Why African-American Males Educational Shortcomings Compromise the Entire Nation and What We Can Do About It

I already realize that you are going to tell me that I cannot afford to grow weary regarding my efforts to uplift African-American males. However, it would be misleading to state that I have not tired of a Mother 2situation that reminds me of a never-ending cycle of frustration and disappointment. And what makes the contemporary plight of African-American males all the more difficult to comprehend is that we, meaning a wide-swath of individuals of varying races/ethnicities, political leanings, and class positions have done our best to reverse what all agree is a troubling trend.

Yet there has been little progress.

Although there are personal victories that we cherish, such moments are relatively rare and rapidly evaporate in the face of the next ‘national study’ that cruelly reminds us of the vastness of the crisis we are facing.

There is no doubt that the most daunting moment that those who fight for the uplifting of African-American males face is when the latest ‘national study’ appears; after all, such documents illuminate the entire battlefield, a perspective that the foot soldiers who fight daily on the on the frontlines rarely see. In many ways, these ‘national reports’ are akin to an intelligence report informing everyone of how well, or poorly, the war is actually going.

The latest ‘intelligence report’ regarding African-American males has arrived from The Council of the Great City Schools, a consortium that includes many of the nation’s largest urban public school systems.

Whoever constructed “A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools” was not coy when they termed the current plight of African-American males a “national catastrophe.”

I am certain that there are many who naturally question this characterization; however, the facts contained in this report are in a word, startling.

  • By the fourth grade, only 12 percent of black male students read at or above grade level.
  • By the eighth grade, only 9 percent of black males read at or aboveblack males college grade level.
  • African-American males are nearly twice as likely to drop out of school compared to their white peers.
  • In many urban areas, African-American males drop out of high school at a rate of nearly fifty-percent.
  • The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) critical reasoning scores are an amazingly 104 points lower than their peers on average.

I have heard such reports so frequently that I am not shocked by the information. Put simply, those who have done this type of work for any period of time know what the problems are and I am certain that we all agree that it is time to move beyond yet another quantitative study reiterating what is already known.

I have always believed that desperate times called for rather unconventional methods, particularly, if we are truly seeking to address what seems to be a seemingly intractable problem.

Let’s face facts; the vast majority of African-American males are not flourishing in today’s K-12 public school system. This problem is

made much more problematic by public schools system administrators’ who doggedly resist any alteration to what we all agree is a severely flawed educational system. Such individuals behave as if any alteration to their standard operating practices and curriculum is tantamount to an admission of guilt or culpability for the present plight of African-American males.

According to educator Damon Thomas, “We have to be willing to implement any program or structure to aid African-American males in their pursuit of education. It is criminal to have the ability to do such and not do it. I would say that there is nary an educator who doesn’t recognize the issue and understand that if we don’t intercede on the behalf of African-American males we are dooming them, and by-extension our entire nation to a perilous future.”

Although it can certainly be attributed to America’s checkered racial past, it is rare to meet American citizens who understand that not only are the contributions of African-Americans critical to the nation’s growth, but also likewise understand the reality that “a strong Black America makes all of America stronger.”

Booker T. Washington, ‘the Wizard of Tuskegee’, addressed this very matter in his most memorable public speech at The Atlanta Cotton
States Exposition on September 18, 1895. In the alluded to speech, Washington told a predominantly white audience the following regarding the contemporary plight of African-Americans and what was at risk for the nation if they failed to aid their self-improvement efforts. According to Washington what was facing whites was a decision that would result in them having,

Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward. We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic.

Although many may fight against this idea that the status of African-American males is inextricably linked to American politico economic progress, the truth of the matter is that the two are interwoven. American policymakers and citizens need to begin considering African-American males as an unused, yet extremely valuable, resource that is being wasted via a failing educational system and draconian penal system that has never-ending repercussions for all that are ensnared within it.

Consider the following for a moment. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (2014 Data), approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American, however, we are an incredibly disproportionate 35% of jail inmates and 37% of all prison inmates. The following facts are likewise daunting and frightening.

  • A black male born in 1991 has a 29% chance of being incarcerated in prison at some point of his adult life.
  • One out of nine African American men will be in imprisoned between the ages of 20 and 34.
  • Black males ages 30 to 34 have the highest crime rate of any race/ethnicity gender and age combination.
  • In 2014, 6% of all black males ages 30 to 39 were in prison, compared to 2% of Hispanic and 1% of white males in the same age group.
  • The Lifetime chances of going to prison are 32.2% for Black males and 17.2% for Latino males, while only 5.9% for White males.
  • 1 in 3 black males will go to prison in their lifetime.

Considering such data, it appears that the American citizenry has a major issue facing it. They can continue to do what they have always done, meaning execute flawed educational plans that invariably lead many African-American males to incarceration at some point in their lives, or re-evaluate existing educational systems, pedagogy, and paradigms.

What makes this matter all the more frustrating is that we know what has worked.

  • African-American males have responded positively to
    Black male students.
  • African-American male students have engaged curriculum that Black Males 9includes them in a significant manner.
  • Male only African-American charter schools have achieved phenomenal results with Black Males.
  • Mentorship has proven critical to the educational and career achievements of Black Males.
  • ‘Rites of Passage’ programs have worked in not only socializing African-Americans regarding their collective history, but also serve as a crucial aspect in ‘grounding’ them in regards to future possibilities.

There is most certainly no doubt that the current system has failed African-American males, some even charge that the alluded to failure of the system is intentional.

One thing is certain, if we continue to do what “we always did, we will get what we always got.” And for America that translates into “…a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic.” And I am certain that you agree that such a proposition dooms us all.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016.


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