Black Boys and underachievement: Myth or Reality?
Since the decade of the 1960s, the families of black Caribbean boys have been particularly concerned about the academic performance of their children. The reason for this is due to an apparent gap between these Afro-Caribbean children and other students, especially white ones (National Union of Teachers | NUT | The Teachers' Union, 2007). Today, their scholastic success at the attainment at General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) remains well below the national average. In 2006, 44.9 percent of these children gained five good GCSEs or their equal compared to 57.3 percent of white students (DfES, 2007). The figures in Wales demonstrated that at key stage 4 the students also tested well below the national average (Statistical Bulletin 75/2006, 2007). In addition, it has been thought that while Afro-Caribbean boys performed adequately at lower levels, indications now are that they are beginning to lag behind during this period also (DfES, 2007).
The reasons for the low achievement of Afro-Caribbean students is complicated. Suggestions for influential factors include low socio-economic status, poor parenting in the home, pressure from peer groups, racism, and low expectations by instructors (Rollock, 2005). In addition, there are high levels of permanent expulsions of black students from the school system; approximately 1000 Afro-Caribbean children are permanently removed from the schools with about another 30,000 receiving a fixed period of time out (Wanless, Dehal and Eyre, 2006). In addition, the punishment black children received is shown by research to be more than three times more severe than the punishment given to white students for the same offenses.
The primary responsibility for teachers is to avoid racism, provide a safe and positive school atmosphere, and guarantee equal opportunities for learning. However, parents and the students themselves share in the burden for learning and developing self-respect.
The objective of this paper is to determine if African-Caribbean boys are underachieving or if they are not receiving the acknowledgement for their achievements when they are attained. The research will investigate if there is evidence of academic achievement by Black Afro Caribbean boys that will disprove the myth and examine current interventions that have proven successful.
The balance between the countries of the world is shifting as they develop socially and economically. The European Union grew from 15 states in 1997 to 27 in 2007; people travel in and out of the United Kingdom easily as a result (Starkey, 2008). This immigration and interchange of cultures creates the possibility of racial tension that requires attention by the government. Within communities, especially school, respect for diversity and flexibility concerning the needs of non-white students is reflected in national and international politics.
Hunte (2004) stated the first large groups of Afro Caribbean immigrants arrived in England in the early part of the 1950s. The families had received offers of jobs with London Transport, the National Health Service, and others. They came to Britain in an attempt to escape the poverty of the islands of the Caribbean. However, when the large numbers of children poured into the school system, teachers in England were not ready for them. The students were relegated to lower streams and some teachers even refused to undertake classes with such large numbers of children.
O‘Meara, Mehlinger and, Krain (2000) propose that the relocation of large groups of one culture to another bring a complex group of problems that result in poverty for the underprivileged, strong class distinctions, and racism. In order for education to be fair for every child, these topics must be discussed and actions implemented to compensate for them. If the current system is producing achievers and underachievers around the world, the barriers for Afro Caribbean boys will produce a wider gap in education with little hope for successful adult careers.
The last Labour government had goals for improving the performance of students in the United Kingdom, but this did not address minority groups specifically (Graham, 2011). The result was a curriculum that did not benefit black and other minority students. The current government is less progressive in its recognition of the need for programs that step away from traditional learning in order to address the lack of achievement by Afro Caribbean boys.
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry promoted investigation into “institutional racism” (Gov.uk, 1999). This Command Paper was laid before Parliment in response to the racially motivated killing of a young black man while he was waiting for a bus in London’ allegations of racial prejudice by the police department were later made. The Macpherson Report (1999) confirmed this was actually the case.
The future of Britain, as is the future of every country in the world, is based on the young people who live there whether they succeed or fail. If people of all cultures are to live together and share the future without separation by groups that result in conflict, the government must invest in the integration and success of each one. John (2006) asserts that the government must understand how the past has shown the direction for improvement and address the evidence of racial inequality in the educational system.
There is social unrest within the Afro Caribbean community and anti-gun programmes strive to end the violence of murder of young black people in London. The Swann Report (1985) states:
―a multi-racial society such as Britain‘s would function most effectively and harmoniously on the basis of a pluralist society which enables, expects and encourages members of all ethnic groups, minority and majority to participate fully in reshaping the society as a whole within the framework of commonly accepted values, practices and procedures (Swann Report, p 243).
According to the report, the result of continued underachievement by Afro Caribbean boys will be more murders, crime, and civil unrest in the streets of Great Britain.
Critical Race Theory
The Critical Race Theory (CRT) promotes an analysis of racism from a legal viewpoint (UCLA School of Public Affairs | Critical Race Studies, 2009). CRT states that racism is inherent in society and in the 1970s, a group of activists, lawyers, and teachers felt the Civil Rights movement had slowed and sometimes negated. CRT combines the concepts of Civil Rights and discussions of ethnic studies. It asserts that while racism is an unfavorable aspect of society, it is not abnormal and is frequently accepted as acceptable (Delgado and Stefancic, 2001).
In order to apply critical race theory, it is important to focus on the cultivation of expression and voice for the student (Knaus, 2009). When teachers learn to promote the use of critical voice in students, it allows students to bring their intense home experiences into the classroom. If teachers cannot accept the barriers the Afro Caribbean children experience at home, they become viewed as the stereotypical instructors that create an education that is disparaging to the students.
The underachievement of black Afro Caribbean boys has been published as a fact, but the question has been raised about the actions of the government and educators to address it. Since it appears that since there is little being done to address this problem, the possibility arises that the assumption is in error. The Critical Race Theory comes into play if it can be determined that racism is the main reason for the failure of Afro-Caribbean boys to achieve scholastically. According to Knaus (2009), the critical race theory demonstrates how schools allow racism through teaching practices that are based on advantages to white students while ignoring how racism is impacting the lives of minority students. In this respect, achievement is measured by values of Caucasians rather than being a color-blind assessment of academic success (Lipsitz, 1998).
The Office for National Statistic reported that in 2004, only 27 percent of Afro Caribbean boys graduated or dropped out of school with 5 A*-C GCSEs. This statistic agrees with the DA Vision (2004) statement that the boys start school fairly evenly with other students, but as their academic career continues they fall further behind with each stage. The DA Vision (2004) stated that in 2003, 70 percent of Afro Caribbean boys stopped their schooling with less than five higher grade GCSEs or their equal. This makes them the lowest achieving of any ethnic group of students. They have been at this category for every key stage for the last four years.
The label of “underachieving” can lead to stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophesies. It can also attempt to change the focus of responsibility from the school system to the individual. The current policies are not meeting the needs of these boys and even if educational standards have continued with improvement, Afro-Caribbean boys are not benefiting from them to the extent of other students. When young Afro-Caribbean men do not attain qualifications, they are denied access to higher levels of education. Consequently, they have difficulty getting better jobs and the results are a disconnection from society.
Rhamie (2003) argues that for the past forty years, research of the underachievement of African Caribbean boys continues to show they function at performance levels that are below average. He believes this is a result of poor exam results and exclusion rates that are disproportionately high. There has been noticeable improvement of the GCSE since the 1990’s with rankings improving for minority groups (Runnymede Trust, n.d.). Regardless, while Afro-Caribbean boys are doing better than the young men before them, they are still far behind white and Asian students. Even students of Black African heritage fare better than Afro Caribbean pupils.
Social Class Bias
Lupton (2005) considered social class to be the major reason for underachievement by children scholastically. This article refers to social class rather than race being the reason for low standards of achievement and is relevant because the ILS is one of the poorest neighborhoods in London. The populations of Afro Caribbean boys are mainly in educational facilities that work with problems such as a transient workforce of instructors, low prior attainment, and high staff turnover (National Union of Teachers | NUT | The Teachers' Union, 2007).
Sewell (2009) stated that while being from a low-income family is not an excuse for underachieving, it does contribute toward it. Since there are others cultures that are also socially disadvantaged and perform better than Afro-Caribbean boys, the issue does not completely explain the problem.
The study by Knaus (2009) on culture in his writing class applied critical race theory to allowing minority students to voice their feelings concerning their race and low-income status. He felt classroom structure gives teachers an understanding of the problems facing these children and promotes more effective classroom structures.
The relationship between Afro Caribbean students and their white teachers are often described as critical with large amounts of control. Teachers often harbor negative perceptions and stereotypical impressions about minority student, particularly concerning their language skills and living conditions (Runnymede Trust, n.d.). Lupton (2005) is a proponent of quality teaching to contribute to the solutions of imbalances between students who are disadvantaged and those who are not. Schools in lower socio-economic areas have a poorer quality of education including management and environment and the worst inspection grades. Training for teachers need instruction in race quality issued, but the expectations of the Training and Development Agency are often not enough (National Union of Teachers | NUT | The Teachers' Union, 2007). Also, there is little training on the equality of race in the initial settings for teacher training.
In regards to the perception of the teachers by their children, Knaus (2009) surveyed students in his writing class concerning the number of teachers they had in their student history they felt were “good”. Of the 46 instructors each child had been assigned, the average number considered to be good were only 3. When pressed for a definition of “good”, responses included that they “care about us”, “ask about and remember us”, “know how to calm me down”, “be themselves”, “don’t get angry at me”, and “trusts us”.
Knaus (2009) believes a limited curriculum for black students promotes the number of student leaving school before completion and an attitude of teacher apathy. This same curriculum increases the disengagement students feel because academic success seems hopeless. Knaus (2009) focused at one point of his study on ways to bring students into classes and become engaged in their education. Unlike much of the white population of students, home circumstances can be so daunting the prospect of adding the stress of school is too much. Knaus asked the students what would motivate them to continue their educations. The list included classes in self-defense and anger management, counseling for drug and alcohol use, attention to skills they could use for survival, adequate books and other learning supplies, and teachers that show respect and provide a safe place to learn. These suggestions are indicative of a different concept of school that belonging to white students. In order to understand the mentality of the minority students, it is vital educators know how the children live before, during, and after school. Afro-Caribbean students desire respect for their culture, but also respect for them individually.
Knaus (2009) asked his students what would interest them in coming to school and some of the answers included access to instruction in self-defense and anger management. In addition, when offered as extra classes and not replacements for serious curriculum, instruction in art and dance were mentioned as being attractive. Activities specific to Afro Caribbean students would include black arts and culture, black history, and black cooking (Graham, 2011). Aside from creating an awareness of their culture, these classes would promote understanding for other cultural groups and the boys would feel they were the leaders of the activities.
When applying critical race theory, publicly acknowledging the daily struggles that face urban students of color is essential. The classroom is the only public arena for conversations concerning their survival. This dialogue is risky and teachers must supply support for students willing to be forward with their concerns. Individual follow-up with each child is essential. Also, there is evidence that the use of supplementary school after regular school hours has been of benefit.
McGee Banks and Banks (1995) propose that “equity pedagogy” is a vital part of educating diverse cultures in the school system. This is the utilization of strategies toward instruction and creating a classroom atmosphere that helps minority children acquire the attitudes, skills, and knowledge they need to live and work in a modern-day society. The authors feel students must learn to analyze and improve the information they are supplied in order to become productive citizens. It is only by using equity pedagogy that a curriculum can address the needs of the ethnic students in the system.
Graham (2011) states that a parent being involved with the child’s education goes deeper than simply working with the school. It includes good parenting outside the school, providing a safe environment, having parent/child talks about issues that are causing concern, and providing a good role model. Graham believes parents sharing information and being involved in school events is essential to increasing a student’s chances at success. Some parents have made the sacrifices to provide attendance at secondary schools to bolster the achievement of their children. Ironically, the parents will often minimize or even hide this due to fear of stigma.
Homes with single parents and/or obligations to a job may find affording supplemental school or even active participation in regular school difficult due to work or other obligations. However, parental involvement is only one factor in the success of the Afro-Caribbean student.
It appears that the issue of increasing academic success of Afro-Caribbean boys is one that involved numerous factors. To blame the school system would be simple and it is true that there are obvious improvements possible in programs and teaching skills. However, racism both in and out of the classroom has an enormous impact on the perception the students and parents have concerning potential success of these children. The Macpherson Report (1999) proposes that when individual prejudice is placed into the operations, policies, culture, and procedures of educational institutions – either public or private – the result is institutional racism.
It is necessary for colour-blind administrators to evaluate tests, standards, and other influences on the ranking of black students. In addition, community resources are required to reach out to the children who need assistance with food, medical care, and a safe place to live. Education comes far down the list of priorities to Afro-Caribbean boys when they are worried for their ability to live in and out of school. Since the economy of the country is negatively affected by the inability of the children to find jobs, even if they graduate, the government is advised to take seriously the improvements needed to enable these boys to finish their schooling.
There are a number of actions the schools can take that are cost efficient and effective for promoting scholastic achievement in Afro Caribbean boys. Some of these include events to award and recognize black boys who achieve, discussions should be held with black fathers who are still in the family about acting as role models, and there needs to be available community sources for single black parents communicated to teachers (National Union of Teachers | NUT | The Teachers' Union, 2007).
In order to further research into programs for the benefit of black children and to realistically grasp the statistics of the problems, information must be segregated by culture and age. In addition, there must be consistency in information coming from the National Strategies, the national network of Ofsted, local authorities, School Improvement Partners, and the Qualifications and Curriculum authority with the awarding organizations associated with it.
It is important that schools have a system in place to hear the concerns and suggestions of the black students. Questionnaires for pupils, forums, discussion groups, counselors, mentors, and other methods are some ways to access their voices.
The success of some schools with multiple ethnic cultures has gone unappreciated (Runnymede Trust, n.d.). Apart from lack of publicity about successes, there is a lack of the analysis of qualitative factors that contribute to increased scholastic achievement of Afro Caribbean boys. It would be helpful to know what influences are effective for positive change in educational standards in order to replicate them in other schools.
In conclusion, the school systems and government appear aware of the need for improvements in the programs available to Afro-Caribbean boy in order to promote educational success, moving the children into jobs that will benefit young men and ultimately the economy of the United Kingdom. The use of the applied critical race theory focuses on understanding the influence racism has on the population served, standards for testing and ranking, school district, funding options, and offices of education. It is through closing gaps in achievement for Afro-Caribbean children, particularly the boys, that they will be able to be part of the economy of the future of the country.
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