ERIC Identifier: ED334340
Publication Date: 1991-05-00
Author: Ascher, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.
School Programs for African American Males. ERIC CUE
Digest No. 72.
Educators know all too well that they alone cannot solve the social
and economic problems in the U.S. that so severely limit opportunities
of African American males. Nonetheless, many educators and other concerned
citizens are introducing new practices targeted specifically to their unique
needs. Efforts are also being made to decrease the suspension and expulsion
rates of black males, to lower their representation in general tracks and
special education programs and raise it in programs for the gifted and
talented, and to improve the recruitment and training of teachers and counselors
in predominantly black schools (Gibbs, 1988; Reed, 1988).
The new programs for African American male students vary widely. While
some are school-based, others are only school-linked. While some are full-day
programs, others are only classes. Some programs are for male students
only; some are not. Some programs are for African Americans only; others
are offered to all students, as a magnet school specializing in computer
technology would be. Some programs attempt to transform the entire academic
curriculum with an Afrocentric perspective--again, like a computer magnet--while
others simply add a component on African American history and/or culture.
Even the meaning of an Afrocentric or African American curriculum is enormously
varied. The teacher of choice would be an African American male, but this
group is in extremely short supply in every school system; therefore, some
classes are taught by white males, others by women, and most programs,
regardless of the teacher's race and sex, bring in African American men
as speakers, mentors, and so on.
The special school programs also vary in their targeted age group. Based
on evidence that African American males begin to slide academically some
time before the third or fourth grade (Kunjufu, 1984; Lloyd, 1978), many
are aimed at boys in the early elementary years. Other programs respond
to evidence that adolescence for all races is a particularly precarious
period; adolescent risk-taking behavior too often results in early fathering,
drug use, dropping out of school, acts of violence, and incarceration.
They help develop alternative behaviors, values, and activities, and offer
youth new role models by bringing them into contact with African American
MULTICULTURAL VS. AFROCENTRIC CURRICULUM
To help clarify the contributions of these programs, it is useful to
compare them to multicultural programs, which are quite common around the
country, as a concept, if not in fact. Multicultural programs aim to rectify
the narrowness of a Eurocentric curricula and to reduce intergroup conflict
by infusing an awareness of diversity. By contrast, an Afrocentric curriculum
also aims to include a people and history that is often left out of the
traditional curriculum. In any case, the simultaneous use in the emerging
programs for African American males of both Afrocentric materials and activities
to support development of a male identity is new for any group.
RATIONALE FOR PROGRAM COMPONENTS
Although the effect of these programs is intended to be greater than
the sum of its parts, it is useful to consider the rationale of the various
Appropriate Male Models/Male Bonding. The first assumption is that African
American male students suffer from a lack of appropriate male models in
their neighborhoods, at home, and in the school; and that they have few
steady African American men with whom to bond. Most teachers are women.
At the same time, "black children are surrounded by an over abundance of
negative images of black men" (Prince, 1990, p. 3). Thus, the programs
offer positive images of African American male adulthood through African
American male teachers, mentors, advocates, and other role models, in an
Identity/Self-Esteem. A second assumption is that the self-esteem of
African American male students in inner-city neighborhoods is battered
by the pervasive negative images of blacks--on the streets, in schools,
and in the media. Thus, the programs attempt a kind of consciousness-raising,
by teaching the bi-continental history of African Americans and making
clear the achievements and contributions of blacks in both Africa and America.
Also, because negative media images can cause teachers to doubt their African
American male students' chances for success, program teachers need to be
carefully selected and trained.
Academic Values and Skills. Because the values and discipline necessary
for achievement are absent in much of ghetto life, the programs attempt
to combat the "fear of acting white" that hinders school achievement, and
to develop an alternative system of African American values and social
skills that will facilitate success. For example, they mandate strict attendance,
provide assistance with schoolwork, help students develop nonviolent conflict
resolution skills, and promote responsible sexual norms.
Parent and Community Strengthening. The programs are often directed
particularly to African American males from fragmented and stressed families.
They assume that these boys and youth must learn responsibility to their
homes and communities, at the same time as parents and community members
must be brought in to help in the development. Thus many programs have
a community service component, try to bring community members into the
classroom as mentors and in other roles, and demand that parents commit
themselves to some form of participation.
Transition to Manhood. The assumption is that fatherless homes may engender
particularly difficult transitions from boyhood to manhood, and that many
adolescents who are having difficulty moving toward manhood participate
in gangs as a spontaneous form of initiation rite. Possibly the most innovative
aspect of these programs, therefore, is the use of formal "initiation rites"
to direct and dignify the transition to manhood. These initiation rites
programs generally cover a year, and often include acquiring new knowledge
and following rules of conduct, keeping a journal, creating a genealogical
chart of the boy's family, providing community service, and, finally, participating
in a special ceremony (Hare & Hare, 1985; Hill, 1987). Instruction
for initiation rites is often through packaged programs and from private
A Safe Haven. Finally, and underlying all other components, is the conviction
that many low-income African American males need an environment that shelters
them from, and is a positive alternative to, their subcultures. Thus the
programs often protect students from the street by extending the school
day and adding a Saturday component.
Of all the program components, the prospect of all-African American,
all-male classrooms has been most controversial. Although de facto race
segregated schools and classes are commonplace in every city, the creation
of race- and gender-segregated schools or classes violates existing civil
rights statutes. For this reason, a number of programs have modified their
single-sex, single-race enrollment criteria.
In addition, a number of arguments have been raised against all-African
American, all-male classes. Some educators worry that these programs deflect
energy from the general urgency of educational improvement, and that allowing
programs that segregate by choice will legitimate all-white classes that
teach white supremacy (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 1991).
Moreover, special programs for African American males have been said to
exacerbate tensions between black men and women, and even foster a kind
of black woman bashing. Some fear that special all-male programs may reinforce
outdated authoritarian male values. Finally, African American girls are
said to need an Afrocentric curriculum, male teachers, and other such enhancements
as much as their brothers.
African American males have been called "an endangered species." Because
it is important for every American group to be able to function productively,
the problems of African American males must be a concern of all Americans.
Therefore, new programs for African American males are being opened monthly.
While early evidence suggests some success, it is too early to know the
long-term efficacy of these programs and approaches. Moreover, because
most programs involve several simultaneous interventions, it will not be
easy to determine which components are most effective.
Gibbs, J.W. (Ed.). (1988). Young, black, and male in America: An endangered
species. Dover: Auburn Publishing Company. (ED 293 951)
Hare, N., & Hare, J. (1985). Bringing the black boy to manhood:
The passage. San Francisco: The Black Think Tank.
Hill, P. (1987). Simba: Coming of age for the African-American male.
Unpublished manuscript. (ED 287 923) See also ED 187 924 and ED 287 966.
Kunjufu, J. (1984). Developing positive self-images and discipline in
black children. Chicago: African American Images.
Lloyd, D.N. (1978). Prediction of school failure from third grade data.
Educational and Psychological Measurement, 38(4), 1193-200.
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (1991). Reflections on
proposals for separate schools for African-American male pupils. Unpublished
Prince, T.J. (1990). Community service projects at Morehouse College
targeted to at-risk youth. Draft. Atlanta: Morehouse College Counseling
Reed, R.J. (1988). Education and achievement of young black males. In
J.W. Gibbs (Ed.), Young, black, and male in America: An endangered species.
Dover: Auburn Publishing Company. (ED 293 951)