Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Cultivating a Critical Race Consciousness for African American School Success

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Cultivating a Critical Race Consciousness for African American School Success

Article excerpt

Since the institution of slavery, education has represented "the practice of freedom" (hooks, 1994) for African Americans in the United States. The educational accomplishments of countless members of the Black community represent a rejection of the dominant societal narrative that African Americans have a history of underperformance in America's public schools. (1) In fact, the counternarrative of Black children's school success serves to motivate many students who might otherwise internalize the myth of Black intellectual inferiority and experience consistent academic underperformance. The educational struggles endured and advancements made by African Americans as a group, since slavery, are a testament to a prevailing collective commitment to developing and maintaining positive racial and achievement-oriented identities in a society where an individual's racial group membership often renders one as less-than, subordinate, and/or invisible. Thus, despite living in a culture in which being Black is often perceived as being academically disengaged and intellectually inferior by the larger society (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994; McWhorter, 2001; Ogbu, 2003), the counternarrative of Black school success highlights a people's continued understanding of the utility of schooling as a viable option for positive life outcomes.

In the field of education, much of the research on Black student achievement focuses on cultural and/or structural explanations for the academic outcomes of these adolescents (Anyon, 1997, 2005; Carter, P. L., 2005; Conchas, 2006; Datnow & Cooper, 1996; Fordham, 1988; Horvat & Antonio, 1999; Mickelson, 1990; Oyserman, Gant, & Ager, 1995; Noguera, 2003; Ogbu, 2003; Rothstein, 2004). A vast amount of the research on Black student achievement perpetuates a continuous discussion of Black underachievement (e.g., Anyon, 1997; Kozol, 1992; Mickelson, 1990; Ogbu, 1991/1998; Rothstein, 2004; Thernstrom & Thernstrom, 2003). Race continues to remain central across discussions that include psychological, anthropological, and sociological analyses. While this research highlights individual, environmental, institutional, and societal factors that affect Black students' schooling experiences, there is a lack of in-depth examination of how these factors interact with students' individual identities to shape their attitudes and beliefs about schooling and subsequent school behaviors. Due to this shortcoming in the research literature, the main purpose of this article is to present data that attempts to fill such a void in the literature.

The data presented in this article stem from a larger research investigation of the racial and achievement self-conceptions of African American urban adolescents and how their self-conceptions inform their attitudes and beliefs about schooling and subsequent school behaviors. A focus on Black students' racial and achievement self-conceptions may provide insight into why these students enact adaptive or maladaptive behaviors for academic success in school. While understanding the sociocultural contexts in which Black students learn enables us to better meet their academic needs, equally in-depth examinations of how they construct aspects of their identities can serve the same purpose. An increased understanding of Black students' attitudes about race, awareness of racism in society, and understanding of the utility of schooling for social and economic mobility can help educators identify and embody pedagogies and practices that foster not only academic achievement but also healthy, positive identity construction in Black youth.

This article does not focus on the schooling experiences of urban, Black high school students; rather, it illuminates students' attitudes about race and racism, achievement, and the utility of schooling for upward mobility. In the remainder of this article, the author first provides a brief overview of the literature connecting race to Black student achievement. …

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