Five challenges facing Black males going back to school

Lack of representation. This year, many Black males will be attending schools where there are no faces that look like their own in regard to teachers, administrators, or staff members.  According to the US Department of Education, Black males account for just 2% of US educators. The literature has indicated significant consequences for the lack of Black male representation in school systems related to poorer academic performance, behavioral issues, and socioemotional challenges.  However, in schools where Black male teachers are present, Black male students are reported as having fewer behavioral issues, score better on standardized tests, and experience a greater flexibility in the expression and performance of their Black masculinity. “What they see is what they will be,” and for Black males to imagine academic success as a possibility they need to see Black male educators who embody and promote education excellence.

Cultural competency of teachers, administrators, and staff. According to the US Department of Education, close to 80% of the teacher workforce is White and female. However, nearly half the student population in public schools are persons of color and the literature suggests that this number is growing every year. The potential cross-cultural disconnect, limited meaningful exposure to culturally different individuals, and inadequate access to diversity training can contribute to significant cultural conflicts between teachers and students of color. The literature has indicated that these cultural conflicts and challenges in cultural communication negatively influence academic and behavioral outcomes for students of color. To effectively reach and transform the lives of these students academically, teachers must be able to maximize the cultural strengths of each student. However, given the increasingly disproportionate racial makeup of public school teachers vs students, general discomfort reported by teachers in regards to teaching cultural different students, and the overall lack of preparation teachers have for managing the challenges of these students, many public school teachers struggle to engage in culturally responsive teaching practices

Lower expectations of academic performance.  Several studies have found that a teachers beliefs about how students from different racial backgrounds learn and their subsequent expectations for academic achievement can influence how they conduct their lessons. Students of color whose teachers had lower expectations for their academic achievement experienced more academic failure as well as behavioral issues. Researchers have noted that a significant contributor to the lowered expectations held by the teachers is an ignorance or outright rejection of different cultural expressions of development among the students that could be used to build knowledge and skills. Students of color will only go as far as we perceive their potential and provide encouragement. We can not limit their opportunities before they have even imagined the possibilities for success.

Higher expectations for behavioral issues. Black males have been branded as dumb, deviant, and dangerous in US culture. This narrative concerning the Black male experience has influenced the way they are perceived in the school system as well. The physical space occupied, the use of tone, inflection, cadence, and volume, and the “cool pose” portrayed Black males are consistently perceived as threatening in the school environment. The literature has suggested that this perception of threat contributes significantly to the disproportionate number of Black males who receive disciplinary action in the form of detentions, suspensions, and arrests. This phenomenon has effectively created a situation where the school environment has become a significant referral source for the criminal justice system via the school to prison pipeline.    

Community and systemic trauma. The rates of suicide and depression are rising rapidly for Black males under the age of 18. The systemic challenges faced by Black males in the form of differing trauma experiences (e.g., racial, vicarious, and physical) and underdiagnosed depression and anxiety have created a chronic space for school aged Black males where they feel hopeless, helpless, and alone. These challenges are further compounded by the cultural misperceptions that translate the experience of a sad or anxious Black male into an angry or dangerous Black male within the school setting.  Society has not given permission to Black males to experience sadness or to respond to trauma exposure in ways that allow for meaningful process and healing. Instead, their coping behaviors are seen as confirmation of the dumb, deviant, and dangerous Black male narrative.  

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