How Does the School System Reach Boys In and Out of the Hood?
By Ronald W. Holmes, Ph.D.
(TEWire) - During an era of inequality of schools and jobs, Reverend Jesse Jackson coined the phrase keep hope alive which implied that everything is going to be all right by staying optimistic.
In our community, we internalized this expression to be real and embraced the message in persevering until things got better. In a later era, Rapper DJ Khaled coined the lyrics to a song Im so hood which implied that everything bad about my behavior is good because I am from the hood. In todays generation, some children have internalized this expression to be real and embraced the message in glorifying being a gangster, and particularly, wearing their pants below their waist as pronounced in the song.
More than ever, the culture of this era does not have anything to do with where a person lives because of the information age and social media. Children between the ages eight and 18 spend an average of 53 hours a week using Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, cell phones and video games. Thus, if a child hears inflammatory messages from the social entertainment and internalizes the information to be real, then that becomes a part of his or her environment; especially when the messages are heard repeatedly by the child without adult supervision.
Realizing the impact the media has on children, African-American boys are facing tough times in and out of the hood across the nation. They are making inappropriate decisions regardless of their home environments or socioeconomic status. Even African American boys who are being raised by two parents, raised in suburban communities or affluent parents are being plagued by the bombardment of negative and derogatory messages.
Our African-American boys poor decision-making skills contribute to the over-representation of their being placed in special education programs, expelled from school and cited for criminal offenses compared to their white counterparts. In fact, the Schotts Report on Public Education notes the rate at which Black males are being pushed out of school and into the pipeline to prison far exceeds the rate at which they are graduating and reaching high levels of academic achievement. For example, the Schotts Report cites that only 37 percent of African American males graduated from high schools in Florida in the School Year 2007/2008 with Duval and Pinellas County Schools having the lowest graduation rate of 23 and 21 percent respectively. As this happens, Black males diminish their chances of going to college, establishing a career, gaining high wage jobs, getting married or providing for their families.
With more African-American men being in prison compared to college, the questions to be asked are: How does the school system reach the boys in and out of the hood? Is it part of the systems responsibility to help in changing the African American males destination? Is the system contributing in any way to the demise of the African American males?
One such state education agency, Marylands Department of Education (MDOE) sought to address some of the concerns of the African American boys in the school system. From its investigation, MDOE cited that the school system is an at-risk environment for African American males since they have the most suspensions and expulsions in the school system, have the worst academic and attendance record, most likely to be incarcerated, most likely to drop out of school, most likely to get an illness and die at a young age and least likely to be employed.
As a result of its findings, MDOE created the Taskforce for African- American boys and commissioned the taskforce to do a thorough report regarding the problems plaguing African American males. To combat these issues, the MDOE recommended nine high leverage actions.
Those actions include (1) Placing the most effective principals in the highest need schools (2) Placing the most effective teachers in the highest need classrooms (3) Recruiting African-American men to the teaching profession (4) Eliminating the over identification of African American males in special education programs and drafting a plan for exiting them from the programs (5) Increasing the proportion of African- American males taking the PSAT in 10th grade and providing them the academic preparation and support they need to score well on the test (6) Ensuring that every public high school offers advanced placement courses to African American males (7) Improving the suspension rate with programs for African American males (8) Assigning mentors to African American males and (9) Providing prevention and intervention services for African American males.
Similarly, the Schotts Report data indicates most school systems contribute to the conditions in which African American males have nearly as a great chance of being incarcerated as graduating and recommends that school systems combat the problems by affording African-American males a rigorous curriculum rather than a watered-down curriculum, provide a well planned pre-school education for three and four year-olds, provide programs to address student and school needs through health and social services, provide new facilities to adequately support these programs and ensure progress is being made to improve student achievement through state mandates.
In my view, the school system can and must reach the boys in and out of the hood through sound leadership and interventions that address the problems relevant to the needs of a generation of children galvanized by societal ills and who lack the cognitive developmental skills to process information correctly.
However, to be effective, the solution must be comprehensive and involve the entire community to be an integral part of the process. That means the school system, state education agency, law enforcement agency, judicial system, politicians, constituents from the entertainment arena and parents must own and implement systemic solutions. In the words of Jesse Jackson, we must keep hope alive because everything is going to be all right by staying positive and becoming active participants in the initiatives that allow us to save our African American boys. If we are to save our nation, we must put a significant effort into saving our African-American males.