Keepin' It Real and Relevant: Providing a Culturally Responsive Education to Pregnant and Parenting Teens

Article excerpt

It's crazy; it makes me so mad. The papers and the TV keep saying about how Black girls are always having babies without being married and how we should wait and get married. But who are we supposed to marry, tell me, huh? It's not like there's some great guys sitting around just waiting for us. Most of the guys around here, they're hanging on the corner talking big talk, but they're never going to amount to anything. When I see those White people on the TV telling us we should get married, I just want to tell them to shut up because they don't know what they're talking about. What Black girl wouldn't want to be married instead of raising her kids alone (Rubin, 1994, p. 54)?

African-American Pregnant and Parenting Teens: How the Numbers Play Out

Although teen pregnancy and birth rates in the United States declined for ten straight years during the 1990s and were less than half of comparative figures from 1957, the year of the all-time high of teen pregnancy, nearly one in ten teenage young women still became pregnant in 2001, with half of these young women giving birth. Teen pregnancy statistics are particularly high for minority youth in poor and working class urban areas. Twenty-five percent of teen births occur to African-American teens, and twenty-eight percent occur to Latina teens, despite the fact that African Americans and Latinas each account for only fifteen percent of the total teenage population (National Center for Health Statistics, 2001).

While the largest overall percentage of births occurs to Caucasian young women, race and class further complicate the study of pregnant and parenting teens. Indeed, unlike White middle-class women who become teen mothers, Black pregnant and parenting teens are far more likely to face disapproval by the general public and experience poverty in their lives and the lives of their children. Young Black women who reside in geographic pockets of poverty in urban areas also have higher than average pregnancy rates.

Baltimore, for example, accounts for twenty-one and a half percent of all births to teens in 2000 (Williams, 1991; Ladner, 1987). The correlation between poverty and pregnancy is striking when one considers that the poverty rate of children born to unmarried teenage, high school dropouts is 80 percent, compared to eight percent for children whose mothers are married high school graduates over the age of 20 (Pardini, 2003). Finally, Black and poor parenting teens are much more likely to have been systematically disenfranchised by a school system that provides few real chances for academic or social advancement (Luttrell, 2003; Kaplan, 1997; Luker, 1996).

The perennial problems faced by young Black women who are either pregnant or parenting who have been disadvantaged in public schools is a troubling phenomenon that merits further attention. This article will provide an overview of societal and school obstacles that African-American pregnant and parenting teens face, and discuss one particular school's innovative response to these teens. By examining how this school and its teachers are employing culturally responsive pedagogy (Gay, 2000) in their work with their students, it is hoped that educators in urban schools elsewhere can begin to consider new and alternative ways of thinking about the education of African-American pregnant and parenting teens, a segment of the overall student population that is currently underserved and disadvantaged in public schools in the U.S.

Societal Obstacles and Stereotypes for Pregnant and Parenting Teens

Various explanations have been advanced as to the causes of teen pregnancy for African-American pregnant and parenting teens. Some researchers link teen pregnancy to a widespread alienation and rebellion against traditional societal norms. Because some African-American young women are rendered largely invisible due to their race, gender, and economic class, these teens choose to opt out of mainstream society through their pregnancy and the birth of their child. …