African American male-only schools: is that the solution?
These phrases are supported by statistical findings, such as the following:
* Indeed, if black males survive infant mortality rates that are nearly double those for white infants, they are still more likely than females to succumb to infectious and noninfectious diseases in the first year of their lives. (Poinsett, 1991)
* Homicide is the leading cause of death for black males between ages 15-44. (Poinsett, 1991)
* Tragically, they |black males~ are more likely than other sex/race groups to die before age 20. (Poinsett, 1991)
* In 1990, only 1.2 percent of all of the elementary school teachers in the nation were black males. (U.S. Bureau of Labor, 1990)
* In 1989, 79.3 percent of African American females graduated from high school, compared with 72.2 percent of their male counterparts. (Carter & Wilson, 1991)
* Only 19.6 percent of all 18- to 24-year-old African American men were enrolled in college in 1989. (Carter & Wilson, 1991)
* For black male youths ages 16 to 19, the employment rate is approximately 35 percent. (National Urban League, 1988)
* Unemployment rates for 25- to 44-year-old black males is two to four times higher than that of white males. (National Urban League, 1988)
* Although black males comprise approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population, they are nearly 50 percent of the total prison population. (U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1986)
* At the bottom of the longevity scale, black men are outsurvived about eight years by black women. (Poinsett, 1991)
Various projects have been established in different parts of the United States in response to these grim statistics. One project, establishing single gender/race schools for African American males, is attracting the greatest amount of controversy. Detroit, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Dade County (Florida), all areas with large African American populations, have attempted or established African American male-only classrooms.
Proponents of educating African American males in single gender/race schools believe that such schools would facilitate building serf-esteem in the participants (Jones, 1991). They also maintain that African American male teachers serve as positive role models, are better able to interpret young males' behavior and can discipline them more effectively.
Arthur Carter, Interim Deputy Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools and a strong proponent of single gender/race schools, attempted to establish an all-male student body two years ago. Parents from all over Detroit and its suburbs deluged him with positive inquiries. Lawsuits by the National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union, however, prevented realization of that plan (Jones, 1991).
Spencer Holland, a leading proponent of segregated schooling for African American males, maintains that such schools can greatly benefit young African American males raised in single female-dominated, poverty-stricken homes surrounded by violence. He highlights the changes in students attending an all-male classroom taught by an African American male at Matthew Henson Elementary School on Baltimore's West Side. After a 10-month period, student attendance improved, visits to the principal's office declined and parental behavior changed markedly (Jones, 1991; Morgan, 1991).
Opponents of single gender/race schools object to this approach on the basis that such schools 1) violate the civil rights of young girls; 2) are contrary to the Brown v. Board of Education decision (Jones, 1991); 3) are nothing more than a panacea; 4) have a limited impact because they serve a limited number of students and 5) will not compel legislatures, school boards and education systems to do anything for African Americans.
Nonsupporters of single gender/race schools also maintain that African American males "may feel stigmatized because they are being singled out for special classes" (Morgan, 1991). Critics cite James Comer's successes at Baldwin School and King School in New Haven as longstanding demonstrations that African American at-risk males can be effectively educated without being segregated (Corner, 1980).
Others note that even if the program does work, it may be difficult to find enough African American male teachers. In 1990, only 1.2 percent of the elementary school teachers in the United States were African American males. Attorney Janell Byrd, from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, expressed concern about an anti-female component to the philosophy underlying the single gender/race education approach (Morgan, 1991).
Obviously, the single gender/race school has advantages and disadvantages as a means of addressing the education needs of African American males. A review of the introductory statistics, however, illustrates that the African American male plight is an American societal crisis that is not solely an education issue.
From conception to death, the African American male is at dire risk in the United States. The sources of such risks are reflective of ills that plague the entire American social system. Given the pervasiveness of this longstanding problem, single gender/race schools can, at best, provide a mere Band-aid for a deadly disease requiring a heart as well as a liver and lung transplant.
Every institution, including education systems, must become involved. Community organizations must take action to heal the sicknesses of social attitude and action that prevent society from nurturing the potential of African American males. New federal and state legislation must be established and existing regulations strengthened and enforced to ensure that African American males' civil rights are protected. African American males must have equal access to quality education, adequate health care, sufficient food and decent housing.
All schools must be restructured to provide a quality education experience for all children, youth and adults, regardless of gender or race. A few schools, regardless of gender, race or quality of education, cannot resolve this societal crisis.
Betty Greathouse is Professor and Dean of the School of Education, California State University, Bakersfield. Saundra Sparling is Associate Professor and Director of the Elementary Education Program, California State University, Bakersfield.
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