Black Boys in Crisis: Lock Them Up and Throw Away the Key
In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and black males comprise the highest percentage relative to overall population. Consider these statistics reported by the Civil Rights Data Collection Organization:
- 70 percent of in-school arrests or students referred to law enforcement officers are black or Latino
- 68 percent of males in federal and states prisons do not have a high school diploma
- 61 percent of the incarcerated population is black or Latino—but only 30 percent of the US population is from these demographics
- One out of three black men will be incarcerated in his lifetime.
Our public schools are supposed to be great equalizers, but the decks are stacked against black boys from a young age. The US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reports that black students makeup just 18 percent of preschoolers, but account for almost half of all school suspensions, and those statistics don’t improve as students move up through the grades.
Around 5 percent of white students are suspended or expelled at some point in their K-12 career, compared with 16 percent of black students. Federal data indicate that black students account for 15 percent of total K-12 students but makeup over one-third of those students who are suspended once from school, nearly half of students who are suspended more than once, and over one-third of students expelled.
Sadly, over half of black young men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma. And of those dropouts, nearly 60 percent will go to prison at some point. According to the Sentencing Project, an organization that researches disparity in the justice system, one in three black men will likely see the inside of a prison cell at some point in their lives.
Public schools have the potential to be great equalizers for our children and youth. We are aware that we have disadvantaged students in our midst, so why aren’t we employing every tactic we’ve got to try to combat those outside factors that are so detrimental? When we throw up our hands and say that black boys can’t be saved, or that individual students are better off serving suspensions or expulsions than sitting in our classrooms learning, we are really saying that we don’t have power in the lives of our students. However, I think most rational educators would argue that that is far from the truth.