Monthly Archives: March 2012

Minority Male Mentoring: The flavor of the month

One can hardly read any college news these days without encountering some kind of initiative with the stated goal of increasing the success of minority males. While most of the programs say minority male, what they mean is black males. The American Indian population is so small that quite frankly the interests and academic success or failure of that group is generally confined to Indians themselves and their allies from other cultures, a small, but generally dedicated group. Latinos are still a bit of a mystery to most non-Latino Americans, with the exception of some concentrated areas of population in the southwest, northeast and Florida. Asian American males are generally viewed as not needing any kind of help or mentoring ( not true, but widely believed). As a result the scholarship and literature available for minority male mentoring , is almost all devoted to black males, and probably will be in the foreseeable future.

One of the reasons for this is the primacy of football and basketball in college and professional sports, both dominated by black males. While I am just positive that it is simple social justice and philanthropy that makes folks, most of them white,  rather suddenly interested in the academic careers of black males in particular, I am one of those people who believe in America if you want to know why something is happening, follow the money.

Do not get me wrong, I am happy that someone or someones is/are looking at black male academic achievement, which pales in comparison not only to white boys and Asian American boys, but also black females. There is certainly a need for examination of the educational trajectory of black males. I do, however, have a problem with several aspects of the current fad to attack black male achievement gaps like Captain Ahab going after that white whale.

The first is that anyone with half a gnats brain would know that blacks are the canaries of our society. What happens in the black community is happening in other communities but is not so easily discerned. We have known this for at least a couple of generations. Therefore, to single out black males or minority males is silly. White male attendance to college has been steadily dropping , as have their persistence and graduation rates. Are to ignoring them because they are white? They too are being outstripped by white women in persistence and graduation and even college attendance. Is the prevailing wisdom that because they are white they do not need any intervention? Or do we have enough white boys that we can spare a few and allow them to fail?

Second, no program or initiative I have seen addresses disparities in male, including black male prek-12 education. While you might be able to repair technical skills like reading and writing, expecting males who did not have great PreK-12 experiences  to keep up with other males who did or females who did is a fool’s errand. Students who get to attend elite or even high performing schools learn more than mechanics. They are introduced to the life of the mind.  Let me see if I can explain. A student who is poorly taught learns to memorize and regurgitate information, a student who is exposed to the life of the mind actually enjoys learning and develops a belief in his/her own mental capabilities. Instead of spitting back up what the teacher said they are taught to take what the teacher taught, add to it, personalize it, give it their own perspective and understanding and given tools so that they can defend their observations with logic and evidence.

If you have a history teacher who tells you the Civil War began in 1861 and was the result of slavery only ( because that is what she was taught) then you might have a difficult time understanding why there would be any defense of the South’s position. In modern times owning slaves is obviously an abomination, an immoral act. Your ideas about what happened and why it happened and what impact it still has today would be greatly truncated by your lack of information. If you had a teacher, however, who gave you the facts, all of the facts and invited you to examine the war from all sides, you might ( and I hope you would, obviously) come to a similar conclusion, that slavery was wrong and the primary or root cause of the war, but you would understand the role that regionalism, differences in societal mores and norms, tariffs and states’ rights played in the events leading up to the war and you would grasp the complexities of any issue that has to do with human beings.

By inviting you to investigate rather than memorize the teacher could unlock your brain and engage it. Learning is like anything else, the more you do it the better you are at it, and the more you like it. Teachers, some of whom are not so bright themselves, who think telling students things they could find in a book or their iPad and expecting them to repeat them on objective tests ( choose c, it is the most commonly correct answer) is teaching need to be released to meet their futures in another career. One that does not require creativity or imagination, perhaps administration.

No program or initiative I have seen takes into consideration lack of engagement with education and learning on the part of males in general and minority males in particular. I have written often about how the female teacher dominated public school systems do not provide a welcoming or engaging space for most males, this is not going to change unless it is finally acknowledged.  Some districts are responding to the elevated numbers of suspensions of minority males, but I would suggest that low-income white males probably do not fair much better. Instead of looking at suspensions only they should further examine the perceptions of gender held by their female teachers and how those perceptions color , or may color, their reaction to all males.

So we are going to mentor and mold these young black men with maybe a few hanger on other minorities thrown in for political correctness reasons, into scholars without understanding their educational experience to begin with.  Several of the current initiatives are focusing on “success models.” These look at why some black males are successful and try to translate that to the unsuccessful ones. This is facetious. There is no formula for being a successful black male. Some of them come from nuclear middle class families, some of them, like our president come from single mothers, all of them have some intervention or privilege, but then so do all successful people. It is also insulting to presume you can program a young man to be successful by telling him what his more accomplished brothers did without factoring in economics, location, family structure, personality, or whether someone in power took a special interest in him.  Successful black males cannot tell you why they are successful, they probably do not know, and in some cases do not care to tell ( or perhaps do not remember all of the seminal events and people in their lives) why. So they will spout the party line; “I worked hard and did not drink, drug, chase women, curse, smoke,drink blaspheme, masturbate or go to strip clubs, and knowledge and power and money just rained down on me as they do on all the righteous.”

Who wants to say , ” I was lucky and got some breaks and was in a fortunate enough place to take advantage of them.” That does not make me sound so noble and superior does it?

So, if you want to mentor minority males to succeed in school and college do the following:

1) Education female teachers about males

2) Provide teachers who can ignite the love of learning early and often, and who understand everyone is not going to be interested or engaged by what they, the teacher, finds compelling

3) Provide summer programs in both high school and college aimed at some of the specific issues facing males and how to surmount the problems caused by these issues

4) Expose them to males who have succeeded, not to show them examples, but to foster relationships so they can call on them when they hit a snag for counsel, encouragement and inspiration ( and these men do no have to be the same race, that can be dealt with)

5) Stop looking for formulas and stop presuming white males, Asian American males and any other males are doing fine or should be doing fine and therefore do not need any attention

6) Quit putting women in the lead for minority male mentoring programs.

My dear brothers ( of all colors) are having issues, in terms of education many of them  are low sick, it is time to find a better prescription than any of the ones we have now , which are primarily being used to advance someone’s career, not to make real change in the lives and education of the males they claim to want to help.

“Experts” and administrators and opportunists are publishing report after report about minority males. Are the stats changing? in most cases no, but that is the beauty of educational research. It takes so long to get a good sample and to chart change, or lack thereof,  that you can make your money or get tenure and move on to the next flavor of the month topic by the time it is evident what you were trying is ineffective. Besides, by then no one will care, until the cycle goes around and someone fifteen or twenty years from now looks at someone else in a board room and says ” Hey let’s study minority male academic achievement!” If you are lucky by then you will be retired.






Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


Rush Limbaugh and Nostalgia: Two sides of the same Antediluvian Coin

So, we have Rush Limbaugh calling an educated, intelligent, well-spoken woman a slut and a prostitute and asking that she post sex videos for his enjoyment. At the same time we have a growing movement of ” Take us back to the Good Old Days.” Rush’s rants against women who want to be independent, chart their own courses and stand up for their rights and the people who want to regress to a time when they felt dominant and comfortable in their dominance are both actually positive signs that the world is moving in the right direction. The fact that any listener would believe that Rush is someone to listen to for anything other than either comic relief or an example of the worst kind of American is unfortunate, but it is also a sign that there are numbers of people who are beginning to feel marginalized in a society they no longer feel that they can control.  While it is not good for any person to feel marginialized, we need to look at why they are feeling marginalized. They are afraid that “Those People” are taking over! They seek vindication for their backward and oppressive views from people like Limbaugh, uneducated, unread, uncouth. These people will tell you that whatever is wrong with America is caused by “those people.”

The term “those people”  might refer to minorities, feminists, immigrants, poor people, women, Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, anyone, in other words,  who is not a fundamentalist Christian white male, preferably one  who likes to hunt, drink beer and watch sports. Like the backward, hateful, ignorant pundits they listen to some people who this type of thing appeals to believe the way we improve things is to regress to a time when they did not have to worry about minorities, religious minorities, ethnic and racial minorities, feminists or women in general. In their view of what were the Good Old Days, some animals were more equal than others and by damn that is the way it was supposed to be! You did not have to concern yourself with “Those People” because they did not have the power to mess with your privilege!

Back in the mid-80s Milt Caniff, the creator of the comic strip Steve Canyon, wrote in a piece in the Dayton Daily News about being nostalgic for what he portrayed as a simpler time. Caniff at the time was in his late 70s or early 80s. So, he was talking about the era of the 1920’s. One of the things he said he missed that rankled me to the point where I wrote a rebuttal editorial was that he missed the time when ” race was just about who could run faster.”  What an idiotic thing for anyone to say. Race was never just about running fast for people of color, except for the times we were being chased by racists and Klansmen, when running fast was definitely part of race. Race has always been used to advantage one group over another in America. Milt could yearn for the days when he did not have to think about race as it applied to people because old Milt was a member of a privileged class, both racially and economically. What he was saying was he was tired of hearing complaints about the treatment of black people, and other people of color. Because he did not suffer from racism he did not want to hear about it.  Now twenty-five years or so later we still have people swearing that the Good Old Days were more innocent, safer and more friendly. My response to them would be. For whom?  And shouldn’t you reject the idea of returning to a time when we had Jim Crow, when women had fewer rights– including reproductive rights, when we had lynchings and cross burnings across much of this country?When women had limited job opportunities and poor people had virtually no chance of escaping poverty, when rural kids and poor kids often did not get to complete their educations?  Do you actually want to return to a time of outhouses and doing laundry and taking baths in the same tub?

What kind of selfish oaf would wish the problems and inequities of a previous time on people just because it did not impact him/her? I have never been poor. No one has ever called me a nigger to my face, I have never seen a sign that said “white only” except at the Smithsonian Museum, I have not had an ancestor interned because they were Japanese, I have not been stuck in a place without hope of progress , I have never had a man try to dominate me, I have never been told I cannot go anywhere or do anything I can afford to do, I have never been told I am going to hell because I am Jewish and do not believe Christ is the son of God. That does not mean I want to return to the Good Old Days because I did not suffer during them., or did not suffer as much as many others at least. I do not want anyone to be oppressed, unlike some of my pseudo religious fellow citizens I do not think that attending church and praying is going to solve all the problems of mankind. If that were true then back when most people went to church we would have had a much more equitable society, but we did not.

One example of this backward looking nostalgia is the use of  the topic of prayer in schools as a ruse by politicians to get simple-minded people to vote for them. Nobody says you cannot pray in school, nobody ever has. To begin with how would anyone know you were praying? Prayer does not require vocalization. It is organized vocalized prayer that only acknowledges one religion and one way to be spiritual that is forbidden and for good reason. Taxpayers  pay for public schools, their children are required by law to attend them, or a pay for an alternate. The taxpayers come in all demographics, Catholics, Jews, Fundamentalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Zoroastrians, Rastafarians, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Unitarians. Who gets to say the prayer and to whom do they pray aloud in a public school? How do you single out one, or even three religions or sects  to honor? How does that not offend people of different faiths who are paying for the schools just like you and who have to send their children to them? There are other options available to people who want organized prayer in school. If you think a specific  religion is an important part of education send your kid to a parochial school, they exist, or home school them and teach them.

The people who want prayer in schools do not want to honor religion, they want to impose their religion on others to prove they are more powerful and right. The same thing that would make Rush call a young woman a slut, the need to attempt to control, to dominate , to have power over, is what makes people scream about religion in schools. People who do not want organized prayer in school are not generally atheist or devil worshippers, they simply do not feel the need to make other people acknowledge that their religion is right and everything else is wrong. People who think that birth control should be paid  by insurance   in order for women to have control over their own reproductive destinies are not seeking to control other people. Nobody is suggesting we make birth control mandatory or available in public schools (  the latter is something I would probably vote for!). It is a matter of whether or not a health care item ( unlike Viagra which is paid for by many insurance companies by the way) should be available at reasonable cost for those who choose to use it. See the difference? You want to make people listen to prayers you select, I want to make things available to people who choose to use them. Big difference.  If your child chooses to close his/her eyes and say a prayer in school no one is going to approach the child, rap them on the fingers and demand to know if they are praying. You child does and should have options. If there is a prayer coming out of the announcements or being spoken aloud in the classroom then my child does not have a choice of whether or not to listen.

Calling young women names and making obscene suggestions to them is more congruent with the Good Old Days than modern times. Suggesting we return to the Good Old Days is a bad idea in almost every way. I like electricity, my computer, my car that does not have to be cranked, that we no longer have signs that say white only, that women can work outside the home if they choose to in some capacity besides maid or secretary, and a plethora of other things we did not have in the NOT-SO-GOOD-Old Days.  If you want to go backward do not try to drag the rest of us with you.  I am sure there is an island somewhere that can be established a a G.O.D. ( Good Old Days or whatever else you might want to interpret it as) colony. I will even help you raise money for your passage!

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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Uncategorized