by Taki S. Raton
The stats keep on coming. Authors Laird C. Chapman and Kewal Ramani in their December 2010 study release “Trends in High School Dropouts and Completion Rates in the United State: 1972-2008” report that in October 2008 approximately 3 million “civilian noninstitutionalized” 16- through 24-year-olds were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential.
“Noninstitutionalized” of course refers to individuals not incorporated into the criminal justice system and “civilian” noting a non –U.S. military affiliation. I would hasten to extrapolate that given trends citing the plight of African American students in public education, the vast majority of the numbers were Black and probably male.
Let us understand that this 2008 citing stands frighteningly parallel with the 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education noting a mere 48% graduation rate for Black males during the 2007-2008 academic year.
That same study revealed a 25 percent graduation rate for Black males in New York, 28 percent in Philadelphia, 37 percent in Brown County, Fla., 44 percent in Chicago, 47 percent in Nashville, Tenn., 50 percent in Wisconsin, and 27 percent in Dade County, Fla., Cleveland, and Detroit. Further adding substance to these trend figures, the November 10 news release on the Council of Great City Schools paints a picture of Black male achievement that is “even bleaker than is generally known,” and that the educational gap between Black males and the performance of students in other cultures is a “catastrophe that needs intervention from the highest levels.”
According to this report, only 12 percent of Black male fourth graders are performing at or above proficient levels in reading and only nine percent of Black male eighth graders across the country are scoring at or above at norm-acceptable reading standards. Predictably then, this class eight years later–in 2019–may fair no better, if perhaps not worse, then the above listed 48 percent.
Citing student behavior, the September 13 report by Daniel J. Losen and Russell Skiba titled “Suspended Education – Urban Middle Schools in Crisis” reveals that the “racial gap in African American suspensions has grown considerably since 1973.”
Researchers noted a nine-point increase in suspension rates from six percent in 1973 to 15 percent in 2006. In Palm Beach County and in Milwaukee, citing a 2006-2007 survey, the district-wide middle school suspension rate for Black males exceeded 50 percent with a cross-district suspension rate for Black females at 52 percent. This segment focus was labeled the greatest “per-district average increase.”
And it does not get any better. To update the cited figures, a January 16, 2011 Journal Sentinel article entitled “MPS suspends too many kids” by James E. Causey reveals that the latest MPS report card on suspensions shows that nearly 10 percent of first-graders were suspended “at least once” and that suspensions rose in each grade, peaking at the freshman high school level when at least half of the students were suspended.
What is happening to our children in the public school system is natural, normal and predictable. They are not learning because they select to not want to learn in a white dominated environment that is perceived by them as being unnatural and destructive to their very being – and they know that. So they zone out of their studies.
They act out in class, in the hallways and elsewhere anywhere in and around the school building. They are getting suspended and/or expelled and not giving a big care about such consequences.
Florida State University professor Na’im Akbar in Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu’s title “Developing Positive Self-Images & Discipline in Black Children” positions that Black youth are not only being “mis-educated” but “de-educated.” By de-education, Akbar says that our children “are being systematically excluded from the educational system and/or being systematically destroyed within the system.”
Our children are outwardly resisting public education and we are not listening to them. R. Patrick Solomon in “Black Resistance in High School – Forging a Separatist Culture” says that when students “refuse to follow certain rules and routines and refuse to embrace school ethos that they perceive as acts of subordination, they are engaging in acts of resistance.”
Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu in their 1986 study “Black Students’ School Success: Coping with the ‘Burden of Acting White” details that when Black students “rebuke” their Black peers for “acting white,” they are actively resisting white structure and domination.
“What happens to a generation that will not be taught, that resents instruction, resists correction and assaults those who have the nerve to try to teach them”? says the Rev. Clarence Lumumba James, Sr. in his 2004 writing, “Lost Generation or Left Generation!”
The Black community, Black people, Black adults, Black teachers, Black churches, Black politicians, Black community stakeholders – we all have abandoned our children. They have been crying out to us for help, for rescue, to be saved by us – their parents, their elders, their teachers, their leaders, their guardians, their community, their people – indeed, by their race.
But all the way from the 1970’s, a substantive response from us did not and is not happening. And as a result, for example, a December 2009 New York Times report reveals that from the year 2000 to 2007, the Black homicide rates for Black youth ages 14 to 17 rose from 851 to 1,142. In Milwaukee, according to the “Sentinel” account, homicides committed by Black youth ages 14 to 24 during this time increased 62 percent.
Robert Staples in his 1982 work “The Black Male’s Role in American Society” positions that the largest group responsible for homicides in this country since the 1970’s is that of Black males in the 20 to 24-year age range. And their victims are similarly young Black men – a fact which has its most tragic consequences given that homicides are listed as the number one cause of death among Black males aged 15 to 30.
“We have a generation that has been left in the wilderness of contemporary American culture by uncaring irresponsible adults,” says James. Our children, he adds, “have not been properly taught the best traditions of our people. Therefore they are cut off from the ways of success and are practicing the habits of hopelessness as they wander down the low ways to destruction.”
And we hear many of our Black radio commentators, politicians, organization heads and education professional say that the problem is in the schools. But in reality, our nation’s public schooling is working quite well.
Theresa Perry in her essay, “Up from the Parched Earth – Towards Theory of African-American Achievement” positions that the task of academic success is distinctive for African Americans because it demands that the student progressively and supportively bring to this experience “who you are socially, emotionally and physically. And the only way you can do this is to bring your full socio-cultural person to the task.”
She adds that this effort of achievement requires that the student and others believe that the intellectual work they engage in will, in a positive way, “affirm you as a social being and is compatible with who you are.” So, given the above stats on our students and American public schooling as it is now constituted, how are Black students “affirmed” in this environment and are these classrooms doing their job per our children?
“It (public schooling) is a wonderful success at doing its job. Producing failure in Black children is their job,” says James. Education says James is a “process that begins not at the beginning but at the end.
“That is to say education is based upon a vision of the end product, a vision of the role and purpose that society has in mind for the person that it is educating. This society has a different role and purpose for Black youth then for White young people.”
He shares that they (Whites) educate their children to succeed. They educate ours to fail. They educate their children to give orders, ours to take orders given by others. They educate their children to believe in their superiority and ours to be convinced of our inferiority.
They educate their children to lead and ours to follow; their children to speak and ours to be silent; their children to sell, our children to buy; their children to rule, ours to be subservient; their children to think globally, our children to think locally or, better yet, not to think at all; their children to be critical and ours to be accepting; their children to criticize and analyze, ours to be fascinated by things that flash and shine without ever asking why.
They educate their children, adds James, to deal in substance and ours in style; their children are educated to plan for the future and ours to live in the moment; their children to invest, ours to borrow. And they educate their children to innovate and ours to imitate.
And our children know this and they are not accepting this, their placement in today’s public school setting. And we – their communities, their parents, their people – are responsible for putting them in this developmentally and academically compromised circumstance and leaving them there totally unprotected and vulnerable to the powers that be – and they are naturally and normally resisting this setting.
“I believe a major problem with schools is that the curriculum is designed to train children rather than educate them,” says Kunjufu. “Our children do not want to be trained, and they are crying out to adults to save them.
“Yet, adults encourage children to go to schools without any compassion or understanding of what children are receiving in school.”
Like all other people in the world, Black people here in America should be our own best and Higher Order Perfect Black Upline exemplars for ourselves, for our children, for our families and for our eternity. But we forfeited this obligation. James notes that young people, all young people, can first only learn how to live in this world “through the instruction of their elders.” He notes:
“Can anyone imagine a young lion that will not allow the old lion to teach it to hunt or what would happen to a young monkey that refused to listen to an old monkey show them what plants were edible and which were poisonous?
What does common sense tell us about what would happen to a young goose that refused to follow the formation during its long distance southern sojourn to escape the deadly winters of the North?”
What happened to the parents, teachers, and models of our community? Why is there no longer what this writer terms a “Higher Order Perfect Black Upline” for our children to follow? And why, Black people, are we today in the absence of parenting, community and cultural models so satisfied, quiet and complacent that our children are now openly resisting and defying their presence if not indeed their “occupation” in and by America’s public school buildings? Why are we not listening to them? Why have we not listened for upwards of the past 40 years? Why are we not trying to save them? And what are they thinking of us, the adults, for not reaching out to and for them?
We have not given our children the Higher Order essence of our own to proudly become and grow into. They are openly and consciously resisting their schooling.
They are deconstructing their communities, they are fighting and killing themselves and a great many numbers of them are giving up on their future. As cited in the Saturday Chicago Courier April 12, 2008 newspaper editorial on Black-on-Black crime, “it is even more chilling to consider the fact that a whole generation of young Black males are growing up with the expectation that they will not grow up!”
Our children are crying out, Black people. Are we listening? Our children are failing in school, ending up in jail and dying on the streets. Do we hear their pain? Do we care?
And everyone points to the Black family structure. But I beg to disagree. This is a race issue. When we integrated the way we did, we compromised the integrity of our race.
Our esteemed cultural fabric began to disintegrate and as James would contend, our unique way of thinking—of being—as a people became degenerative.
As we moved from the 60’s advent of integration into the mid to late 80’s with a now clear Black abandonment of our central cities throughout the country, our communities had begun to crumble taking a collapsed family structure along with it from the 1970’s well into the present 2011 – four consecutive decades of internal social and developmental decay.
But once the families were compromised, our children would be left helpless with a positive and clear future for them and for our people very much in doubt.
The point herein is that the varied issues with our children began historically long before they generationally get into the school building.
The problems with our children, with our families, with our communities, with our (Black) nation and with our race must be addressed and handled on this race/culture/community/future contextual level outside traditional schooling.
It is this writer’s contention that there is very little if anything now in 2011 that public schooling can do to fix this. Nor, indeed should we as a Black people – and particularly we as Black men – expect an entity outside of our own to correct a problem that should be ours on the internal community/race/cultural level to responsibly resolve.
One such resolution demonstrates that when African American children and youth are immersed in their history and culture, academic scores increase and student behavior becomes highly commendable.
Jocelyn Freeman Bonvilliain in her September 21, 2004 study of 175 seventh grade African American children in “Racial Identity Attitudes, Self-Esteem and Academic Achievement Among African American Adolescents,” reveals that positive racial identity and strongly cultivated self-esteem are predictors of academic achievement and that students who “exhibited high levels of self-esteem and racial identity performed better academically then students who showed low levels of self-esteem and racial identity.”
One of the primary components of an all-Black classical African Centered school is that it reclaims, reinterprets (from an African frame-of-reference), reconstructs and resurrects a presence of race, culture, community, family, socialization and future for our children into the student instructional and developmental process along with the rescue of the African presence on the world stage of time and achievement which successfully and effectively increases and restores constructive racial identity and positive self-esteem.
Sankofa Academy in Philadelphia, Betty Shabazz International Charter School in Chicago, J.S. Chick African Centered School in Kansas City and the Marcus Garvey School in Los Angeles are just a few cited excellent examples of African Centered academies that are exemplary within this model performance.
These academies should be widely replicated for their national success in the effectiveness regarding the education, cultural and social development of our children.
A fitting final note for our community (and particularly from this one Black man to other Black men) are the words of renowned Hurston/Wright Legacy Award winner poet Haki R. Madhubuti from the closing verse of his poem “Destiny” in his latest work “Liberation Narratives”:
“Take hold; do the necessary, the possible, the correctly simple; take hold; talk of mission & interpret destiny; put land and selfhood on the minds of our people; do the expected, do what all people do – reverse destruction, capture tomorrows.”
Taki S. Raton is a school consultant in the African Centered instructional model. Former founder and principle of Blyden Delany Academy in Milwaukee, he is a writer and lecturer on the national stage detailing African World historiography, urban community concerns with emphasis on education, the social development of Black youth and African American male issues. He can be reached by email for presentation and consultant inquires at: [email protected]