leaves us forever trying to close an ever-widening achievement gap.

It must be our conscientious effort to put the black boy ahead of the pact in achievement, by developing his innate skills and talents. The learning style of African-Americans is traditionally different from Middle America. I have found that some black students learn in clips, fragmented, and disjointedly. Simply trying to pound knowledge into the head of a student does not always penetrate. (I have explained this to you 100 times. Why can't you understand?) Therefore, another angle of delivery might be necessary.

Can the current instructional mode of delivery carry a student forward along an individualized learning path? One classroom teacher alone cannot do it. Such expectations are unrealistic because most teachers are too focused on classroom management, behavioral controls, curriculum, testing, staff issues, and a myriad of other distractions. Babysitting and spoon-feeding individualized curriculum is just not in the job description, otherwise the teacher may have bitten off more than he or she can chew. Such a challenge goes far above and beyond the personal expectations of the average teacher.

But then, expectations are relative, and challenges are the way they are perceived. Can it be that we expect more of the students and less of the teachers, or vice versa? If we expect more of the teacher, how can we expect more of them than they expect of themselves? When they expect failure, they can get it without even trying.


  1. Eddie,
    great post. but i think the question should be framed: "Who Expects Our Black Boys to Fail?"

    is it the school administrators? is it their teachers? is it their community? is it their parents? do our Black Boys go to school expecting to fail?

    i think if we begin to answer those questions, we may begin to unravel the THING that has continued to lower the expectations of our Black Boys.

    personally, i feel that if parents set low expectations for their children, it doesn't matter what others think of their children! i think it BEGINS in the home and carries forward throughout the rest of the community and into the schools.

    i have a nephew who suffers from mild autism; it would be easy for his parents to resign themselves to the fact that he may not be able to perform at a high level in his studies. but with parental guidance, lots of LOVE, lots of discipline, and an expectation that he will do well in ALL of his classes, my nephew was on the Honor Roll for this entire school year!

    i shudder to think of the "statistic" he would have become if my sister and brother-in-law had succumbed to the EASY TASK of setting low expectations for their son.

  2. I used the example of the cop questioning a mentally incompetent black man to show something about "expectations". The man, who was on psychotropic medication was responding to the cop's questions. To the cop, the man sounded okay. To me, the man sounded incoherent. Maybe the cop expected incoherency to be a normal response from a black man, like certain crazy and erratic behavior is considered normal in some cultures. When abnormal seems normal, there is a paradigm shift in expectations. Likewise, an educator may perceive that low performance as normal in expectation of student doing his best, but due to mental inadequacies, he can do no better. Therefore, the "better" is not expected of him, higher challenges are not offered to him, and he is allowed to pass through on mediocrity or less.