John Merrow, an education journalist for whom I have great respect, was shocked by a recent report on the desperate situation facing young Black men in this country.
The data, from the report titled A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools…, are jaw dropping, and we do have a national catastrophe.
His reaction was echoed by many in the media and poltics. The report is disturbing and true. What’s happening to Black males in this country is a national crisis. But why are so many people acting so surprised by these facts? Is it that they’ve been too distracted by other events such as the background noise of Waiting for Superman or The Education Nation? Too enthralled with the superegos placed in charge of major schools systems (NYC, DC, NOLA) and their flashy but largely ineffective (especially for Black males) turnaround strategies? Or, is the ignorance of the plight of Black American boys and men a case of collective self-imposed ignorance? The information has been around and many have been speaking out about it for a long time.
In education, for example, research and concern about the chronic underachievement or so-called achievement gap between Black males and their peers has been fairly plentiful and consistent for over 10 years, such as this report in a 1999 issue of Journal of Negro Education [from Howard University].
Many, many other Black parents and educators have been sounding the alarm about what has been happening to our sons for at least a generation. More often than not, our concerns have been met with either lukewarm support or the more recent increase in the type of policies and practices that created the problem in the first place. There’s been no shortage of people offering to study the problem; there are a plethora of grants and short-term projects. There’s also plenty of finger-pointing and blame-passing.
One voice that has been crying in the wilderness about what could be done to help solve the problems has been that of veteran civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, now head of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). For over five years, CDF has spearheaded the Cradle to Prison Pipleline Campaign, a multi-phased grassroots call to action. As they note, the sad truth is that every Black boy born in America has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison. As CDF and the more recent GCS report correctly point out this crisis is the product of a long history of personal, social, and political choices. We, as a society, have created the crisis, and we have a moral, economic, and civic obligation to stop it. What we can’t do is pretend we didn’t know.