Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Educational Genocide:" Black Male Students in the US


Have you ever heard this term: "educational genocide?"

I was just watching SPNN's re-broadcast of the "Minnesota Minority Educational Partnership" Conference from November, 2007. I heard this woman, Rosa Smith draw a parallel between genocide in Darfur, and genocide here in the US - where young black men are concerned.

It was staggering. Compelling. Overwhelming. And made me take note.

I googled Rosa and found the following online article, from the American Association of School Administrators. I share it with you, as friends, administrators, activists, policy shapers, elected officials, readers of my blog.

With deep concern, prayers, and many questions,


Halting an Educational Genocide at Home
By Rosa A. Smith

So much of our world today plays out live and in color on our televisions, making us spectators to the triumphs and the tragedies of others. We sit and watch and, if we get bored or troubled by what we see, we change the channel. Rarely do we take action.

I recently watched a documentary about the systematic and intentional killing of black men and boys in Darfur. The images of genocide were disturbing and heartrending. Like millions of other people around the world, I quietly watched the destruction of a people.

Upon reflection, I thought about the parallel genocide of our black male students’ intellect, souls and potential, the destruction of their ambition, economic viability and civic and social participation. I thought about educational genocide.

Webster’s dictionary defines genocide as a systematic planned annihilation of a religious, racial, political or cultural group. We may debate whether it’s intentional or unintentional, but when we take a critical look at past data and current trajectory, the notion of educational genocide of black male students must come to mind.

A Deafening Silence

Where is the voice of moral outrage over the educational genocide of black male students? The status of our black boys is not about the children as much as it is about the adults, and unfortunately, the silence in our society, in our profession, is deafening.

In the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” Don Cheadle, playing hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, says, “They are not sending help. We will have to save ourselves.” When I share this quote with black parents, I tell them that educators will not do right by their black sons unless they make us and help us do right. And I say to my colleagues: If you are honestly serious about your voiced intent to educate black boys well, you are going to have to do it yourself. No one from Secretary Spellings’ office or the governor’s office or the school board or the teachers’ union is coming to help you.

Those of us who profess to care about black boys will have to step up to save them. What will happen if we sit on our hands and just let things continue as they are now? Consider some realities about being a black male student in America and ask yourself this: What am I doing to intervene?

* Black male students start being pushed out of the education stream in incredible numbers as 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool;

* Black male students do not read well enough early enough to be successful in school;

* Black male students are placed in special education disproportionately more than any other group of students. Black male students are rarely seen in gifted and Advanced Placement classes;

* Black male students are disciplined more often than any other group of students and more often receive the most severe penalty;

* Seventy percent of the black boys who enter 9th grade in many school districts will not graduate with their peers four years later; and

* Too many of those who are paid to serve students have a negative perception of nearly all black male students.

Black male students have no reason to trust adults for we have not given them a reason to do so.

When was the last time you created the trusting space and sought advice from black male students and their parents? Where is the evidence that you treat the black boys and their families with respect and fairness?

Stepping Up

While president of the Schott Foundation, I initiated the Schott Foundation Achievement Awards for the Excellent Education of Black Male Students. When we asked the young black men in the honored schools about their success — and that included students in a school in Harlem where more than 90 percent of the black students go on to college — their message was simple: The principals and teachers treated them fairly and with respect and encouraged them to do better, to take harder classes. We talked with the adults in the schools. Without exception, they all had high expectations for their black male students and pushed and supported them to excel.

Phillip Jackson, executive director of Black Star project and a national advocate for improving life chances of black male students, offers solutions that merit consideration. These include teaching all black boys to read at grade level by 3rd grade; providing positive role models; investing as much money in educating black boys as in locking up black men; connecting black boys to a positive vision of themselves in the future; creating high expectations and helping black boys live up to those high expectations; teaching black boys self-discipline, culture and history; and teaching black boys and the communities in which they live to embrace education and life-long learning.

Today is not a good day for our black boys. We must stop being spectators to their educational genocide and become the change agents we seek for them. As author James Baldwin said, “These are all our children and we will pay for or benefit by whatever they become.”

Rosa Smith, a former superintendent, is regional education director for New Leaders for New Schools, 30 W. 26th St., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10010. E-mail rsmith@nlns.org


Donnie P said...

This issue is very very close to my heart, I had no idea you knew or understood the dynamics of this genocide. We must kick it regarding this issue of blaming the victim.

Donnie P

Anne Weyandt said...

I was at the MMEP dinner and heard Rosa speak. The audience was very silent.

This is one of the two or three most compelling educational issues of our time. Thanks for sharing so widely.

Hope you are well.

Anne Weyandt
Anoka Technical College
1355 W. Highway 10
Anoka, MN 55303