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