We know the statistics, but what will it take for us to fully commit to implementing the changes needed to solve the crisis?
Part of the problem with teaching boys to read, regardless of their racial background, is that schools don't adjust for the fact that research shows they don’t learn at the same pace as girls. Much of the literature found in schools also doesn't click with many boys because it doesn’t cover topics they’re interested in. And, Kunjufu told Smiley, "Black boys do not see themselves in assigned reading and too many history texts ignore the contributions of people of color," so they check out.
Kunjufu also pointed to the lack of black male representation in America's teaching force as a problem. With white women making up 83 percent of teachers nationwide, compared to only 1 percent black males, black boys don't have role models in schools that look like them. Tim King, CEO of Urban Prep, the all-black male charter school famous for sending 100 percent of its first class of graduates to college, told Smiley that he doesn’t "do race-based hiring," but black men want to work there because it has a reputation for being supportive. King said having so many black men on his staff is important because it allows students "to see different types of black men getting along," and serves as a counter to images of black men "in combat" on the streets and in the media.
Building relationships with black boys is another oft-overlooked component to solving the crisis. "The easiest thing is to run a young man out of your classroom instead of trying to figure out how to work with them," William Wade, principal of Philadelphia's Roberts Vaux Promise Academy, said on the program. Two high school students, Brandon Rose and Jamill Jackson, told Smiley how they'd been in trouble prior to coming to Wade's school, so Smiley asked them what allowed them to become good students. Jackson's answer reflects the relationships he has with the school staff: "They listen. I can talk. They can hear my side of the story."
Indeed, the implication throughout the special is that the education world needs to care more about black boys. Do we truly believe they're too important to fail? As Smiley concluded, educating black boys can only create a better America, so it's to everyone's benefit to demand some action around this crisis.
photo via (cc) Flickr user John Steven Fernandez