Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why Jamal can't succeed

This is one of those subjects that is so sensitive, that to even bring it up always causes people to question your motives for having done so. Too often, bringing up the problems facing the black community - no matter how true the statistics - causes one to be labeled a racist. No matter what good intentions I or others may have for bringing up the problem, it does not matter. To bring it up makes one an instant racist in some peoples' eyes. Of course, that is exactly one of the difficulties with this whole issue; how can you solve a problem if you are not even allowed to identify what it is without being labeled as a racist? My motive for bringing up this topic is that I every day, I watch a disproportionate number of my black students spend their time in class whittling their lives away, with academics being the last thing on their minds. Do some of my white and hispanic students do this too? You bet. However, the key word here is "disproportionate". Why do so many of not just my black students, but black students around the country, choose not to succeed, when so many are very capable of doing so?

Have you ever read the book Why Johnny Can't Read (and the sequel Why Johnny Still Can't Read)? Author Rudolf Flesch identified a problem with literacy in our country, and then delved into the reasons why the youth of this nation were not learning to read. We are only now recognizing the reasons (whole language, change in learning goals) and making a half-hearted attempt to do something about it.

The question in educational circles that is often asked nowadays is why Jamal can't succeed. If you look at the performance and test scores of black students, and especially black male students all over the United States, you will see that their scores are consistently behind everyone else's. The question everyone asks is, Why?

Some go after the simplistic answers, such as the teachers and administrators are a bunch of racists. If this is true, then why do black students underperform in schools and districts where the teachers and administrators are almost all black? Others say that it is because black students attend schools that don't get as much funding. The schools in Washington D.C. spend somewhere around $12,000 dollars per student - the highest per-student amount in the country, yet black students in D.C. produce some of the worst test scores in the nation. Others posit that black students are not as intelligent as students of other races. Hogwash! When you get the time, read the account Dr. Thomas Sowell (the most intelligent man I know of - and he's black thank you very much) wrote about the all-black Dunbar High School in Washington D.C. During the 19th and early 20th century, Dunbar High consistently outperformed two of the three all-white high schools in the nation's capital. Even today, there are public schools all over the country that sport almost total poor minority populations, and yet the students succeed.

Unfortunately, these schools are diamonds in the rough. By and large, schools with a student body that is poor and minority are doing horribly, and too many schools that are well-off and minority aren't doing nearly as well as they should. Read the famous study by the late Berkeley anthropologist, John Ogbu, who found that black students in an upper-class Ohio high school were outperformed by the lower-class white students in the same school district. Ogbu and other researchers have observed an "oppositional peer culture" that tends to marginalize, mock, and shun black students who "act too white." There is much controversy about this "acting white" phenomenon, and many educational researchers swear up and down that it does not exist, but too many teachers, students, and other researchers have seen it with their own eyes. Dr. Ogbu was savaged by critics of his study, but their criticism was mostly of the "How dare you bring this light" or "How dare you blame the victim" variety, rather than "your methods were flawed."

The other big issue that is most likely adding to the problem is that the illegitimacy rate among black children continues to hover in the neighborhood of between 60-70%. The illegitimacy rates among whites and hispanics is nothing to shout about either, but the black rate blows them away. This kind of social pathology cannot help but affect a child's life both in and out of school. There are far too many black children out there who do not know the experience of having a masculine influence of a father in the home. Again, some researchers disparage the importance of fathers in the home (are you beginning to see a pattern here with what some researchers disparage?), but seeing how I am a father, I know that fathers are indispensible influences on the lives of their children.

So what does this social pathology in the black community look like? George Mimmen at the Mimmenblog links us to a little window via YouTube, into the insane world of these black young people who have way too many other things on their mind besides getting an education, and obviously have little to no adult supervision at home. Frankly, this video scares the hell out of me. When I watched it, I could hear Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Martin Luther King weeping from their graves.

Good Day to You, Sir


George said...


Chanman said...

Are you kidding? I would love to hear your 4 cents on the issue!

George said...

That is what my four hour post was about . . . I'll just have to re-write. Chances are it will be better than the first. Thanks for so respecting my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Your treatise on racial inequities in education is interesting; but you forgot an important conclusion. What is your solution? What are you doing as a teacher to buck this trend?

Chanman said...

Simple really; I do my job and I don't hold my students to different standards. I don't indulge my black students by giving them feel-good platitudes about their supposed oppression. In my lessons, I point out that we are one of the least racist countries in the world, and I give them statistics and examples from other nations and time periods to back up what I say. I give both sides of the story, rather than just what the students want to hear.

I hold my black students to the very same standards of behavior to which I hold all my other students. Believe me, doing this has caused me to receive quite a bit of grief from quite a few of my black students who look at my high standards as being oppressive and yes, racist. But I refuse to insult them by holding their academic and behavioral ability to a lower standard like so many other teachers do. They deserve better than that.

I appreciate your wanting to know what I am doing to solve the problems of the world, but please bear in mind that I am but one person, and contrary to popular belief, it is not the job of teachers to be social "change agents". Our job is to give students the academic tools they need to go forth and change the world themselves. I save my social activism for activities outside my classroom and off my campus.

Thank you for reading my blog and thank you for commenting.

Anonymous said...

I like your repsonse until the third paragraph when you started making excuses. If you are going to fight the good fight you have to go all the way. No cutting and running. If the kids can't get an education at school, where can they get it?

Chanman said...

I don't make excuses in my third paragraph. How hard is it for you to understand that sometimes the best thing is to do nothing but your job? The job of a teacher is, like I said in that third paragraph, to give students the academic tools they need to go forth and change the world themselves; nothing more. I am not a social worker; I am not a police officer; I am not a "change agent"; I am not their friend; I am their teacher.

Jamal said...

Chanman: You got defensive quickly. What's the matter? If you're willing to accept the staus quo and let other people solve your problems then you loose your right to complain about it. Two maxims come to mind: 1)Either you're part of the solution or you're part of the problem. What if everyone just wanted to "do their job," nothing more, nothing less? Then our country would be just like France or Italy. The whole point this particular post is that black people are willing to accept status quo and are not willing to accept higher academic standards. You can't point the finger in just one direction. If you want change you have to be willing to accept higher standards as well. If you don't want higher standards, then fine, but don't preach that it's "other peoples" responsibility. Honestly, I don't have a dog in this fight. But now that you are regularly featured in the Sac Bee you are going to have to step up your game. Your posts are long on distributing blame and short on solutions. You seem like a smart enough person; so don't be lazy. Oh yeah, the other maxim: Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it.

Chanman said...

First, defending my position is not "getting defensive".

I think you are reading what you want to read rather than what I am saying
You are talking to me about having higher standards, and I keep telling you that I am simply holding my students to the same standard. Did you want me to have higher standards for some students and not for others?

You make it sound like if one sticks to his job description, then he is being lazy and "French". I keep telling you (and it appears I must tell you again) that a teacher is not, and should not be, a social worker, a police officer, and all the other jobs that they are expected to do, yet they are not qualified to do. I am under the impression that you think that if I do not take on these other roles, then I do not have high standards for myself or my students.

What I think we have here is a difference of opinion of what constitutes a solution to the problem that you maintain I don't provide. What you can't seem to wrap your mind around is that the solution is to do less, not more. Stop the special programs, the special considerations, the lower standards, and simply expect the same from black students that you would expect from any other student.

I know of someone who agrees with this position. The 19th century abolitionist (and former slave) Frederick Douglass had this to say about this subject:

"[I]n regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us? . I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! ? And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! ? [Y]our interference is doing him positive injury."

Again, you keep asking me what should be done to solve the problem, and my answer (and Mr. Douglass’s answer) is, and will continue to be: nothing.

Chanman said...

One more thing I forgot to add. Let's say I hadn't offered a solution to this problem we have been discussing. Just the fact that it is being mentioned at all is a good first step. In the words of blogger extraordinaire, LaShawn Barber,

"Talking and writing about these things, pushing them into the public debate, and encouraging people to discuss the issues, think critically, and solve their own problems is a worthy public service, in the opinion of this blogger."

Thanks for reading my blog.