Dr Beverly Tatum, psychologist and author of the already classic “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and the new “Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of Resegregation” as well as the piece in our edited anthology, commented on our blog today. Instead of approving it as a comment, I am posting it on the main page of the blog to emphasize its importance. Please read and respond.
Thanks Ray for eliciting Dr. Tatum’s interest. Wow!! KES
from…Dr. Tatum | firstname.lastname@example.org | IP: 22.214.171.124
We need to take an honest position with regard to the literacy development African American boys. Neither effective reading strategies nor literacy reform efforts will close the achievement gap in a class-based society unless meaningful texts are at the core of the curriculum; unless teachers and administrators accept culpability for their failures; and unless the failure of economically disadvantaged African American boys in majority minority schools becomes a priority in our nation’s educational agenda as evidenced through greater financial investments for resources and placing more highly, qualified teachers in classrooms. To date, the solution has been creating new standards while old educational inequities exist (Darling-Hammond, 2007).
First, it must be dissolved that young African American males do not want to be educated. These young men experience pain when they struggle with reading, pain that cannot be quantified. Yet, they often mask their pain at their peril to protect their identity. A young male high school student who participated in a focus group discussion I led informed us, “If I did not have a mentor outside of North East High School I would probably find myself dropping out. It’s scary not knowing how to read. I don’t want to be in school anymore…. I am tired of being made fun of.” Clearly, limited reading skills caused this young male internal anguish.
Second, it must dissolved that African American males should accept any form of instruction. In many cases, they have legitimate reasons to resist instructional practices that will leave them underprepared in a competitive society. I observed such a lesson in a high school reading classroom near the end of the students’ freshman year. The students, predominantly African American males, were asked to identify misspelled words in a sentence written on the board. One of the misspelled words was laff (laugh). This lesson did not provide a cognitive challenge and was not developmentally appropriate for high school students. Yet, the students participated in this lesson extrapolated from an elementary school orientation. In the same high school at the beginning of the following school year I observed a teacher telling the students which letter to capitalize while completing a worksheet page of capitalization of proper nouns. Valuable instructional time was lost with both such lessons and the students were no closer to being proficient or advanced readers. At some point, they will reject text and the education they are being offered if they assess they lack significance and meaning.
Third, it must be dissolved that African American adolescent males need saviors, before they need quality education. Quality education allows African American males to know and save themselves. Quality teaching matters. Teachers have the power to reshape the lives of African American adolescent males and move them beyond some of the limitations outside of schools that retard their reading achievement.
Many African American adolescent males feel loathed before they are loved, feel rejected before they are respected, and feel alienated before they are educated. These feelings make it easier for them to perform poorly in school. These sentiments are captured by a young man who shared, “The majority of the world don’t think we are worthy enough to take control and handle what we need to do.” This feeling serves as a stressor for African American adolescent males who feel a lack of psychosocial membership in the classroom (Price, 2000; Spencer, 1999).
As I think about the welfare and literacy development of African American males from impoverished communities, I am challenged by the following questions: How are teachers conceptualizing literacy instruction for them? How are they teaching the black males how to read and write? How are they helping to nurture the identities of these young men? How are teachers helping these young men believe in themselves as academic, cultural, economic, human and social beings? How are teachers helping these young men enjoy school? In essence, what is “schooling” doing for African American males?
The nation has sounded the siren for educational change. This siren has the effect of moving many educators to remedy the underperformance in reading of African American males by focusing on skills and strategies aligned to new standards, holding teachers accountable, and mandating more testing. Educators are struggling to find ways to address the needs of poor African American males. As a nation, we are challenged to answer the question, how do we improve the reading achievement of African American males in elementary, middle school and high school classrooms?
Many black males are trapped behind the rhetorical curtain of No Child Left Behind legislation. No Child Left Behind is idealistic in a society with a history and interest in economic and political exploitation, racism, and oppression. A nation like the United States does not function without distinct classes. The “good society”, by design, needs to leave some behind (Galbraith, 1997). In the United States, however, the arc of being left behind bends towards those who live in poverty, those being raised by single mothers, those attending low-achieving majority-minority schools, and those who live in largely segregated urban and rural communities, and those who are male. These variables affect quality of life indicators that markedly impact African American males in the United States. Although the volume of disadvantage becomes louder for these young men during adolescence, there are signs early in their lives of a growing negative life outcome trajectory.
Teachers and administrators are challenged to reach their African American male student population who fall into the typical pattern as stated by one administrator. Typical pattern was used to describe low performance on reading-related tasks. Many black males continue to be left behind in school as they wait for educators to “get it right.” Time to reshape the life outcome through literacy development is running out earlier and earlier for many of these young men as they opt for deleterious pathways that cement a recycling of failure.
Continue to wrestle with the complexities. By the way, all adolescents benefit from texts that connects to their multiple backgrounds – personal, cultural, economic, national, and social, cultural, and gender. Many students are suffering from an underexposure to texs in America’s middle school and high schools. The stakes are higher for some.