The basic premise of the article is that the educational problems and failures of minority students is due, in the main, to the lack of parental involvement in their children’s education and, most specifically, the dearth of fathers and male role models in minority communities.
I have heard and read this argument ad nauseum, and let me say beforehand that I do not discount the writer’s premise altogether; there is some truth to that argument. However, that argument is wholly incomplete. The answer is more complex than that. The lack of parental involvement and the dearth of fathers and male role models are but symptoms of a greater problem that must be overcome if minority children are to take full advantage of the benefits of education—poverty and its effects.
In my opinion, based on my experience in and around education for the past fifteen years or so there are two main reasons minority children are having the problems they are having in schools. Each of these reasons is closely tied to the other: 1. More and more, schools are being called upon to perform functions that they are not equipped to handle, and 2. Governmental energies, emphasis and dollars are being mis-targeted.
At one time, many different institutions took responsibility for the rearing and education of children. Namely those institutions were the community at large, the church, and the family. However, as these institutions are either failing or falling down in their responsibilities, the functions of these institutions are being charged to the schools who are poorly equipped to handle them. Schools were barely able to meet the function of education, and now they are being asked to be agents of socialization, agents of discipline, mental health providers, childcare providers, and a myriad of other disparate functions. And among all these functions, the most basic function of education is pushed to the side.
To prove this next point, allow me please to use the Duval County Public School district here in Jacksonville, Florida, as an example. There are three high schools here which are predominantly and historically black. For the past several years these schools have led the county in every conceivable negative indicator. Duval County and the State of Florida first responded by threatening to close these schools down and bus the students to other schools who were performing up to standard. However, the because of the historical nature of these schools, the county and the state backed off.
So, the district and the state then responded by pumping absolutely obscene amounts of money into the schools. However, much to their chagrin, this did not work either. The schools continue to perform well below standard and continue to lead the county and some parts of the state in every conceivable negative indicator.
However, no one has thought to take a hard look at the communities from which the students attending these schools are arriving. In at least two of the schools, a good portion of the student population are from the housing projects and/or poverty stricken communities surrounding the schools located. In all the schools, the vast majority of the students are from families mired in poverty.
Poverty works to produce a certain unique mentality, a certain mindset. And this mentality, this mindset must be overcome if educational efforts are to be successful. A good study in this regards is Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty. But to get to the meat of my argument, the millions the county and state are pouring into these schools to no avail could be put to better use by working to alleviate the effects of poverty in the communities the students are arriving from. The millions could be used to revitalize the communities and provide opportunities for growth and development outside of school.
Also, keep in mind that old theory by psychologist Abraham Maslow which posits the notion that before an individual can perform at optimal levels, certain needs must first be meet beginning with the most basic physiological needs such food, followed closely by safety:
In other words, the negative indicators will never decrease until the mentality of the parents and students change and the community is able to insure that the most basic needs of its members are met. You can put the best resources in place, you can employ the best teachers, you can use the latest pedagogical methods, you can do whatever, but until those students come to school with their most basic needs met, having the correct mindset, able to imagine a future greater that the present, and willing and ready to learn, we are simply jousting with windmills.
And as a postscript, with the huge amounts of money to be made "reforming" dysfunctional schools, is there really an incentive to do so? If we find a working solution to "reform" our schools, a lot of people would stand to lose a lot of money. I cannot tell you how many paid consultants and experts are in the employ of the county and state for the purposes of improving education. Yet, the system does not seem to be moving forward. I would even be without a significant portion of my income; I have cashed more than a few of those consultant checks myself.