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Education of African American Male Students Essay

The Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme court which outlawed racial segregation within public education facilities. Segregation of public education existed until the Supreme Court considered arguments by the schools requesting relief concerning the task of desegregation. In Brown II, the Supreme Court delegated the task of carrying out the desegregation to district courts with orders that desegregation occur “with all deliberate speed” (The United States Supreme Court, 1954). This phrase “with all deliberate speed” was easier said than done.

Segregation practices continued in America well after 1954. During these early years groups like The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and The Nation of Islam emerged as the new lead organizations for the Civil Rights Movement. Leaders like Megar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. emerged all were assassinated before reaching the age of forty. These assassinations sparked the emergence of younger and more radical groups. Groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party had goals for education. The Black Panther Party created a comprehensive plan for improving their community. The plan was called the Ten Point Plan (Ten Point Plan, 1966). The Ten Point Plan stated: We believe in an educational system that will give to our people knowledge of self.

If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else. (Ten Point Plan, 1966, p.1). The 1960’s were an era of great change in African American culture. This was also a time for new leadership in the African American community. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Megar Evers had chosen to use a nonviolent approach. Malcolm X was more radical and was willing to use violence to get equal treatment. After all three leaders were assassinated; leaders such as Stokely Carmichael had a new concept of what America should become. In 1968 Stokely Carmichael created the term institutional racism, which he defined as the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origin.

One of the new topics in education reform focused on how to educate African American males. Students in urban areas have been exposed to deteriorating conditions, which include overcrowded classrooms, limited funding for education, and unstable learning environments. In recent years the education of African American males has encountered several problems. Although 72% of African-American students in America graduate from high school, over 45% of African-American males drop out of high school (Green & Carl, 2000). Another problem is that one in four African American males are expelled from school each year. Additionally a disproportionate number of African-American males are in special education and remedial reading classes (Lee, Winfield & Wilson, 1991). According to Livingston and Nahimana (2006),

Success with African-American males requires understanding the social context in which they exist. This journey of cultural understanding begins by recognizing preconceived assumptions about urban African-American male children, African-American children, particularly urban youth, are very keen on picking up the adult’s perception of them. Thus, understanding the behavior and dynamics of urban African-American families will greatly aid in understanding and educating the African-American male child. (p.210) Statement of the problem

In recent years, there has been a trend of academic underachievement among African American males. Economic opportunities, lack of education, lack of father figures and the lack of understanding from the American society has damaged the self-esteem and the educational opportunities of young African American males. This research discussed the role that education has contributed to the underachievement of African American males in education.

The purpose of this study was to review and analyze the data regarding the education of African American male students. Specifically, the study looked at the factor impacting the education of African American male students. This results of this study aims to encourage and educate professionals by providing information and additional strategies in promoting the educational success of African American male students. The following research questions guided this study:

1. What factors have influenced the education of African American males? 2. How have historical perspectives regarding poverty in the African American community changed? 3. How have attempts to desegregate public schools in America operated? 4. What strategies can educators use to improve opportunities for African American male students? Limitations of Study

This study was based on existing literature and research regarding factor impacting African American male students. The scope of data collection included journals, books, and articles dealing with African American male student. The literature consisted of a number of studies involving the African American family structure. Studies in the field of education often do not include a control group. Other sources describe recommendations or proposals that may correlate with successful implementation of various strategies, but do not have quantifiable data to support those models. The limitations that these factors bring include the amount of study and research that exists within the literature Research was confined to the past decade; with the exception of the historical aspects presented

Definition of Terms

Accountability: a policy of holding schools and teachers accountable for the academic progress students by linking such progress with funding for salaries, and maintenance Culture: refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance. Different definitions of “culture” reflect various theoretical bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity. Institutional racism: the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origin. Poverty: the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor; indigence. Public education: education mandated for or offered by the government to the children of the general public, whether national, regional, or local, provided by an institution of civil government, and paid for, in whole or in part, by taxes.

The term is generally applied to basic education, K -12 education and primary and secondary education. Racism: a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others. Racial segregation: is characterized by separation of different races in daily life when both races are doing equal tasks, such as eating in a restaurant, drinking from a water fountain, using a rest room, attending school, going to the movies, or in the rental or purchase of a home. Urbanization: means increased spatial scale and/or density of settlement and/or business and other activities in the area over time. The process could occur either as natural expansion of the existing population (usually not a major factor since urban reproduction tends to be lower than rural), the transformation of peripheral population from rural to urban, incoming migration, or a combination of these.

Design of the Study

This study was descriptive in nature. All data were based upon research of available literature on the challenges of poverty and its role in the education of African American male students. Guiding questions were answered based upon a review of existing literature and research which addressed the factor impacting African American male students Literature on educational learning strategies were identified, studied and discussed.

The information is presented in four chapters: Chapter One will consist of the introduction of the research paper. Chapter Two is the review of literature, outlining as pertinent to the research question. Chapter Three presents the analysis of the findings, and theme regarding the historical perspectives and impacting factors associated with the education of African American males. Chapter Four consists of a discussion including summary, conclusions, and recommendations.



Before educators analyze the negative statistics for African American males, the fact that there have been successes must be realized. According to Livingston and Nahimana (2006), Success with young African-American males requires understating the social context in which they exist. This journey of cultural understanding begins by recognizing preconceived assumptions about urban African-American male children. African-American children, particularly urban youth, are very keen on picking up the adults’ perception of them, thus understanding the behavior and the dynamics of urban African-American families will greatly aid in the understanding and educating the African-American male child. Although the literature is quick to point out that many urban African-Americans are reared in single family home, one should not assume that there are not positive males in the child’s extended family. Uncles, grandfathers and even older male siblings can play an important role in aiding our work with students. ( p.210)

There are several questions that could be asked about the education of African American males. According to Education Today (2007, p.22), “there is a new question that will be asked. Will we lose the next two or three generations, or possibly every generation of African-American boys hereafter to negative media, gangs, drugs, poor education, unemployment, father absence, crime, violence and death?” African American male students are faced with several challenges in education such as unemployment, housing, violence, incarceration, drugs, and education. According to Livingston and Nahimana (2006), “Educating young African American males has become an increasing concern for educators and human service professionals over the past 20 years.

Disproportionate rates of school failure, dropout, and incarceration all speak to the need to develop interventions, which can account for the structural and ecological factors that impact African-American families and African-American children” (209). Even the United States Senate has noticed the new disturbing trend among African American males. According to United States Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) “in 1999, 65 percent of African-American male high school dropouts in their 20s were jobless. He added that by 2004, the share had increased to 72 percent, as compared to 29 percent of whites and 19 percent of Latinos.” Schumer also noted “the incarceration rate of young African-American males is at historic highs, more than half of African-American males do not finish high school, and an African-American man in his 20s without a high school diploma is more likely to be in jail than to be working” (Wright, 2007, p.4).

Family Structure/Foundation

In America, the traditional family structure consists of a mother and a father. According to May, “In the 1950’s the normative American family consisted of a breadwinner father, homemaker mother, and several children, all living in homes in the suburbs on the outskirts of a larger city. It was a narrow view of a model family, yet it pervaded the media and was widely accepted as the ideal and most normal” ( p.20). Today, the dynamic of the American family structure is much different. Bishop (1991, p 23 ) stated that “In the 1990s there are still traditional families with parents and children, but the definition of a family has broadened considerably. Children are raised by many varieties of caring adults: single parents, grandparents, kin-networks, homosexual couples, and others. Even traditional appearing families are often blended families of children from different biological parents.” African American families have similar dynamics.

Billingsley (1968, p. 36) “identified three categories of African American families: primary families (e.g., two-parent), extended families (e.g., other relatives, in-laws), and augmented families (e.g., nonrelated individuals).” The structure of the African American family has not remained static over the years. According to Tucker and Mitchell-Kernan (1995) African American women are now twice as likely to maintain families solely then they were in 1940. Another trend involves women heading the household. According to Darity and Myers (1995, p. 1), “The rise in female-headed families among African Americans has been swift. Twenty-eight percent of African American families were headed by women in 1970, and 46% were female headed. This data make it clear that patterns of African American family formation have undergone substantial change over the past 50 years in a number of important aspects. The absence of fathers from the homes has been associated with delinquency. According to Auletta, “living in single-mother household has been suggested as a contributing factor in the development of adolescent problem behaviors” (p.23).

There are other concerns with the African American family that involve marriage. According to Tucker and Mitchell-Kernan (1995), “the proportion of African American women and men who marry has declined by 20% over the past 50 years, compared to the general population that has remained steady. The combined impact of delayed marriage, more non-marriage, high divorce rates, and a high rate of births out of wedlock are observed as having a profound effect on family formation in the African American community. Four out of every 10 African American families have a woman maintaining the family without the support of another adult. These trends are directly related to the well being of African American families and communities.


In the African American community there are several challenges for young African American males. The lack of jobs has a lot to do with poverty and continues to plague the African American community. According to McAdoo (p. 15), High rates of unemployment have had a profound impact upon the African-American community. Discrimination, inequalities in hiring and recessions, plant closings, the removal of high paying, industrial and manufacturing jobs to rural America and Third World countries have removed a number of African-American males from the urban employment sector. Historically, the rate of unemployment among African-American men has been twice that of White America. On the east coast the unemployment rates are even more disproportionate.

Currently in major urban cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York, 35-55% of African-American males between the ages of 18 and 35 are unemployed (National Urban League, 2005). According to Dubowitz (1999), “Currently 24.4% of African-Americans live in poverty as compared to only 8.2% of Whites and 22.5% of Hispanics.”(p.55)” There have been other studies that reveal males are more likely to remove themselves from their family when they are unable to provide financial support (Livingston & McAdoo, 1993).

For African-American Families, and African-American male children in particular, high rates of male unemployment can create a context of fatherlessness, economic instability, poverty, hopelessness characterized of manifested in children by low expectations, increased rates of high school drop out, and high rates of delinquency, which eventually assist in maintaining the context of persistent poverty (McAdoo, 1993). Unemployment can create multiple mental and psychological problems for African American male students

Drugs in the African American Community

There is an increased concerned about drugs in the African American community. In the African American community, children endure the most pain when fathers or brothers are missing because they are in jail. According to Newman (2005), “One reason why many fathers can’t be with their families is because of this country’s misguided war on drugs. Of the 2 million people behind bars in America, more than 450,000 are there for drug offenses. While drug abuse doesn’t discriminate, our drug policies do.” (pg12), Another statistic indicate that African Americans are more likely to go to jail for drug offences. According to Newman (2005,), “Despite roughly equal drug use between African-Americans and Whites, African-Americans are 13 times more likely to go to jail for drugs than Whites. In New York, 93% of the people in jail under the Rockefeller drug laws are African-American and Latino. Offering people treatment and help instead of incarceration for their drug addictions would not only save this country much-needed resources, it would help keep thousands of fathers with their families.”(pg12)

There is another puzzling situation in the low-income African American community related to drugs. There are higher risk factors that create an environment more conducive to drug abuse and incarceration. According to Schensul (2005, p.39), “The drug use of low-income African American emerging adults is more troublesome because those protective factors associated with the role changes that mark emerging adulthood in middle class white youths and many youths of color are not necessarily available to poor young people.” These statistics reflect a correlation between income, drugs, and possible incarceration. Schensul (2005) noted that urban low-income youths experience many of the same developmental transitions as their middle-class counterparts.

Some of the factors that promote drug use include increased residential instability, expanded and diversified social networks, exposure to high risk settings, and negative social influences that support and promote the use of drugs and alcohol. However, urban students are subject to inadequate primary and secondary school education, family stressors stemming from the vagaries of impoverishment and government social policies, limited local professional role models, and few job opportunities that guarantee salaries and benefits above the poverty level. Material goods can also play a key role in the lifestyle of young African American males.

According to McCord, J. (1990,), Sometimes there are families struggle that are related to school life (fashionable clothing and social life) but may not be able to do so for emerging adults whose financial needs are increasing. Selling marijuana is an option for intermittent income supplementation, and many youths have friends or relatives who are in a position to supply them with small amounts from time to time. Once involved in drug selling networks, youths can move to selling additional drugs if they believe it is reasonable to accept the associated risks. This means that students are willing to take unnecessary risk.(pg 35).

Crime and Violence in the African American Community

In the African American community there is a mistrust of law enforcement. According to McCord, (1990), Unlike suburban White youths, however, African American and Latino youths are targets for street violence, arrest, and police harassment and abuse. Once imprisoned, or on parole as adults, their institutional record may preclude voting and render them ineligible for employment opportunities. Imprisonment may introduce them to gang members or prospective customers. (p. 44) Studies also revealed that certain minority youth are at greater risk for violent behaviors. According to Fitzpatrick and LaGory (2000,), “Specifically, African-American adolescents are more likely than White, Hispanic, or Asian youth to instigate physical fighting and weapon-related violence and to suffer both fatal and nonfatal injuries from physical assaults. Not only are minority youth at greater risk for victimization by aggressive peers, they are more likely to perpetrate violence.”(p. 21) African Americans are at higher risk to have more fatal injuries than Whites.

This results in higher homicide rates. Many prominent African Americans have shown concern about young African American students. The most notable of the critics, Bill Cosby, has been vocal regarding the number of African-American men who are incarcerated and the growing number of poor African-American children who are being raised by irresponsible parents. Cosby publicly chastised many in the African-American community for not doing enough to deal with critical problems and issues, such as illiteracy, poverty, crime and violence, which remain challenges in the African American community.

Cosby told a packed crowd gathered at a 50th anniversary celebration commemorating the Brown v. Board of Education decision “the ladies and gentleman of the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal.” These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids — $500 sneakers for what? And yet they won’t spend $200 for Hooked on Phonics” (Watson, 2004, p. 10), Even though Cosby’s statements were harsh, they created a debate, which stirred conversation in the African American community.


According to Kunjufu (2001, p. 15 ), “over the past twenty years there has been a decline in violent crime in the United States. But in the African American community there has been an opposite trend. There are several factors that cause these trends, including poverty, family structure, high unemployment rates, crime, drugs and education.” Kunjufu also reported that African-American males in juvenile detention centers and prison have increased in recent years. Each year, thousands of young boys are placed in detention centers and adult facilities. Although African American males comprise only about 6% of the population of the, they represent over 50% of the penal population (Kunjufu, 2001). There are several other statistics that prove alarming to the African American community and the rest of the citizens in the United States. According, to Kunjufu “Currently one in three Africans American males between the ages of 20-29 is either in jail or on probation.

The overwhelming majority of these men have been arrested and detained due to drug convictions.” (p. 26), Another statistic is that there are major inequities when it comes to sentencing of African American males. According to Livingston and Nahimana, “inequities in sentencing have lead to longer jail and prison terms for these young men at the most malleable period in their development. The return into the drug trade and the life of crime becomes a viable choice for many of these young men, accounting for the high rates of recidivism for young African American males” (p.11). This is alarming because of high unemployment and limited education as well as the fact that prior conviction can lead to long term prison. The incarceration of African American males has had a dynamic effect on the community.

According to Arias (2007), “The overwhelmingly high rate of incarceration among African-American men in America is striking a blow not only to the health and well-being of those men but also to their families and communities.” (p.20) This study reported that 12% of young African American males between the ages of 20-39 have been taken out of the household. This places a tremendous strain on African American women to take care of the household. Another staggering statistic is that only 62 percent of African American males graduate from high school. According to National Urban League Panel (2005, p.1), On average, only 62 percent of African-American males graduate from high school with their original class. African-American males make up only 6 percent of the United States population, but 40 percent of the prison population. Forty percent of those African-American inmates are between the ages of 17 and 26. (National Urban League Panel,).

The age group between 17 and 26 is the age group that will likely attend college. If these current trends continue, there will be a tremendous increase in the number of African American males incarcerated. According to Pluviose (2006,)“by 2020, if current trends hold, that figure will rise to more than 65 percent for African-American men between the ages of 20 and 29.” (p. 22), These figures illustrate a tremendous need for employment and educational programs. The prison rate of African American males has had substantial economic impact on the African-American community. According to Holmes and Hughes (2003, p. 44), “incarceration rates in the United States, prison and jail inmates at midyear in 2002, reported that 12.9% of African-American males between the ages of 25 and 29 were incarcerated.”

Segregated Schools

What would Horace Mann think about the state of education today? Horace Mann was the father of the American school system. According to Hubbard (2005), Horace Mann believed that the common schools should be available to everyone. He wanted them to be available to people that were rich, poor, and of different backgrounds.

As mentioned earlier Brown vs. the Board of Education was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court which outlawed racial segregation within public education facilities. In Brown II, the Supreme Court delegated the task of carrying out the desegregation to district courts with orders that desegregation occur “with all deliberate speed” (The United States, 1954). The current challenge that urban education face is called the No Child Left Behind Act. According to The United States Department of Education (2007) “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-110), commonly known as NCLB, is a United States federal law that was passed in the House of Representatives on May 23, 2001.

This law was signed on January 8, 2002, and reauthorized a number of federal programs aiming to improve the performance of United States primary and secondary schools by increasing the standards of accountability for states, school districts and schools, as well as providing parents more flexibility in choosing which schools their children would attend. Additionally, NCLB promotes an increased focus on reading and re-authorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (NCLB, 2007). One of the many challenges with No Child Left Behind is that the goals are commendable, but the expectations are unreasonable because of the deterioration of the urban schools school district.

The next challenge in urban education the education of African American males. According to Misani (2007,) “nationally between one-half and two-thirds of African male students drop out of school.” In addition, the research disclosed a 65 percent dropout rate in Chicago, with only 35 percent of African-American male students graduating from high school. In New York, the dropout rate is 74 percent, with merely 26 percent of African-American male students graduating.” p. 34) This is a tragic situation in urban schools when nearly seventy five percent of the African American male students are not graduating. According to Smith (2005, p. 27), “the drop out rates for African American males in metropolitan areas is well over 50 percent.

Another trend is that some African American males believe that it is easier to drop out than to complete high school Bowye (2007, p.3) stated, “It is most disturbing that dropping out of high school is more common than graduating from high school for children of color.” Focusing on another disconcerting trend within the community for African-American young men, Dr. Hodge pointed out: “Going to jail is becoming the common experience for children of color” (Misani, 2007, p.35). If African American children continue to think this way, many are headed for prison and the crime rate will steadily increase in these areas.

There is also a problem when it comes to the placement of African American males in education. There are disproportionate numbers of African American males placed in special education and suspended from school. According to Rodney and Crafter (1999, p.185), “Nationally African American males score lower than any other groups on standardized test and are three times more likely than their Caucasian American counterparts to be misplaced in special education or classes for slow learners.” When situations like this continue to occur students feel neglected and are more likely to drop out of school. Many African American students think that the American educational system is unfair.

According to Misani (2007, p. 34), “African-American boys are disproportionately and inappropriately assigned to special education classes, expelled and suspended from school, and underrepresented in college preparatory classes.” Consequently the study concluded: “Many of those who graduate are not prepared for college or further educational training.” (Misani, 2007 p.34) African American males represent 8.6 % of the nation’s public students in 2000-2001, but in some districts, they make up as much as 41 percent of the special education population (Smith, 2005).

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