30 Nov

Over the course of my life, I’ve had many an occasion to feel the frustration, confusion and disappointment that Dap, Laurence Fishburne’s character in Spike Lee’s movie “School Daze,” felt.  In other words, I’ve experienced an urge to shake my African-American and education peers, cohorts, colleagues, students and fellow parents, and yell at them “WAKE UP!!”

I certainly had my “Dap moment” when I learned about a new study released this month sounding yet another alarm that most African-American males continue to perform significantly worse than their peers by almost every measure. As you’ll see cited in the video:

  • Only 12% succeed in reading in 4th grade, compared to 28% of their white peers.
  • By the 8th grade, only 12% succeed in math compared to 44% of their white male peers.
  • Nationally less than half (47%) graduate from high school, compared to the 78% public high school graduation rate for white males.
  • Only 5% of college students are African-American men.

As is often the case, inadequate instruction, lack of resources and lack of qualified teachers are held up as possible culprits…along with higher unemployment in the African-American community and the fact that only 1/3 of many of these students’ parents have high school diplomas.  Yet, the story spotlights innovative, “no excuses” schools like Urban Prep Charter School for Young Men in Chicago and the Eagle Academy in New York, that are experiencing some success in reversing these trends.

I want to yell “Wake Up!” because this story, like so much discourse on this critical issue, fails to recognize and acknowledge why these schools are successful.  They are successful because they are providing a school environment in which the culture and norms have been created to keep students motivated and engaged in learning… while reinforcing to students that academic achievement is the most important achievement and by setting high expectations for academic success.

It’s not a coincidence that these schools have extended school days and school years, and focus on high expectations…they do this because they realize it’s what is required to combat the present day environmental barriers and challenges that exist and to keep students motivated and engaged in learning as their #1 priority. Competing in the classroom matters more than ever in this 21st century economy as much as competing on any court, field or stage.

It’s time for us to all wake up!!  This problem is well past the crisis milestone.  The African-American community is realizing the horrible effects of a generation of uneducated black males, and America is experiencing the effects as well in reduced global competitiveness that threatens our world standing.  Let’s wake up!  Let’s get serious about getting our African-American students, and our African-American males in particular, motivated and engaged in learning…seeing academic success as their best option for life success and committed to succeeding in school against all odds!  Wake Up!!


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