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.