OK, I will admit it – I probably spend too much time on the internet especially since I need to finish my dissertation proposal, catch up on some reading and touch up my new web site. But instead of getting down to business, I find myself checking out various web sites that have nothing to do with academia or even my research topic. For example, I go to nikonrumors.com every day to see if the lens I want has gone on sale and then I like to check out a few local newspapers before moving on to CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post. Since I don’t watch a lot of TV these web sites, as well as others, kind of help me keep up to date on what is happening in the world. But I do more than just read articles online; I also read the comments section because doing so can kind of give me an insight into what people are thinking. You would be surprised at the things people post behind the veil of the internet. Some people post things anonymously because they can do so without fear of reprisals. However, recently I have came across some comments about urban black students that I found particularly offensive and wrong. I have provided two such comments below as well as my response.
Urban Black Students Are Just Plain Lazy
The major thrust of this argument is that inner-city black students are academically behind because they simply aren’t motivated to do the work. Ironically, this is not a new argument; it has been around for years and largely assumes that black students would receive higher marks if they would just “try harder”. We know that motivation matters and that kids who come prepared to class, do their homework, ask questions and attend tutoring will do well in the classroom. However, having worked in an inner-city school district for the last 25 years, I can honestly say that in most cases motivation is not the only issue. Instead of just damming urban black students, as so many people do online, we need to pay attention to where the students live and go to school. I am not persuaded by the Lazy Student argument in part because I know there are so many other factors (i.e. the school or neighborhood environment, unfair spending formulas etc.) that can impinge upon student performance.
But let us pause for a moment and assume that laziness and/or a lack of motivation is the issue. In such cases all hope is not lost. Over the years I have seen countless teachers motivate students and help them get it in gear and, broadly speaking, they do it in one of two ways. Sometimes they will apply the “stick” meaning they will be assertive with the students, be “all up in their faces”, and not let them submit inferior work. Such teachers could perhaps best be described as drill sergeants since they know how to get the best out of people by putting pressure on them and aren’t afraid to go toe to toe with students. By contrast, I have seen teachers use the “carrot” to motivate and convince students that they can do better. Such teachers are often kind and gentle but they also know how to be firm. Theorists sometimes call these teachers “warm demanders” because they know how to love their students but also know how to hold them accountable.
Their Parents Don’t Care About Education
Critical race theorist Gloria Ladson-Billings addressed this way of thinking in one of her seminal articles, but I think it is important to discuss it here because there is still a segment of our society that clings to this falsehood. Based on the various comments I have read online, it is clear that some people believe that black parents are less interested in making sure their children get a good education and more interested driving fancy cars, drinking and hanging out. In other words, whereas the Lazy Student argument puts the onus on black children, the Parents Don’t Care argument put the onus on black parents.
I take issue with the Parent’s Don’t Care thesis because the vast majority of the parents I work with value education, want their children to do well in school and want their kids to get a better education than the one they received. In fact, there is ample research that suggests that black parents stress the importance of getting a good education because it can lead to social mobility (i.e. a good job, career advancement, a good home, etc.). More clearly, black parents, particularly those who are poor and live in the inner-city, want their children to do well in the classroom because they know that a good education can help them make it out of poverty. Thus, for me the Parents Don’t Care argument holds no water, in part because I have seen African American parents go to great lengths to make sure their children go to school, and are taught by a good teacher.
There are countless other arguments as to why black students are behind. Some people say they are messing up in school because they are too interested in being cool, while others say they receive low marks because they cut class and would rather sell drugs instead. I could debunk these and other arguments about black students but I simply don’t have to time. Besides I work with black students every day and I know most of them go to class and do the best they can.