Black Boys in Crisis: The Intersection of Poverty and Education
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.
My understanding of the black male crisis is deeply personal. In the articles in this series, I will tell a few stories from my past that illustrate what life is like for the average black male growing up in America.
At the elementary school, I attended, most of the students came from families with incomes at or below the poverty line. Our neighborhoods provided us with few resources for learning and even fewer role models of educational and economic success. Because of this, we believed that no other way of life was possible for us. Furthermore, we were alienated by peers who enjoyed a higher economic status; who lived in better neighborhoods and had newer clothes, nicer TVs, computers . . . all the things we craved. Both the better-off students and the teachers expected us to exhibit behavioral problems and academic failure. Far too often, this expectation became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Unfortunately, failing schools go hand in hand with life in poor neighborhoods. The schools I attended did not have the resources to compete with areas that had more money for books, computers, salaries, and so on. As a result, they had difficulty attracting well-trained teachers and administrators. The upshot was that many of my African-American classmates were written off, ignored, or simply passed from grade to grade without having done the required work. Many who did graduate were ill prepared for college or the working world.
I saw a lot of my fellow black male classmates limiting themselves. Instead of surrendering to the typical standards of a school environment that they viewed as cruel and oppressive, they ended up rejecting European-American speech patterns and devaluing high academic achievement. They fell victim to anti-intellectualism and academic disengagement. They were culturally conditioned to exacerbate a “cult of victimhood.” This phenomenon is all too common and leads many scholars to aim solutions to the black male crisis at victimhood rather than recognize that this problem of poor academic performance and academic disengagement is a product of poverty and cultural indoctrination.
However, some black boys in my school, including me, responded in the opposite way. We used our awareness of racism and prejudice as motivation to do well, thus preparing ourselves to fight these evils.