Very rarely on this blog have I discussed my dissertation topic or even presented ideas surrounding black boys and public education. Today I want to raise the issue because of two recently released reports concerning the issue. The most widely distributed report noted that Black students (especially boys) face more harsh punishment in school than their peers. (http://tinyurl.com/86sfkod) The second report, less published in popular media (such as the New York Times) focuses on Black male student success in college (http://tinyurl.com/7thdcdn). Both reports focus on Black males and public education, but one, the former, takes the usual deficit model perspective of this particular population, while the second report focuses on the successes of this population. One is left to wonder why the New York Times focused on one but not the other.
What has been continually problematic in the public discourse is how various groups who have historically not had a voice have been presented in the public domain –i.e. popular media such as the Times and other mainstream publications including Time, Newsweek, the three major networks and three major news channels (CNN, MSNBC, FOX). One question is why is it more “popular” to continue to talk about Black boys (or persons of color in general for that matter) as a deficit, rather than from a more positive perspective? In plain language, what is so unique about highlighting faults rather than focusing on successes?
This trend of focusing on the negative is not unique to discussions surrounding Black boys and public education, but arguably has taken over the discourse in the public arena. Putting the focus on the harmful aspects of student behavior, in particular Black boy’s negative behavior, serves what purpose? It is as if the Department of Education (who released the report) needed validation for what many of us in public education already knew. To use a sports analogy, for an example as glaring as this, we didn’t need empirical data for something which obviously passes the eye test with 20/20 clarity. In other words, walk into any public school in America and look around. What do you see? If it is a low performing school (especially high school), what you are likely to see is that an overwhelmingly large number of Black male students classified as Special Education, in detention or labeled (either publicly or through the teacher “grapevine”) as “troubled.” Consequentially teachers, who more often than not do not reflect the diversity of the school where they are employed (see: Ann Ferguson’s excellent book Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity), rather than seek solutions, immediately seek to eliminate the source of their “problems.”
What this ostracism does is create a self fulfilling prophecy for many Black boys. In contrast, how often do we hear about a teacher, counselor or administrator taking a Black boy under their wing and mentoring them to achieve college acceptance? Ironically, it takes place more often than people in the public discourse think. Dr. Shaun Harper’s report on Black boys and college success demonstrates that more research needs to be done from the perspective of what these students can do academically rather than continually placing the emphasis on the low expectations anticipated of them by too many in public education.