Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pre-K to prison trend and the African-American male

A disturbing thirty year trend has resulted in a disproportionate number of incarcerated African-American male youths in U.S. prisons. A new study from the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry shows that the conditions that contribute to this high representation (sixty percent of all incarcerated youth) begin early in life, and is often exacerbated by their experiences in school.

It's projected that by 2029, prisons will house almost 30,000 of the 600,000 four-year olds now living in America. The solution to this problem lies within families, schools and communities. Study author Oscar A. Barbarin, III, Ph.D. identifies specific practices needed in order to turn this situation around. Parents, as a child's first teacher, can do a lot by engaging with them through talking, listening, and offering challenging new experiences.

Schools can begin by acknowledging the unique challenges facing African-American males, developing strong relationships with their families, and by using teaching practices that incorporate motor skills and movement, which comes naturally to young males. Classrooms can be reformed to provide more engaging and accepting environments for boys.

Barbarin argues that these measures can add to a feeling of acceptance, connectedness, responsibility and loyalty within their families and communities, and counteract certain traumas and challenges experienced early in life. He shows that evidence of these academic and social challenges is already apparent at the kindergarten level.

According to Barbarin, African-American males come to school with fewer skills than their Caucasian or female counterparts at this age, who are more inclined to have more developed language, literacy and self-regulation skills. Boys' limitations are often not properly recognized or addressed as they progress though school. This is exacerbated by behavioural issues, as well as racial segregation within schools. Barbarin's findings expose large gaps in the American educational system, and highlight a systemic underachievement level among African-American males.

Barbarin agrees that programs such as Head Start, Boys and Girls Clubs, and state-funded early childhood programs have tried to augment these issues.

Barbarin says, "Once the juveniles enter the justice system, the repeat offender rate is sixty percent. This research calls for optimism in spite of a vicious downward cycle experienced by many young males, which marginalizes them at school, at work, at home and in their communities."

1 comment:

Sharon Crews said...

I know much of what is stated in this post to be true. I just don't know how public education can address these problems effectively. First of all, I have a very difficult time putting all "African-American" males into this mold. There is something more than race as the cause here. In fact, I refuse to accept "race" as the cause because that seems to suggest that skin color as something to do with academic readiness. I don't believe it is black culture or even racism that is the underlying problem here. I believe the underlying cause has more to do with the drug and gang culture to which these young men are exposed daily--on the streets and often in their homes (maybe even the welfare culture). That may seem like a "white" copout to you and maybe it is, but what happens on the streets and in the homes can undo almost all that happens at school. Sunday I discovered that one of the young black men that has been attending our District Watch group is related to some of my very favorite students going back to the 1960s--he called two or thiree of them so that I could visit with them. One of his family members, in particular, was truly one of my favorites. He is the epitome of everything this article proclaims. He came to Manual in the 70s from Chicago--already steeped in the street culture and, I believe, the black panther movement of the era. He was very bright but academically unmotivated. He was in and out school just as, in adulthood, he has been in and out of prison. He knew I cared and, I believe, trusted me. I just didn't have any of the magic cures that could have helped him turn his life around. I certainly tried. I know a good many young black men who don't fit the description here--they did well in school and came through the same educational system from which the others came. I just have to conclude that schools aren't going to be the answer (and they might not even be to blame). It would be great if teachers could bridge the gap and I think they have to keep trying. A black man talked to Terry after the BOE meeting Monday and kept saying that students at Manual need nurturing. We know that--I'm just not sure that the schools can provide the nurturing that has to happen in the home. The nurturing process has to happen at birth--making up for a lack of nurturing is hard enough when a child enters school at age 5 but it is impossible to make up for that lack when a student is a teenager. Anyway I find this to be a very frustrating problem--one for which a solution is just not that easy.