One of the most perplexing and stubborn problems haunting US
education today is the racial gap. While measures of black
achievement in other areas of life are on the rise - income level,
home ownership - the distance between black and white students' test
scores is not narrowing at the same pace.
And although many more African-American students attend college
today than in the past, their dropout rate is 20 percent higher than
that of white peers, while their marks average about two-thirds of a
grade below that of white students.
It's a problem that four new books by black authors come at from
different angles. Although three of the books are about personal
experiences, while a fourth approaches it from an academic
viewpoint, all shed light on a common problem: the damage that
racism and low expectations continue to inflict on black academic
The most immediately practical of the four is Morning by Morning:
How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League by
Paula Penn-Nabrit (Villard Books, 285 pps).
Home schooling was an option Ms. Penn-Nabrit and her husband
Charles came to only with reluctance. Mr. Penn-Nabrit's uncle James
Nabrit was one of the attorneys who argued Brown v. Board of
Education before the US Supreme Court in 1954, and the family valued
the public-school experience.
But after their sons encountered racial incidents at both public
and private schools, their parents worried that continuing to learn
in a predominantly white atmosphere might be harmful.
Many parents will look enviously at the result of this family's
home schooling experiment: Two sons were admitted to Princeton
University in New Jersey, while a third attended Amherst College in
In the book, however, Penn-Nabrit is candid about the things she
felt she could have done better. Each chapter finishes with advice
for parents, most of which transcends issues of both race and
homeschooling. ("Education is more than academics." "It's okay if
your kids get angry at you - they'll get over it!")
Ultimately, this is a how-to book for parents with children of
any color, but it carries with it a troubling subtext: These
talented young men might have remained in public school if their
parents had believed they would get a fair shake.
Very different was the experience of Horace Porter, who tells his
story in The Making of a Black Scholar: From Georgia to the Ivy
League (University of Iowa Press, 149 pp.).
As a child with a powerful hunger for books, Dr. Porter was
bewildered when white staff at his local library treated him as if
he didn't belong there. There were few adults to encourage him. But
largely on his own, he read and studied his way to a scholarship to
At Amherst, however, he encountered other forms of discomfort.
Some were simply cultural - he didn't know his roommate would think
it odd when he knelt to say his prayers at night, and he had trouble
choking down the rare meat and less spicy food the other students
considered standard fare. …