There is a definite, though debated and not widely recognized literacy gap in the United States between males and females.  You will probably not be surprised to know that this gap widens even further when we consider African American Boys.

How We Are Failing Black Boys

Read this excerpt from the article Are schools failing black boys? by Celeste Fremon & Stephaine Renfrow Hamilton:

A 1990 study of more than 105,000 students in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, where African Americans made up about 65 percent of the enrollment, showed that black male pupils performed comparably to boys and girls of all races on first- and second-grade standardized math and reading test. But by fourth grade, African American boys experienced a sharp decline in their scores. More recent national studies have shown similar findings: In 1994, fourth-grade reading scores of African American boys lagged behind those of all other groups at the same grade level, according to the NationalCenter for Education Statistics.

It’s sobering to think that any group of kids as young as eight or nine years old can lose interest in school. But a number of experts have been making this observation about black boys for more than two decades. (Although the performance of black girls also declines around the same age, the dip isn’t nearly as pronounced and is often recouped in later years, researchers say.)

Black boys have several things working against them: schools that cater to female learning styles, the continuing effects of racism in schools (stereotyping black boys as “aggressive” or “dumb”), and a culture where male role models are seriously lacking.

In 2002, 66% of boys lived in a home absent of their biological father. 

Can Things Change?

If things are ever to change, now is the time. The United States has a black president who acknowledges the fact that black children need male role models. On Father’s Day, President Obama gave a speech about the role of fathers to a predominantly black crowd. Here is a brief excerpt:

We need to set limits and expectations. We need to replace that video game with a book and make sure that homework gets done. We need to say to our daughters, Don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for your goals. We need to tell our sons, Those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in our house, we find glory in achievement, self-respect, and hard work.

President Obama, whether you agree with his politics or not, is an important and significant role model for African American boys. If he continues to promote the value of reading and of education in general, educators, parents, and students will listen.  

What Can Parents and Educators Do to Encourage Black Boys to Read?

  • Provide their sons and students with positive black male role models. Enroll their children in mentoring programs, hire black male teachers, give boys examples of positive black male role models, bring in adult black male readers to read to classrooms.
  • Provide black males with a male-centered learning environment.
  • Make sure libraries and classrooms are stocked with books and magazines that cater to African American culture. It can get frustrating for black kids to continuously read about white protagonists. Check out www.brownsbooks.com, a site committed to African-American Children’s Books, Multicultural Children’s Books and Workshops. 
  • Be sensitive about stereotyping ANY student of a different race or gender. Have a zero-racism policy in your classroom/ library/ home.
  • Be encouraging. If your son or student whines that he “can’t,” remind him that “can’t” is a lot different than “won’t.” Black boys are JUST as capable as anyone else. They just have more obstacles in their way sometimes.
  • Make sure their basics needs are being met. It is hard to concentrate on reading, or school work in general, if one is hungry, cold, or living in an abusive environment. Be sensitive to what’s going on at home or even in school when you are not there.
  • On the other side, hold ALL boys, regardless of race, accountable for their behavior. Don’t allow their homework to slide or their attitude to be less than respectful based upon their race or gender. 
  • Parent-teacher contact is important and vital to student’s educational growth. 

For more information about providing black male students educational support, read this recent article from EducationNews.org entitled Supporting African American Boys in School by the Wisconsin Center for Education.

Posted in: Content

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Latanya

    I am so concern about our African American boys, I belong to a prison ministry at my church. It is so sad for me to see all the young brothers who are locked up. I am a reading facilitator. I am resighing from the public schools to commit to a after school program, to help the black boys and other children who are having reading issuses, achieved skills in reading.

    Reply
    • Mike McQueen

      Mike McQueen

      Latanya,
      I am so impressed and inspired with your comment. Wow, what dedication you have! I have often thought about prison ministry. Let’s stay in touch.
      ~Mike

      Reply
  • Mike McQueen

    My heart goes out to African American students, both boys and girls. I’ve been trying to recruit African American guest bloggers to help raise awareness to the issues. I think that teachers, parents, and librarians want to learn more, but there just isn’t all that much information readily available. Stay tuned for more posts that are similar to this issue.

    Reply
  • Maria T. Williams

    Parents must become empowered in the face of educating sons of color –especially amid such startling statistics. While we have a bi-racial president, it is the boys and men in our neighborhoods that must take up the gauntlet to mentor and model for black boys. What’s drastically missing is the prescriptive educational reform that addresses the learning styles of boys and African Americans in particular. In the meantime, coach, pray, and engage our young people with love, support, and guidance.

    Reply
  • Yolanda I.

    We need an education revolution. Boys are not being taught the way that they learn. We have been trying to force a square peg into a round hole for generations. We now have a generation who is rebelling against the outdated, antiquated teaching models of yesteryear. If we look at the history of education in America, it was designed to teach the elite in society in small settings. Remember how the plantation owners children were taught by a tutor brought in for that purpose. Later when slaves were freed, large numbers of illiterate children were herding into raggedy shacks for a few weeks out of the year to learn the basics. We are still essentially following this model. We have not realized that America is no longer an agrarian society. We need year round schools, longer school days, more time for physical activity between classes, time for tutoring/enrichment after 3 and before 6. We need to adapt to multi-modal learning styles including kinesthetic learning and verbal and oral learners.

    Reply
  • Alyssa Ker

    Parent-teacher contact is important and vital to student’s educational growth.
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    Reply
  • Alyssa Ker

    You will probably not be surprised to know that this gap widens even further when we consider African American Boys.
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  • Roz

    My sentiments exactly! That’s why I am starting my own reading clinic!

    Reply
  • Mike McQueen

    Mike McQueen

    Kudos Roz!

    Reply

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