The New Politics of Race and Gender: The 1992 Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association

By Catherine Marshall | Go to book overview

9

Do African American males need race and gender segregated education?: An educator’s perspective and a legal perspective

Kevin Brown

With the waning of the commitment to desegregation, many in the African American community are beginning to advocate separate education, especially for African American males, as a way to respond to the ‘crisis’ in the black community. Educational justifications for separate education recognizes that dominant us culture and African American culture exert an inevitable, unique and negative influence on the social environment of African American males which should be incorporated into the teaching techniques and strategies developed for their education. The legal system, in contrast, sees individuals as primarily responsible for determining the influences of culture on their lives, as a result, the best justifications for separate education for black males requires the acceptance by the legal system of an influence it does not recognize.

In a special issue of Ebony magazine published in August 1983, the African American community was introduced to a provocative question posed by Walter Leavy: is the black male an endangered species? 1 To emphasize the deteriorating condition of the African American male, Leavy pointed to a number of statistics regarding the condition of the African American male, including homicide rates, rates of imprisonment, increases in the rates of suicides and infant mortality and a decrease in life expectancy. 2 The debate about the endangered black male has been carried into mainstream us society with proposals by a few public school systems to establish African American male classrooms or academies. These proposals have been one of the most controversial educational issues of the 1990s. Proposals for such education have surfaced in a number of cities, including Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee and New York.

Unlike segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s, the champions for these academies display a genuine concern for the interests of black male students. Supporters of these schools, taking their lead from Leavy, have generally argued that these schools are necessary to respond to the crisis facing black males both within and outside of educational institutions. 3 To demonstrate the existence of the crisis within educational institutions proponents point to dropout rates, low grade point averages, suspensions and expulsions and the numbers of African American males placed in remedial educational courses. As a group, they are at the top of the negative educational categories and at the bottom of the positive ones. To demonstrate the crisis facing African American males outside of educational institutions statistics regarding unemployment, homicides and the numbers of black males involved with the criminal justice system are typically cited.

Despite educational justifications, the legality of race and gender-segregated education for African American males is open to serious questions. For example, in Garrett v. Board of Education4 a federal district court in August of 1991 granted a preliminary injunction against the Detroit school board’s proposal for male academies. The litigation in the case was structured by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the National Organization of Women Legal Defense and Education Fund. The plaintiffs

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