Article courtesy of African American Images
Understanding what makes African American boys tick has challenged many a parent and educator, but youth mentor and author Kevin Todd Porter may finally have cracked the code on the struggles this group faces in the classroom. Porter’s debut book, Angry Little Men: Hypermasculinity, Academic Disconnect and Mentoring African American Males,examines Hypermasculinity among Black boys and its threat to academic achievement.
Racism and poverty are known contributors of negative outcomes among youth, but few have investigated the developmental trajectory that leads to academic failure among African American males. According to the Council of the Great City Schools (2010), only 12 percent of Black boys read at or above grade level by fourth grade, compared to 38 percent of White males. In some inner city communities, the Black male dropout rate hovers at around 50 percent or more.
Picking up where “at-risk” theories stalled decades ago, Porter examines two key developmental factors to understanding Black boys’ academic performance: Hypermasculinity and academic self-concept.
Hypermasculinity is “male bravado”-a boastful, sexual, and confrontational mindset and code of behavior valued by Black males and scorned by mainstream society. Anger is the engine that drives Hypermasculinity, a survival mechanism in high risk communities used to instill fear and respect and that is prevalent in urban classrooms.
“Education is way down on a list of priorities that might include drugs, gangs, chasing girls, or just trying to survive a disruptive home life,” says Porter. “Our boys know that education can offer a brighter future, but maintaining a street image trumps doing homework, studying for tests, and behaving in the classroom.”
Porter closely studied the second developmental factor, academic self-concept (self-esteem), among a group of at-risk African American teens and found that despite failing grades, Black boys tend to rate highly in academic self-concept compared with other groups. “Clearly, Black boys are not accurately understanding their own school performance,” says Porter. “They believe they are doing much better than their grades indicate. Furthermore, they tend to blame others, especially teachers, for their troubles in the classroom.”
Becoming aware of these developmental challenges is the first step to equipping youth to succeed in school and in life. A mentor to at-risk Black boys for more than 20 years, Porter offers his C.O.D.E model for mentorship:
- 1. Help youth to connect to a vision.
- 2. Observe and moderate personal behaviors.
- 3. Practice self-discipline.
- 4. Emulate positive examples.