By Chappell, Kevin
Ebony , Vol. 62, No. 11
Call them "the lost Black boys of the fourth grade."
While it may sound like a fictional novel, it's the hard truth for many African-American males who, by the time they reach the age of 10, have already lost so much interest in learning that they are likely to face an aimless educational journey to nowhere.
Experts say that, contrary to African-American girls, the downfall of many Black boys begins around the latter half of elementary school (with the shift from hands-on group activities to the more theoretical and individual study), and continues throughout middle and high school, where the lack of support and high expectations often lead to discipline problems that administrators rebuke, and peers and popular culture often reward.
The result: an educational experience that turns so negative, so confining, that one-half of all Black males now drop out of school, creating a staggering academic gender gap that has reverberated to the nation's colleges and threatens to redefine Black America's work, family and social structure.
While this gender gap crosses all races, it has hit African-Americans particularly hard. Business Week magazine has proclaimed on its cover that "Boys are becoming the Second Sex."
In the general population, 133 women graduate from college for every 100 men. But among the African-American population--where already less than 18 percent of adults above the age of 25 have completed a four-year college education--200 females graduate for every 100 males, according to 2006 Department of Education figures. This 2-to-1 ratio is the highest of any racial or ethnic group.
To see the effects of these numbers, look no further than the nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where, educators say that on average, the ratio of women to men is about 7 to 1, and the graduation rate is 10 females for every 1 male. Just ask student Todd Johnson.
The psychology major is often one of the only male students in many of his classes at Howard University, where he says that the female-to-male ratio is around 16 to 1. "In one of my classes, there were only two guys," he says. "Thirty people, and there were only two guys. That's not good.
"I think a lot of it has to do with what's cool and what's not cool," Johnson continues. "For guys, it's not cool to be smart to study. If you're smart, you're looked down on."
In a nation where African-Americans already have the greatest percentage of women (and the fewest percentage of men) working traditional full-time jobs, the further widening of the gender gap in colleges is already having a detrimental effect on the family structure.
Today, African-American women outnumber Black men nearly 2 to 1 in executive, managerial, technical and sales jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Black women earn more, and have more power and more upward mobility than many of their male counterparts, who, without higher education, have to make ends meet by working menial, low-paying jobs with no skills to compete in a 21st-century economy.
"As the curriculum moves toward the information society, it is geared more toward women," says Dr. Stephen Jones, the associate dean of students in the College of Engineering at Villanova University. "We have to find more ways to engage African-American males in the areas that they are interested in."
Jones says that now, more than ever, the education system--instead of casting Black boys off into special education classes, passing them on to be someone else's problem or looking the other way as they drop out in droves--has to work harder to combat peer pressure and other societal pressures to make learning a positive experience. …