In the aftermath of the election of President Donald J. Trump, how is his successful appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education affecting the future of public education?
As a drum major for and product of public education, I have witnessed the firsthand benefits of receiving a quality public school education. It is the education secretary’s responsibility to advocate and advance an equitable public education system for all students enrolled in pre-K through college institutions. However, DeVos is not an ardent supporter of public education.
Sixty-five years ago, in his monumental literary work, Invisible Man, Richard Wright included in the prologue the following depiction of Black males: “I am an invisible man, I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
This statement holds true for many Black boys currently attending public schools across the Unites States. Which leaves school systems, school corporations and charter schools to ponder the question of, how do we successfully reach them? The answer is not as simple as some educators may think. The solution is not an overnight quick fix or through a 120-minute teacher professional development program. The key to accomplishing this impactful task lies in the willingness of committed parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and community stakeholders to invest the time in understanding these young men individually and not collectively.
Further, it is important that concerned educators invested in the success of Black male students selflessly seek to establish and sustain a positive rapport with students and families as school officials create learning environments that foster academic success and cultural understanding. In working with young Black male students, staff members often serve as mentors, tutors, coaches, counselors, triage nurses, father figures, and confidants.
As a champion for public education, it is necessary to secure a seat at the table to mitigate conversations around any injustices and lack of resources that exists for scholars attending public schools. Moreover, given the day-to-day interactions experienced by Black boys in K-12 schools in specific, social constructs that exist must be examined to highlight their personal narratives that are value added to the dismantlement of the school-to-prison pipeline.
The state of Black males in education is a major concern that must be addressed, as this population of young scholars are the future presidents, Supreme Court justices and surgeon generals of the country.
Why must Black males settle for the treatment of second-class citizens when in fact they are citizens in general? Instead of traveling the ordinary path of encouraging young Black males to become mayors, lawyers, or doctors, educators should advocate that Black boys journey down the road less traveled.
This strategy is critical because it challenges Black men to advance past ordinary accomplishments. It pushes them to excel to the upper echelons of careers that place them in the driver seat, in which they can actively pursue their passion within their respective fields of expertise while also serving as positive role models for future Black males.
K-12 to Higher Education
As Black males are troubled with the many obstacles in life from the public school system, many of those issues never die, particularly at the predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Black males are forced to relearn their identity while making efforts to matriculate through college. Other issues are continual, such as microaggressions, institutional racism, lack of minority faculty, inadequate mentoring opportunities, and more.
Institutional racism can occur in various form. Microaggressions occur when people of color experience verbal or non-verbal gestures that causes harm. Examples of microaggressions are racial slurs, jokes, stares, or being treated as a second-class citizen. In many cases, when Black males report such incidents students are told the institution is taking action but nothing is being done. In order for Black males to make transitions, microaggressions needs to be address at the grass route.
One significant expression of institutional racism is faculty and staff not taking issues of Black males seriously. Many believe that Black male issues are solved by providing cultural student centers on PWI campuses. Yes, the center may provide services; however, they may not address all. In addition, many faculty and staff may be in denial, choosing to believe that racism and inequality for Black males or any race no longer exists.
With the inconsistency of Black males matriculating through colleges and universities, more mentoring is needed. However, with such a low number of faculty/staff of color at most institutions, chances of receiving mentoring from someone like them are low. Not only does this help result in the alarming lack of Black male graduates, but also the low numbers of Black men in academia. We need to increase both sides simultaneously. As we are helping Black males overcome their obstacles to matriculate, we must also address what can be done to bring more Black males to embrace the field of academia.
Recommendations to aid students on college campuses:
- Take advantage of first-year experience programs
- Ask for mentoring programs that have helped students succeed on campus
- Encourage students to find mentors who are faculty members or upperclassmen
- If issues are not addressed, schedule an appointment with the dean of students for further direction
In conclusion, we must continue to find strategies to increase the pipeline for Black males from K-12 to college. With Trump now being president, we must be observant of how education is viewed and what resources are given. From choosing new staff in the White House to the various aid provided to students in local schools, we must continue to develop a new formula to help Black males matriculate.
Yes, much work has been done but the problem has not been solved. K-12 education serves at the foundation of where a child begins to learn. We must continue to push for quality education in local city council meeting and state legislatures until it reaches the White House.
Education must not be a priority for some, but all of us.
Ron Clark Jr. is a K-8 principal in Cleveland. He serves as the chief executive officer of Black Boys Roar, Inc., a nonprofit that focuses on the empowerment of Black males. He is a Ph.D. student in urban education studies at Indiana University.
LaMarcus J. Hall is assistant director of student life at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis. His research focuses on the lack of Black male faculty in the academy at PWIs. He is a Ph.D. student in curriculum and instruction at Purdue University.