In talking about the fact that more black boys receive GED’s from prison than graduate from college, educational consultant and author Jawanzaa Kunjufu says, “It’s not genetic, its systemic.”
Consider this: One predominantly African American high school in Brooklyn has managed to get 85% of its graduating class on the track for college. The principal of this school is an African American male educator with deep ties to the community. He and his staff are frequently still at school at 8:00 PM in the evenings — working to create the kind of school community where all kids are recognized, affirmed, challenged and given a solid education. We know that one of the best indicators that a black male will go to college and do well is whether he has had Advanced Placement courses in high school. This school had 10 such classes for its students.
Because of recent education budget cuts, this school also had to cut its Advanced Placement classes.
In the same community, we have “suspension programs” where students who have been suspended from school go during the course of their suspension. Teachers who lead these programs are often frustrated because a student can come in on the first day of the school year, the 30th day, the 50th day — any day. In fact students trickle into the class throughout the year. How is this “class” to be taught? How effective are suspension programs in getting students back into the classrooms where they can best be taught? Is that even one of the goals of the program?
I have many questions about whether we are serving the best interests of our children in suspension programs. Many, many questions. Are they receiving counseling? Are their families receiving support? Is there a plan for their future? Is there even a plan to get them back into the classroom successfully?
Our system will guarantee funding for a suspension program with all of its inherent questions. Our system will not guarantee funding for an Advanced Placement program in poor black communities, even though it answers one of the most pressing questions of our time: how do we prepare more African American boys for college?
Kunjufu is right. It’s not genetic, it’s systemic.
African American boys, Latino boys, poor children — they are the collatoral damage of budget cutting exercises. At the end of the day, a dollar is saved. Yet, another child loses. We lose. The future loses.
Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) says, “train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Eugene Peterson’s The Message Translation of Proverbs 22:6 says, “point your kids kids in the right direction – when they are old, they won’t be lost. What our systems are doing (unintentionally and blindly) is training and pointing children toward prison. Is that where we want them to go?
To educate yourself about this issue — go to the Children’s Defense Fund’s website and read about the Children’s Defense Fund’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline(R) Campaign.