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Saving Black Male Students in Prince George's County

The county curriculum isn't set up for black boys to learn, a local teacher says.

Black boys have struggled in the public school system since the days of integration. Many factors have led to this interesting dynamic.

In the Prince George's County school system, black boys are at the bottom of every statistical category possible. They have the highest suspension rates, lowest standardized test scores, lowest grade-point averages and the most recommendations for special education services. 

Are black boys really that dysfunctional? 

Why are they at the bottom? 

What can the educational system and the community do to alleviate these issues? 

Students cannot be expected to learn anything if they are not placed in the center of their own education. Far too often, black boys are misunderstood by their educators due to a lack of formal training and a misunderstanding of their culture. 

“Teachers don’t relate to black boys, so they don’t feel as if the teachers care,” says Lindsay Bailey, a black physical education teacher at The Possibility Preparatory Middle School in Largo.

Educators must understand this: Black boys come into the classroom with completely different experiences, and if education is not approached from the correct lense, many of them will shut down. 

Aside from the lack of cultural understanding, they also deal with a misdirected curriculum. Black boys are told to conform to a prescribed standard of education, even when it doesn’t fit their respective experiences and lifestyles. 

“The curriculum in Prince George's County schools aren’t set up to help our black boys to learn," Bailey asserts. "It’s not catered to their needs."

So the big question is, what do they need? Black boys should be placed at the center of their education from kindergarten. In science, they should study Imhotep before Franklin. In Math, they should study Egyptian agricultural systems before they pick up a compass. In history, they should paint pictures of the Nubians before they study Greece. 

It’s not about discounting others; they need to know that their existence did not begin with slavery and civil rights. To teach effectively, educators need to understand the culture of their youth. And black boys are immensely misunderstood due to educators’ mis-education.

Educators should not take all the blame. Fathers, families and community members must begin to assume responsibility for our children’s shortcomings. If we are to ever fix the situation, we must begin to reclaim the value we once had in education. We need the same value that made ex-slaves build countless schools within a few years after emancipation. The same value that made toddlers and seniors walk miles to a one-room school house with dirt floors to find a way to equalize the playing field. 

Parents must demand more of themselves first. That means spending more time during the week developing the black male mind. It means exposing them to books and museums at a young age.  It means redefining what it means to be cool.

Successful black men have to make themselves available for black boys to see them. Boys can see themselves in men, and without a clear representation of manhood from a very young age, our boys grow up confused by media images and misled by a facade of cool.

daniel wilson February 04, 2011 at 02:56 PM
are you serious.. the only thing a young male (black, white ,latio or asian ) needs are caring and involved parents.......period
Ajani Simmons February 04, 2011 at 03:21 PM
"In science, they should study Imhotep before Franklin. In Math, they should study Egyptian agricultural systems before they pick up a compass. In history, they should paint pictures of the Nubians before they study Greece. " Love this statement. This right here is what is mostly missed from an educational standpoint. How can one have self-pride when in our educational system we are seen as not contributing anything to society over the span of thousands of years?!?! Our contributions are suppressed into one month of the year and we have the same contributors on repeat. Plus the connection of the Africans in America's contribution and the Africans on the continent doesn't exist in our curriculum. I do understand the importance of parents and the community involvement as well. The black older men need to step up to the plate mentor, tutor, and if nothing else build with the black boys.
Apuje Kalu February 04, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Good article Victorious. How do you explain black females being able to thrive (and I use that term loosely) in the same environment? It sounds like you're proposing the public school system re-segregate in order for black males to have a chance to survive. You and I both are products of the Prince George's County School system and I think what made a difference was quality educators, targeted programming and parental involvement.
Victorious Hall February 04, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Peace Daniel! Im with you. And many Black boys have caring and involved parents but they still have trouble finding the answers. Thats what schools and the community is for. I noted that parents must become engaged in the last paragraph. I respect your comment but I have met plenty parents who love, care and provide but cant seem to find the solutions to saving their young men.
Victorious Hall February 04, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Im with you 100% bruh. My next task is to find ways to get more of us involved.
Victorious Hall February 04, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Thanks for the comment bruh! You are right we did have all of these things and I am saying that most Black males are not getting this. This article was centered more on Black Males but young Black girls face many struggles as well but they are not viewed by educators as such a major threat. Most young Black males culture are seen as contrary to the accepted norm and they constantly pay for it in public school. In addition, we were extremely lucky. We were living in a very interesting time and we were surrounded by many great teachers who cared about their profession and understood us, from the principal on down. Though, there still were many who fell thru the cracks.
Debbie Pearson February 04, 2011 at 07:23 PM
Apuje, I believe that quality educators, targeted programming and parental involvement of the past did indeed make a difference for all of us growing up back then. However, there was a difference in the learning environment for boys even then. It's an undertone much like the idea of girls shunning science and math and embracing home ec and typing. Even then, boys who didn't fit an immedite mold were pushed to ROTC, sports or given a label they couldn't shake. The levels of respect that existed then made it easier to at the very least, help channel boys toward SOMETHING. Now with the breakdown with teachers, parents and respect as a whole for self and others, it's not as easy to guide a boy who is so easily labeled. Teachers who actually care have much larger mountains to climb to even begin to reach children these days with much less support from the community.
Joy February 04, 2011 at 08:37 PM
Great article and definitely one of the main reasons our organization LIFE was started. We want our young black males to be exposed to more black MALE role models, more resources and more opportunites for success. Thank you for spreading the word. Hopefully people wont look at this as another feel good article or use it just to disect your opinion. But will indeed use this article as an opportunity to create change in our communities.
Gail February 04, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Unfortunately, the desire to do well and succeed comes from within. Formal education needs to be revamped in general. Learning needs to be fun in order to keep children interested, regardless of race or sex. Maybe one day there will be more elective type of classes that can be offered to students in public schools. This way they can choose to be involved and study things that they can relate to or maybe find themselves in.
Renay February 05, 2011 at 09:32 PM
I have two sons, the oldest a former PPA now attending our local public school. Prior to this he had been in christian school since 4 years old. I want to concur with your article and mention it's not only the PG public schools that lack an understanding of boys and their learning style, but the christian schools we've attended as well. As a matter of fact, I'm in a delimma in regards to returning to private school next school year. My concern is that he will be expected to conform to the rigid retraints that are placed on the students. Retraints that limit his natural abilities. Oh, another thing. I'll be the first parent to admit I'm struggling with understanding the boys energy and needs as males. My husband sometime seems a bit clueless as well. There are a number of books I'm reading on understanding boys, one author is http://www.michaelgurian.com/ and another did a pbs documentary "Raising Cain" http://www.pbs.org/opb/raisingcain/. And I recently downloaded an ebook, "Raising Black Boys", by Jawanza Kunjufu.
edward February 06, 2011 at 02:46 AM
"So the big question is, what do they need? Black boys should be placed at the center of their education from kindergarten. In science, they should study Imhotep before Franklin. In Math, they should study Egyptian agricultural systems before they pick up a compass. In history, they should paint pictures of the Nubians before they study Greece. " ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ What the heck do Black Americans have to do with Ancient Egyptians? Give me a break. The problem is that black boys are getting negative messages about how black boys behave in society. For many black boys the message they are getting is that to be black they have to do poor in school and be a thug. Studies have shown black boys purposely dumbing themselves down to fit in with their peers. What is needed is a structural cultural overhaul in the black community.
edward February 06, 2011 at 02:51 AM
It's a silly point. Black Americans have no connection to Nubians. They are descended from West Africans not Nubians. Beyond that they don't teach much Asian history either and the Asians seem to do quite well in school. So the argument is very specious in nature. The problems stem from the broken black family, a culture that celebrates apathy and negativity, and a general lack of focus on education. Teachers are not the problem as I see it.
edward February 06, 2011 at 02:52 AM
Exactly, Daniel!! Everything else will generally fall into line.
Lady February 06, 2011 at 02:50 PM
I don't think it's a lack of not understanding, as much as it is a lack of parental involvment by parents . I work in the school system. It never fails when there is a problem with a male student that there is the lack of rules, and discipline in the home. If a parent shows up they always want me to tell them what to do with there child. They are at a lose as to how to handle their own children. I was there to help parents not raise someone's child. We have to many children having children, with grandparents that are also young. We have parents that don't make education a priority, but the newest cellphone, game or clothing is a priority. We have are a race of people that cling to a lifestyle of material wealth. The old saying is still ringing loudly in our community, "If you want to hide something from a black peerson, put in a book" Stay out the mall and visit your childs school.
Victorious Hall February 07, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Peace! Do you not believe the aforementioned quote sends a more positive message. They must first know who they are in order to posses an a higher self image. It has more to do with their historical spirit rather than historical civilizations. They learn they are not thugs by learning that their people where the 1st scientists, doctors and teachers. Just my thoughts. They need to understand their strength in order to combat the ignorance they are confronted with on a daily basis. PEACE
Victorious Hall February 07, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Thanks for your comment! Raising Black Boys is a powerful book!
Victorious Hall February 07, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Thank you for your comment! It was well recieved!
Victorious Hall February 07, 2011 at 01:51 PM
Strong Analysis!
Raul Navas March 01, 2011 at 09:11 PM
Wow, all great comments. From an educator and fathers point of view; when I was raising 2 sons (now fully grown), I never focused on the other things (race, gender, discrimination, etc.). One must focus on what one controls. When my sons were preschoolers, we practiced math problems and read books. Those basic skills (reading & math + discipline) makes it possible for our young scholars to reach beyond Mr. Franklin, President Lincoln and the school's curriculum. They (our students, sons, daughters, etc.) have to take responsibilty for learning.
Demitri Kornegay March 17, 2011 at 03:53 PM
On Saturday, March 19m 2011 at the Galilee Baptist Church, 2101 Shadyside Avenue in Suitland, Maryland, Men Under Construction will begin its 19th year. Men Under Construction is a free "Rites of Passage" class for African American adolescents aged 14 and older. For 12 weeks in a row young men will learn table manners, public speaking, job interviews, college seeking, money management and more but first we'll start with history. Interested students will show up at the church at 8:45 Saturday morning with a notebook with paper, something to write with and a Bible. You'll be at the first class for two hours.
Nely April 18, 2011 at 12:49 AM
Shoot man, I wanna learn about Nubias, Imhotep, and Egypt too; and i'm not black. Love the comment about their history did not start with slavery. All good stuff but in the end the greatest predictor of academic success is linked to parent income. Fix the poverty problem first. Good luck. HOWEVER, access to print beats the poverty research. So start there since u can't solve the poverty. I mean we can but we won't. People like Enron you know and the corporations that now have us by the throat (gas stations).

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