Yesterday, I had an opportunity to review The Schott Foundation’s Report on Public Education and African American Males (www.blackboysreport.org). As I browsed the very uncomfortable statistics, I grew from bothered, to angry, to plain ole SCARED. According to this study, “52 percent of Black male and 58 percent of Latino male ninth graders graduate from high school four years later.” In essence, if this is anywhere near accurate, for every two African American males in ninth grade, one will not graduate four years later. Although we hear such statistical numbers from year to year, the reality of the problem hits home harder for me as my two sons grow older.
Last year was the first time I heard the term “Prep School Negro.” It immediately struck me as offensive although the gentleman uttering the words was perfectly comfortable with using them to describe/refer to himself (mid 40s) and my oldest son (16). He could read the frustration in my eyes, so he encouraged me to visit and read the website www.prepschoolnegro.org. I ran to my car, immediately grabbed my phone, and searched for the site. Halfway through the director’s brief statement, I hung my head in fear and realization that I indeed had a son who shares his story.
As a former private school teacher, mother of African-American private/prep school boys, and a member of an advisory committee for a national minority scholarship organization, I realize that whether our boys are in public schools or private/prep schools, they are faced with some very difficult realities.
According to statistics, African American boys graduate from high school with a vocabulary approximately one-third that of their non-minority counterparts. Many African American students have not read even one classic novel by the time they reach high school, whereas their competition has read most of them by sixth grade. I could go on for days with statistics, but the truth still remains… Statistics Don’t Always Define Our Destiny!
Every year, as I sit in college scholarship interviews I am ABSOLUTELY AMAZED by the intelligence, character, poise, and confidence of young African American men who walk through the door. Honestly, by the end of the day, it is nearly impossible to narrow our selection. This solidifies my optimism and the fact that as parents, there are some things we can do to ensure our sons and daughters are ready to compete.
Based on my experiences as an educator, here are a few of my suggestions:
1. Parents have to be the researchers, the teachers, and most certainly the praying!!!!! We have to be “in the know;” no longer assuming everyone believes a quality education is a right.
2. We must change our perspective of the role of the school and teacher. View them as supplements to a curriculum you control. In other words, research and plan what your child really should be studying and reading, and do so at home. Don’t wait and depend on a failed school system to create those standards.
3. School assignments and homework are the bare minimum requirement. Set the standard for your child far higher. Create writing, math, and reading assignments beyond what is required by the school.
4. Understand that an “A” in one school, could very well equate to a B, C, or even a D in other schools. Know how your child and your child’s school compare to other students and schools…throughout the country. Because the reality is these are the children they will compete against for college admission.
5. Help your child understand that his competition is no longer just other American students, but his competition is global… The entire world!
6. Boost your child’s word bank by requiring him to know and speak using precise, intelligent vocabulary. Encourage him to delete words like “good” and “bad.”
7. Interact and practice intelligent conversation with your child. Force him to speak about topics in the news and issues facing our world today. Make him read the newspaper; order Reader’s Digest and National Geographic.
8. Help your child become a global citizen, knowing something about geography, other parts of the world, people, cultures, religions, and customs. Begin covering his walls with maps.
9. Have your child read the original, unabridged classics. These are a few I recommend reading before high school: Little Women, The Wizard of Oz, A Christmas Carol, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, The Giver.
10. Encourage your child to seriously study and become fluent in another language, and if possible, take at least one trip out of the country.
I concur, there is no “secret sauce” to success, but prayer and effort will surely point you in the right direction.
Peace and Blessings,