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by Charing Ball

The New York Times highlighted two studies released yesterday by the College Board, which suggest that young black and Latino men continue to be measurably less educated than white men.

According to the study, entitled “The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color”, as of 2008, only 16 percent of Latino and 28 percent of African-American men ages 25 to 34 had obtained an associate’s degree or higher while the comparable figure for white men was 44 percent and 70 percent for Asian men.  The report highlights the need for more change in the education sector.  It mentioned that when it comes to addressing the dropout rates, overrepresentation in special education, suspension rates, and other factors contributing to the problem, previous emphasis has been on developing the role of supportive relationships and environments in addressing these problems.  However, as the study also points out, for the past 20 years targeted education policy initiatives have focused on minority male achievement, with varying degrees of success.

The unfortunate reality is that none of this information is new to us.  Just last year a similar conclusion was draw about the poor high school graduation rate for black men, which too is at an epidemic level.  The thing is, this has been studied for years and program after program has been developed, tried and then ultimately abandoned with the problem of achievement among boys steadily worsening.  While there is some truth to the need for more attention to be placed on young minority men, what needs to be determined is what kind of attention should be engaged.

A few paragraphs down in the same news story there’s a glimpse of what might be the root of the problem: “The report often compares the statistical success of men versus women.  In almost every case, women are shown to have received more education.”   Across the board, regardless of ethnicity, women are outperforming men in education.  All women represent at least 57 percent of enrollments at American colleges since at least 2000, and research has shown that women tend to have higher grades.  Moreover, female enrollment in college tends to skews higher among older students, low-income students, and black and Hispanic students.

Perhaps there are biological, evolutionary reasons for this shift in educational values or perhaps it is good old socialization.  There is an old saying that goes: We raise our daughters and love our sons.  That may be controversial, but it is certainly my guess as to one of the reasons why so many of our young men are not only failing in schools but also finding themselves behind bars and on the unemployment line in high numbers.  Sure, the system is messed up and has always targeted minority youth, however we still ought to look at what their mothers and fathers are doing to ensure that our young men aren’t becoming state property.

I’m just theorizing here but I think this gender disparity in education has a lot to do with how they are nurtured at home.  Our daughters, generally speaking, are not only taught traditional gender roles, but because of the realities of single womanhood, are also taught how to conduct themselves in absence of those available roles.  In particular, for the Black girl child, an often-harsh lesson is taught via what they interpret early on in society – that the world doesn’t need them, doesn’t value them and chances of survival and success will strictly come from their own perseverance of independence.

Young men, particularly young men of color, are taught too that men are supposed to be the kings of their castle.  And like their female counterparts are taught that society is against them.  That the hardest thing in the world to be is a black men and that the world is not going to give them a fair shake – that too is conditioned from birth by parents, and nurtured through interactions with society.   Yet, we stopped putting accountability for their success on their shoulders the way we do with our daughters.  There is no need to when there is always a mother – often times single – who is willing to shield their son from responsibility and a father who is willing to chalk up their misdeeds to “boys being boys.”

This is not to suggest that all is lost with our young men.  There are plenty of examples in our community which challenge that stereotype of girl raising and boy spoiling.  However, what those examples all have in common is an awareness of their role as parents raising children, regardless of gender, and a determination not to lower standards based upon beliefs that “things are harder for them because they are black boys.”


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