Of all the challenges we face in education today, I can think of none greater than the challenge of motivating, educating, and empowering black male learners.
The fact that this group of students is in crisis is evident on multiple levels, starting with graduation rates. According to the Schott Foundation (2008), the U.S. high school graduation rate for black males is just 47 percent, compared with 57 percent for Latino males and 75 percent for white males. Alarming as this figure is, the situation becomes even more shocking in large urban school districts, such as New York City, Detroit, and Miami, where the graduation rate for black males ranges from 20 to 30 percent.
The crisis doesn’t begin when students drop out of school. In far too many cases, it begins before they even enter school. As they move through the grades, black male students as a group have low achievement levels, excessively high suspension and expulsion rates, and a disproportionate number of special education referrals (Kunjufu, 2005). In my 14 years as an urban middle and high school principal, countless numbers of my black male students entered secondary school reading one to three years below grade level.
Why There Is A Need To Empower Black Males
The need for an empowering, high quality, and engaging curriculum for black males is clear. The disparities in the data clearly show that students who aren’t engaged and who lack high quality curriculum fall far behind—frequently beyond the point of catching up. With high engagement and high quality curriculum, students start out far behind, but they manage to catch up. Exposure to high quality lessons and curriculum can close the achievement gap and give every student opportunities to develop a passion for learning.
Unfortunately, most urban districts don’t have the budgets or staffing to provide engaging instruction to all students equally. They don’t have the money to provide enough economically diverse teachers, high-quality instructional materials, and appropriate enrichment programs to keep disengaged students actively engaged. In my 14 years as an urban school principal, I watched far too many of my students fall behind because they lacked enriching opportunities throughout the school day.
Teachers know that engaging students with dynamic, high quality lessons and materials can be difficult. If it were easy, every teacher would do it. I come from the generation that believes you can teach anything through anything if you’re just a dynamic enough teacher. That mentality has been proven shortsighted and faulty. What we’ve learned is that your curriculum must be rich with material that appeals to a variety of learning styles, and it must be engaging enough to keep students actively engaged through every lesson.
Students need more than “time on task” in order learn. If the curriculum is engaging, students will stay focused, and hopefully stay involved in learning throughout the day. But even the best curriculum and the best lesson design gets diluted when a teacher lacks confidence in the material. There is nothing more frustrating for an examiner than to walk into a classroom that is filled with students who are staring out the window, staring at the ceiling and/or sleeping. No matter the reason they’re doing these things, it is very unlikely that students learned very much during those periods of time.
How to Empower Black Males
I believe strongly that in order to maximize outcomes, you must first address the motivation of your learners. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2010), 70 percent of students in the U.S. are considered at risk for not completing high school. We have to get to the root of the problem by eliminating failure from the vocabulary of our students. If kids set high expectations for themselves and if they believe (and are taught by their teachers) that they have the ability to reach success on any one test or any one goal they set, then the motivation to learn will follow.
To me, teaching authentically is the process of teaching to the heart and soul of a child. In my opinion, educating black males is what every teacher should consider her or his mission. If you have a student in your classroom exhibiting qualities and characteristics consistent with the mindset of the playa, the thug, the hardened, negative person, you are obligated to be the force that turns that student around. Many teachers are afraid to engage in such an effort for fear of losing their jobs. Trust me, if that person is an educator’s student, that educator has an obligation to do everything in his or her power to break that cycle of negativity and failure within that student. It is his or her job to teach. It is your job to educate. And it is your job to empower your students.
Enriching, empowering, and igniting the passion for learning in my students is what I believe to be not only my responsibility, but my mission. My story is not unique. There are many great educators working in high-risk urban schools who put in unbelievable hours and give of themselves in order to educate black males. You are just the person for the job if you are committed to the underserved and empowered to the fullest capacity. If you give up on duty, you relinquish an important part of the job, and you do your students an injustice.
Working Toward Empowering Black Males
If we are to move students toward success, we absolutely have to believe with confidence and conviction that our students can, in fact, make it, that they can do it. But that’s not all. We also have to give them the tools they need to do so. A curriculum that focuses on motivating black males can be the difference that takes a disengaged student and turns him into an active learner. If we want to close the achievement gap for all students, we must take a strong stand for black males.
The best tool we have in our mission is empowerment. Empowering black males is not about getting rid of their anger, eliminating their pain, or distracting them from their negative realities. As we establish a secure bond with our students, we must empower them to learn, to do well, and to have a dream. We must provide them with the tools, techniques, and motivation to achieve that dream.
Of course, the students will face obstruction and hardships; otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell. What we’re talking about is giving our students access to strategies that help them face those obstacles. If we can do this effectively, we will give them the skills they need to persevere and achieve.
The Black Male Handbook by Kevin Powell
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The Black Male Handbook answers a collective hunger for a new direction, fresh solutions to old problems, and a different kind of conversation—man-to-man and with Black male voices, all from the hip hop generation. The book tackles issues related to political, practical, cultural, and spiritual matters, and ending violence against women and girls. The book also features an appendix filled with useful readings, advice, and resources. The Black Male Handbook is a blueprint for those aspiring to thrive against the odds in America today. This is a must-have book, not only for Black male readers but for the women who befriend, parent, partner, and love them.
Career Killers/Career Builders by John M Crossman
This product was recommended by John Crossman from Crossman Career Builders
The book provides tools to help people to reach full career potential. It promotes HBCUs
Freedom, We Sing by Amyra León
This product was recommended by Suzanne Wylde from SuzanneWylde
I feel this book is an inspiring, lively, colourful exploration of ideas that little boys will be engaged and uplifted by. It doesn’t shy away from big topics or talk down to children. It is a majestic and loving dance through what it means to live in our world and I would happily recommend it to any child.
Shoot Your Shot By Vernon Brundage Jr.
This product was recommended by Melanie Musson from QuoteInspector
If you’re a sports fan, this book offers examples of opportunities seized that you’ll relate to. It’s a fast-paced book that grips your attention and makes it hard to put down. Sometimes, life is like a basketball game, and what you learn from the game can empower you for success. This book doesn’t just contain inspirational stories, but it also contains advice for concrete steps to take in your own life that will help you overcome.
As A Black Man Thinketh by Reggie Whittaker
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There’s no denying that racial attacks targeting African-Americans are existing not only in America but all around the world. The book empowers African-Americans to take a stand against social injustice and bias and takes a stand against a common enemy— racism! Another highlight for his book is the self-actualization section that helps black men discover their self-worth by living a life of service.
Love, Life, Confrontation, Expressions by Mr Martin Matthews
This product was recommended by Martin Matthews from MartinmBooks
This book is a compilation of poetry that addresses topics not often discussed by Black males. It is a vehicle through which men can express complex emotions in a way that does not infringe upon the rights of women or negate their responsibilities as society’s builders. Each poem in the book captures a scenario that is fundamental to the male development in the various roles he has to play. Martin Matthews uses witty, humorous, and thought-provoking poetry to address matters of the heart. He explores the confrontations we face with others and within oneself. When facing the feelings invoked by confrontation, Matthews’ work utilizes a masterful demonstration that encourages the Black male to use words, rather than a less conducive means of expression.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
This product was recommended by Marcos Martinez from Men Who Brunch
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is an empowering book for black males. The book highlights the forms of social control of black people beginning with slavery then reconstruction and then eventually mass incarceration. Every black male should read this book because it teaches us the history of oppression. This book will also motivate young and older black men to educate themselves so that they can become productive members of society.