Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

From at Risk to at Promise: Developing Scholar Identities among Black Males

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

From at Risk to at Promise: Developing Scholar Identities among Black Males

Article excerpt

Black males and females are consistently underrepresented in gifted programs. Just as unfortunate, countless reports and studies indicate that too many Black males are not succeeding in school settings. A scholar identity model, grounded in various achievement-based theories, is shared in this article as one solution to addressing the educational and social plight of Black male adolescents. In addition to presenting the model, suggestions for prevention and intervention are provided.

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The school's ubiquitous message is that success and failure is a matter of personal choice. This discourse is expressed in the school rules and in the verbal exhortations of adults to kids: "Success is up to you." ... However, the homily obscures both the material and social constraints that prevent African American children from succeeding. The way school is organized to promote dominant cultural values and expressive modes favors the middle-class White ... students at the expense of the African American student ...

--Ann Arnett Ferguson, Bad Boys (2000, p. 202)

Although much of America's educational community is discussing the No Child Left Behind Act, high stakes testing, and what these new versions of old ideas actually mean for the larger society, and although the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) 2005 report shows a marked increase in student enrollments in primarily public schools, Black (1) males continue spiraling further down the achievement ladder. In short, they are failing to thrive in many school settings. Young Black males rank highest among students who choose to leave school; are suspended, expelled, or kicked out of school; score poorly on tests; have low GPAs and high rates of referral and placement in special education; and are underrepresented in gifted education (e.g., NCES, 2005; Whiting, 2004). Although young Black males (elementary-school age) are included in these dismal data, the data hold most true for Black males in middle and high schools. That is, as Black males proceed through the educational pipeline, they appear to become less academically engaged (Ferguson, 2001). They appear to have learned to underachieve (e.g., Ford, 1996), to devalue school and academics (Ogbu, 2003, 2004), and to reject school as a place to develop their sense of identity, particularly self-worth and self-efficacy (Whiting, 2004). Instead, we see Black males thriving in the sports and entertainment industries--areas they view as pathways to guaranteed recognition, respect, and large sources of income (Platt, 2002; Sailes, 2003).

Educators, policymakers, and community leaders have developed a myriad of programs and initiatives (e.g., 100 Black Men of America, Alpha Phi Alpha, National Urban League) to reverse this scholastic underachievement epidemic, to stem the rejection of academics by Black males, and to eliminate a perceived outlook of hopelessness and helplessness among this student group. But, little progress seems to have been sustained--the achievement gap remains wide and real for these males (see Barton, 2003). What must be done to more effectively close the achievement gap, to open doors to challenging classes for Black males, and to reverse the negative views that these males have of themselves as scholars?

Having examined the explanations for poor school achievement among Black males and having critiqued those initiatives directed toward remediating their underachievement for more than two decades, I have come to believe that a missing ingredient in closing the achievement gap is the lack of attention devoted to developing a positive image of African American males as scholars (Whiting, 2006). I am asserting that if we are truly attempting to close the achievement gap and to open educational doors that have been consistently closed and/or locked, we must promote and nurture a scholar identity among Black males--as early as possible. Despite years of learning to devalue education, African American adolescents can still be reached (Carson, 1999; Hrabrowski, 1998). …

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