Monday, June 24, 2013

All-boys academy for black and brown boys attacks culture that negates importance of education

The critics of an all-boys academy claim the proposed school are sexist, cost too much and is counterintuitive to the intent of Brown vs. Board of Education. Each appears as a vital argument; however, none take into account the troubling culture that makes an all-boys academy the best solution for Durham’s black and brown boys.

“The ‘extensive data’ that Kenney refers to goes unexplained,” Tim Tyson, State Education Chair for the NAACP, responded to my recent blog supporting a proposal for an all-boys academy. “This assertion certainly does not represent any consensus of the scholarly literature. People of good intentions can differ. But to pretend that the research shows a deafening roar in favor of academies segregated by race and gender are unjustified. “

Tyson’s thesis, along with the assessment of others, fails to take seriously the stack of research and statistics that give credibility to an alternative approach.  Research suggests an inner-city culture that regards education in negative ways, which guides poor academic performance and dropouts among minority boys.

The Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University’s Theories of Change among Single-Sex Schools for Black and Latino Boys: An Intervention in Search of Theory was published in 2010. The study examines the work of six all-boy schools and offers a strong argument in support of their relevancy. 

Need for Changing Boys’ Ideas of What is a Man

The Metropolitan Center study discovered the importance of framing the social/emotional need for a masculine identity based on their understanding of ―street‖ images and the absence of male figures that often surround boys of color

“I think that this notion of manhood that a lot of your urban youth experience is pretty one-sided,” a member of the staff at an all-boy school says.  “It pretty much looks at this aspect of strength and power and equates them solely with sexual prowess, the ability to earn money, and the ability to defend.”

The study uncovered how students are bombarded with imagery and the identity of being a thug, being a gangster, being hard, as defining what qualifies one as a man.

School is referred to as something that ―girls‖ do, and it is for this reason that some administrators claim it is necessary to separate the boys from female students – to give them a space where they do not have to ―compete‖ or feel the need to show off as ―men‖ who are ―too cool for school.‖

Bilson &Mansini’s Cool Pose is informative in unlocking the implications related to inner-city culture.

Need for an Academic Identity in their Social Identities

Minority boys face the acting White stigma.  Cook & Ludwig address this matter in their book The Burden of Acting White. 

“Due to the history of racial discrimination in the United States, African Americans began to doubt their intellectual ability, began to define academic success as White people’s prerogative and began to discourage their peers from emulating White people in academic striving, i.e., from acting white,” the book concludes.

All-boys schools confront the negative perceptions of education among minority boys by establishing a brotherhood among students that instills the resilience to develop and sustain their emerging academic identities.

Need for Future and Leadership

Those interviewed in the study expressed it was through this identity work that they could begin the work of transforming black and brown boys into ―leaders.‖

“These single-sex schools transmit the message that their Black and Latino male students should become examples in their own right and find ways to ―give back to their communities,” the study states. “The young men are being primed to lead the next generation in transformational change for their communities. Rather than sit back and be influenced by the negativity of street culture, the schools direct their students to take positive control of their own lives and take what they learn back to ―the community.”

Need for High Expectations

An administrator suggested that the structural issue of racism prevents Black students, in particular, from making educational gains:

“I would say social issues just from the standpoint of being a young Black male, dealing with racism,” the administrator said. “And so, you’re going to have to converse with people who have low expectations of you, who have no expectations of you. Or you might be in an environment where they don’t want you to be.”

Core in the analysis of public education is how the biases of school administrators and teachers impact their ability to teach minority boys.

Need for Relevant Curriculum and Instruction

The schools in the study expressed the need to center teaching and the curriculum around the educational needs of their students, with careful attention given to the social, emotional, and academic challenges minority boys face.

There is massive evidence that points to how the culture of minority youth clashes with the academic goals of the traditional public school setting.  As admirable as the goal to embrace an integrated school may be, the body of evidence clearly speaks to cultural dynamics that make it problematic to teach those who regard education as a thing that black and brown boys don’t need.

Durham’s statistics make the case – 3,002 black male and 560 Hispanic male short term suspensions in 2011-2012, compared to 249 white male students.  233 black male and 68 Hispanic male dropouts out of a total of 363 for all students.  47% reading proficiency among black males compared to 81% among white males.  64% math proficiency among black males compared to 90.6 compared to white males.

Add to the pot unemployment, incarceration and metal health concerns and you have an increasing divide between black and brown males and their white counterparts.

Tyson argues the affirming of Brown vs. Board of Education. His is a valid claim when taken outside the context of the current plight of black and brown boys.  This is what John Stuart Mills called Experiments in Living.  There are times when the conceptions of good must be tested by the experiences we have in living them out, not merely by comparing them with ethical institutions.

Is it possible that the integration of public school has fostered a population left fractured by the internalized inferiority created by a well-intentioned union?  If so, we, as a society, are obligated to undo a culture that makes education a bad thing among black and brown boys.

They have the right to achieve.  Our failure to respond in an affirming way is paramount to casting them to the wolves to continue their journey toward low achievement and incarceration. 

Is that the message we want them to hear?


  1. It would be far easier to support an academy that serves 'at risk' kids, where the gatekeepers might be the school psychologists and teacher committees. This kind of system would satisfy several needs, one of which is to put the students at risk in an environment where their special needs might be better served, and another, equally important, would be to remove them from classrooms where their presence can be disruptive and interfere with the other student's education.

  2. Your article is quite racist and have very sterotyped views and beliefs of black males. You can not just lump "Brown" boys with the descedents of enslaved African people. Research has shown them to very racist toward blacks -too. The "Acting white" thesis of academic achievement is sooo wrong! Look at the research of Duke University experts on this.

  3. Take a step back for a moment and consider this: that a white group proposed to the school board that a 'separate but equal' school should be created for black and brown boys.

    Imagine the outrage.

    Well, how does this differ? Separate but unequal?