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In the United States, more black men ages 18 to 24 live in prison cells than college dorms according to US census data.
In my last year as principal a parent asked me to come to court. Her son, a student at our school, was in trouble. I had seen this young man come through orientation. He came to the school as a quiet student and oftentimes followed the example set by his classmates. He didn't find a positive, encouraging connection at the school. He found his connection outside of school. A year after he enrolled, I found myself giving a statement trying to plea for leniency from the judge. I watched as one of my students was handcuffed and led off to jail. He will spend the next three years behind bars for aggravated assault.
It was one of the lowest points of my career as an educator. I and the public education system had failed another young black man.
The school was designed to enroll students who were overage and under credited. The initial focus was on repeating 9th graders. Since the school’s inception, the population was predominately female. Studies tell us that the biggest drop-out year for young people is after the 9th grade. The statistics I was collecting at the school agreed. Young black men were not coming back to repeat the 9th grade. They were leaving and in large numbers. For those young men we did enroll, they were twice as likely to not graduate then our young women.
Why aren't there protests about this? Why aren't there people sleeping at the capital declaring this as wrong? Isn't this the civil rights issue of our time?
The education reformers have on battle gear. Fighting for which is better-charter or district schools. The fight is around teachers but the fight needs to be on the students. Because for young black males--all reform efforts are failing.
Even the beloved KIPP charter middle schools. The network enrolls a significantly higher proportion of African-American students than the local school districts they draw from, but 40 percent of the black males they enroll leave between grades 6 and 8, says a new nationwide study by researchers at Western Michigan University.
I remember my first year of college when the freshman orientation presenter told all of us to look to your left and to your right. The presenter then says one of these people will not make it to graduation. Remember that?
What if this exercise was done in 3rd grade instead?
All the young black men please stand.
Look around recognize that many of you will end up in jail, few of you will end up in college.
In order for the census data in 2020 to produce different data, there needs to a collaborative effort to understand and appreciate the needs of the young black male and develop educational institutions that put their needs in front of anything else.
This post is also available on The Education Traveler.