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“Acting White” Myth: Code Orange Advisory May 7, 2008

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Algernon Austin

Algernon Austin is director of the Thora Institute. Austin is a 1990 graduate of Wesleyan University. He earned his M.A. (1995) and Ph.D. (2001) in sociology from Northwestern University.

The myth that Black students equate getting good grades in school with “acting white” took a major hit last week. In a piece published on the “The Daily Voice” Black news site, author Algernon Austin took the rising campaign against this dangerous myth one step further in his May 2 post, “Are Black Students Really Afraid of Acting White.”

According to Austin, the “acting white” myth grew out of a single study, published in 1986. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with contemporary debates on Black academic achievement can affirm that, 22 years later, the “acting white” myth continues to figure prominently in discussions of all issues related African American educational attainment. Austin describes the study, it’s limited scope, and the problematic nature of the researchers conclusions:

In 1986, in an Urban Review article, two scholars studying a Washington D.C. high school claimed that black students did not achieve academically because of a fear of being perceived as “acting white.” People pounced so quickly on this idea that they failed to realize that the researchers did not actually present any black students who said they were afraid of being called “white” [emphasis mine].

Of the eight students discussed in the article, four indicated that they were worried about being called “brainiacs.” The other four raised other issues. A fear of “acting white” was the researchers’ highly debatable interpretation of what was going on, but it was not a direct quotation.

Many white students have been called “brainiac,” “nerd,” “geek,” and similar names by other white students. It is unfortunate that students tease and bully each other. But this is not “a black thing.” The real question therefore is whether academically-oriented teasing is more common among black students than among whites. There is no convincing evidence that this is the case. A 2003 study by the Girl Scout Research Institute, for example, found equal levels of concern about school-related teasing among black and white girls.

Austin’s juxtaposes the considerable attention given 1986 Urban Review findings with the limited exposure given to those studies whose findings suggest that African American youth place a high value on education. This throws into relief the sad fact that, when it comes to African Americans, research is rewarded, not for the validity of its conclusions or for the quality of its analysis, but for the degree to which it reinforces familiar stereotypes.

Just below, I have included three of my favorite passages from Algernon Austin’s “Are Black Students Really African of ‘Acting White'” ; or click on THIS link to read the entire piece:

Contrary to the popular stereotype, much of the evidence suggests that black students value education more than whites. The same year the Urban Review article was published, the Monitoring the Future survey found that 74 percent of black high school seniors believed that getting good grades was of “great” or “very great importance,” but only 41 percent of white seniors felt as strongly. Half of black seniors reported that knowing a lot about intellectual matters was of “great” or “very great importance,” but only one-fifth of white seniors felt the same […] and more recent surveys have had similar results. A 2006 survey by Public Agenda found that black students were more likely than white students to believe that “increasing math and science education would improve high school.” The Higher Education Research Institute’s 2006 survey of college freshmen found that the majority-black students at historically black colleges were more likely to aspire to obtain a Ph.D. than college freshmen generally.

Since the 1970s, the best standardized tests have shown a greater increase in black students’ scores than in white students’ scores. The long-term trend National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math test for eight graders, for example, shows a 14 point gain for white students but a 34 point gain for black students. There remains a large gap in scores on this test, but it was 20 points larger in the 1970s.

What the current academic research shows is that much of the black-white achievement gap exists prior to first-grade, many years before academic teasing begins. This gap is due to broad social and economic disadvantages among black families in comparison to white families. The gap grows during school years because these disadvantaged black students then attend schools of lower quality than white students.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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Rap Scion Scores USC Scholarship May 5, 2008

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Rapper Lil’ Romeo (right) and father Master P at a recent photo op.

 

In researching Black rappers who graduated from college I have encountered a peculiar phenomenon. There is, I have been told, a tendency among college-educated rappers to downplay or even lie about their academic credentials. The thinking is, apparently, that admitting to having a diploma can jeopardize your street cred with the (mostly white) fans.

Enter, then, Lil’ Romeo, son of southern fried rap mogul Master P and a hip hop artist in his own right. According to Sportswrap/berecruited.com Li’l Romeo committed in mid-April to play basketball for USC. There has been speculation that Lil’ Romeo was recruited primarily because of his strong connection to best friend DeMar DeRozan, currently the nation’s number 2-ranked high school prospect. Both will be enrolling at the University and suiting up for basketball practice together, beginning next fall. USC coaches, however, have denied that Percy “Lil’ Romeo” Miller and DeRozan are a package deal.

As for Romeo’s rapper father, Master P, he seems to be as interested in the opportunities that USC will provide for his son off-court. Sportswrap interviewed the senior Percy Miller about Li’l Romeo’s decision to attend and play for USC:

“It’s great for him,” said Master P, who coaches his son and Derozan on the P. Miller Ballers in the spring and summer. “USC is a great school and I felt like he made a great decision.”

The younger Miller will focus solely on school and basketball for the next few years, according to Master P.

“He can be polishing up his film career at USC,” Master P said. “When he’s finished after four years at 21 or 22 years old, he’ll hopefully be able to take either basketball to the next level or Hollywood to the next level.”

“This is what it’s all about,” he added. “I’m just glad he has the opportunity to do both.”

At this point Lil’ Romeo will have no choice but to acknowledge that he is a college-educated rapper. How this will influence his street cred, however, remains to be seen. Perhaps, in attending college, but on a Division I basketball scholarship, he has happened upon the one way that a Black male rap artist can hit the books and still be perceived as “keepin’ it real.”

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Wall Street Journal Tackles Racial Climate on Duke Campus May 4, 2008

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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal includes a fascinating article on relations between Black and white students on integrated campuses. The piece, titled “Race on Campus: Beyond Obama the Unity Stops” and written by Jonathan Kaufman, moves beyond the familiar complaints about Black students’ self-segregation, to explore some of the real reasons that students of all ethnicities remain reluctant to reach beyond the comfort of their same-race social circles.

Kaufman is interested in the way that tBlack and white college students have together in support the Obama campaign, and yet,

[…]after classes — and after the occasional Obama rally — most black and white students on college campuses go their separate ways, living in separate dormitories, joining separate fraternities and sororities and attending separate parties.

Most intriguing is what Kaufman’s interview with Duke sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva reveals about the different ways that Black and white students perceive even the minimal amount of social contact that these two groups have on campus. Kaufman writes,

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a Duke sociologist, asked his white students how many had a black friend on campus. All the white students raised their hands.

He then asked the black students how many of them had a white friend on campus. None of them raised their hands.

The more he probed, Mr. Bonilla-Silva says, the more he realized that the definition of friendship was different. The white students considered a black a “friend” if they played basketball with him or shared a class. “It was more of an acquaintance,” recalls Mr. Bonilla-Silva.

Black students, by contrast, defined a friend as someone they would invite to their home for dinner. By that measure, none of the students had friends from the opposite race. Mr. Bonilla-Silva says when white college students were asked in series of 1998 surveys about the five people with whom they interacted most on a daily basis, about 68% said none of them were black. When asked if they had invited a black person to lunch or dinner recently, about 68% said “no.” He says his own research and more recent studies show similar results.

Bonilla-Silva’s findings suggest a trend that has also been identified in other settings, in which white Americans and Black Americans have very different perceptions of the amount of contact that constitutes acceptable integration. On average, Black people’s expectations for what real integration and real cross-racial connections should feel like are much higher than most white people’s.

This all reminds me of a study done back in 1978 and described more recently in Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton’s American Apartheid (Harvard UP, 1993 [see pages 92-93]). In the 1978 Detroit Area study, a Black population of 21% was the threshold at which a neighborhood became unacceptable to a critical mass of whites. Once a neighborhood became 21% Black, 50% of whites surveyed would be unwilling to move in; despite being less than a quarter of the overall population, 21% was simply too intergrated for half of the white survey respondents. For the Black people surveyed, on the other hand, integration meant a racial mix of somewhere between 15% and 70%, “with 50% being most desirable” (Denton and Massey 93).

The disparity between Black and white perceptions of integration, despite both populations’ common committment to integration, is not limited to Detroit in the late 1970s. Many studies carried out since 1978, in cities across the nation have recorded a similar divide between Black and white perceptions of this this concept (integration). A 1988 Harris Poll sums up the divide between Black and white feelings on this subject quite succintly. In this survey a full 69% of Black respondents believed that the different races in the U.S. were better off living side by side, while only 50% of white respondents expressed this belief.

In 2008, the divide between Black and white perceptions of cross-racial friendship that Kaufman found on the Duke University campus tells a similar story to that which was documented in these earlier studies about the divide between Black and white perceptions of neighborhood integration. Stated simply, many in the white majority are comfortable with considerably less contact with Black people and in considerably more superficial ways that Black people are, and thus Black and white expectations for what true integration would look like are very much in conflict with one another.

For college campuses to reflect the type of racial and ethnic connections that the Obama campaign seems to foreshadow, then Black and white students (and Asian, Native American, and Latin American students) will have to move toward a common understanding of what true integration would look like. On majority white campuses, the racial climate is largely be dictated by the preferences of the white majority. If a cordial high five with a Black guy after an intramural basketball game feels like a true cross-racial connection to students in the white majority, then cross-racial friendships will, for the most part, remain stalled at that point.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Congress Takes Action to Preserve Access to Student Loans May 1, 2008

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For T.S. Eliot, April may well be the “cruellest month,” but April 2008 has turned out to be a pretty good month for college students, at least if proposed federal legislation is taken into account.

Last week I blogged on proposed legislation in the House aimed at making at least some textbooks more affordable to college students. This week Congress is taking more action in support of students, in the form of proposed legislation aimed at protecting student loans from some of the volatility of the current economic conditions.

Bloomberg.com describes the legislation, which has the full support of the White House:

Congress gave final approval to legislation designed to ensure that turmoil in the credit markets doesn’t cause a shortage in student loans. President George W. Bush plans to sign it into law.

The measure would inject liquidity into the student loan market by allowing the U.S. Department of Education to buy federally guaranteed student loans that lenders haven’t been able to sell to investors.

The House voted 388-21 to ratify minor changes made by the Senate to a bill that passed the House last month.

“In order to ensure that Americans can continue to compete in the global marketplace, the federal government has an obligation to encourage and support people pursuing higher education,” Bush said in a statement issued by the White House. “By granting the Department of Education greater authority to purchase federal student loans, today’s action should ease the anxiety many students may feel about their ability to finance their education this fall.”

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller said during floor debate today that students haven’t yet been hurt by the tightening credit market.

“We believe that it is only prudent to prepare for that possibility, that the ongoing stress in the nation’s financial markets could jeopardize access to student loans,” Miller said.

The legislation is intended to address a crisis in the market that has forced Citigroup Inc.’s Student Loan Corp., SLM Corp. and about 50 other lenders to stop writing some forms of student loans. The companies cite increased borrowing costs, cuts in government subsidies for education loans and a lack of investor interest in securities backed by loans.

Lenders’ Costs Higher

Without government action, demand for federally backed student loans would outstrip supply, industry officials said. About 7 million borrowers will need more than $68 billion in federal loans this academic year, according to Education Department estimates.

Congress gave final approval to legislation designed to ensure that turmoil in the credit markets doesn’t cause a shortage in student loans. President George W. Bush plans to sign it into law.

The measure would inject liquidity into the student loan market by allowing the U.S. Department of Education to buy federally guaranteed student loans that lenders haven’t been able to sell to investors.

The House voted 388-21 to ratify minor changes made by the Senate to a bill that passed the House last month.

“In order to ensure that Americans can continue to compete in the global marketplace, the federal government has an obligation to encourage and support people pursuing higher education,” Bush said in a statement issued by the White House. “By granting the Department of Education greater authority to purchase federal student loans, today’s action should ease the anxiety many students may feel about their ability to finance their education this fall.”

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller said during floor debate today that students haven’t yet been hurt by the tightening credit market.

“We believe that it is only prudent to prepare for that possibility, that the ongoing stress in the nation’s financial markets could jeopardize access to student loans,” Miller said.

The legislation is intended to address a crisis in the market that has forced Citigroup Inc.’s Student Loan Corp., SLM Corp. and about 50 other lenders to stop writing some forms of student loans. The companies cite increased borrowing costs, cuts in government subsidies for education loans and a lack of investor interest in securities backed by loans.

Lenders’ Costs Higher

Without government action, demand for federally backed student loans would outstrip supply, industry officials said. About 7 million borrowers will need more than $68 billion in federal loans this academic year, according to Education Department estimates.

While a number of the nation’s most selective colleges and universities have eliminated loan aid from their financial packages, most schools (and therefore most students) continue to rely on loans as a crucial tool in making higher education affordable to the broadest range of undergraduates. This move by Congress to preserve access to this important funding source will ensure that, at least for the forseeable future, middle- and working-class students will continue to benefit from this essential key to meeting college costs.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Black Science Whiz on History-Making M.I.T. Gene Team April 30, 2008

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The MIT research team responsible for creating the world's first mint- and banana-scented E. coli.

The 2006  iGem research team: Stephen Payne (from left), Boyuan Zhu, Tom Knight, Reshma Shetty, Andre Green, Veena Venkatachalam, Samantha Sutton, Jason Kelly, Austin Che, Barry Canton, and Kate Broadbent. 

The person who first said “youth is wasted on the young” didn’t know the student scientists on M.I.T.’s 2006 iGem research team. This group of student scientists has  recently received national and international attention for engineering a form of e. coli that smells minty fresh. The idea of mint-smelling bacteria is peculiar enough, in and of itself; but its strangeness is amplified by the fact that, in this case, the wintergreen is wafting from e. coli, that notorious bacteria (iGem team members describe it as smelling like “poop”) that aids and abets digestion when confined to the intestines, but causes severe illness and even death when ingested (usually accidentally) by mouth.

For this team of young scientists, however, creating mint-scented e. coli was only the beginning. Their next innovation grew out of a desire to avoid the tedium of waiting around in the lab, monitoring their e. coli cultures to determine when there were finish growing. To address this issue, the M.I.T. research team went back to work, manipulating the genes of their already altered bacteria until they found a solution. They were able toalter the genes in their e. coli sample significantly enough to effect this shift in it’s odor: while it is growing it smells like wintergreen, but when it stops growing, it smells strongly of banana.

To hear an NPR interview with a couple of the members of the iGem 2006 research team, click HERE.

The research team behind this history-making research project includes only one African American member, Delbert Andre Green, II, a native of Louisiana and a major in Biological Engineering, M.I.T.’s newest major. He is part of the institute’s first class of Biological Engineering majors and will graduate this spring (2008). 

Green  has long been interested in life sciences. For example, he showed a strong aptitude for science at the age of 16, when he was awarded a $1000 prize from the Dupont Center for Collaborative Research, through the 2003 Intel ISEF Government & Industry Awards. His winning research project was titled, “Unique Combination of Linear Algebra, Differentiation and Integration Techniques to Elucidate the Implications of Kidney Stone Characteristics.

At M.I.T. Andre has served as an officer in the Black Student Union, the Biology Undergraduate Students Association, and Advocates for Awareness, a race and diversity awareness organization.

Andre Green in the Lab

Engineer at work: Andre Green in the Lab

Posted by Ajuan Mance

 

Your Black History Horoscope: Were You Born in 1966? April 28, 2008

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I was. Lyndon Johnson was in office, the number one song of the year was The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” and A Man for all Seasons won the Oscar for Best Picture; but on college campuses another kind of history was being made.

Black History Horoscope* for people born in 1966:

Historical Happennings in 1966 (from TwilightandReason.com):

  • Dr. Samuel P. Massie becomes the first African American professor at the U.S. Naval Academy (Chemistry).
  • On June 3rd of this year, Maxwell Scarlett becomes the first African American student to graduate from the University of Texas at Arlington (B.S. in Biology).
  • Merle J. Smith becomes the first African American cadet to graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.
  • The Black Panther Party is founded in Oakland, CA by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. The two met at a rally opposing the blockade against Cuba while Seale was a student at Merritt College and Newton was enrolled at Oakland City Law School.

Horoscope Summary

The year of your birth (and mine) is characterized by its the pioneering spirit, creative political thinking, leadership, and sheer courage of those African American students and teachers who were creating change in their community, on their campuses, and in the nation at large. You can make the social and political changes that you desire to see in your world, but you must to bring the creativity and courage of Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. They used their innovative vision of African Americans turning to meet the violent racial terrorism of the 1960s with an attitude of entitlement to bear arms for self-defense to rock the nation and to truly transform the way that African Americans were perceived, both by Black folks and non-Blacks alike.

By the same token, you must also look beyond those places where African Americans are most commonly found if you are to make truly broad and lasting social change. Consider Merle J. Smith and Maxwell Scarlett who sought to pursue their educational dreams and goals in places where Black folks had previously been unwelcome. Also remember Dr. Samuel P. Massie who not only sought to enter a profession (academia) that to this remains relatively inaccessible to Black people, and in a discipline in which African Americans continue to be quite rare, but who also pursued his career at an institution in which Black people had never previously served as full-time, permanent faculty members.

The fact that you were born during that year already makes 1966 a special time for you. Pioneers and innovators like Newton and Massie have paved the way for you to make the occasional of your birth a fortunate occurance for us all.

 

 In 1966 Merle J. Smith became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Today he is General Counsel at a maritime security firm.

 
*Your Black History Horoscope is not based on the month and the day that you were born, but on the year. The Black History Horoscope looks at the year in which you were born, and — based on the Black history being made during that time — assigns a set of qualities and values that distinguish the year of your birth.
Black History Horoscopes seeks not to predict the future, but to issue a challenge, to live up to and exceed the characteristics of the Black historical innovaters and change makers of the year of your birth, and to perpetuate the values manifest in their actions and impact.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Congress Acts to Stem the Tide of Rising Textbook Costs April 25, 2008

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Getting into college is only the first step. To successfully complete an undergraduate program a student must have textbooks; and every student (past or present) who has been all or partly responsible for shouldering the cost of their books knows that simply being able to afford the high cost of college textbooks can be a challenge in and of itself.

The high cost of textbooks disproportionately impacts Black, Latin American, and Native American students, the great majority of whom receive financial aid, and a significant proportion of whom are first-generation college matriculants. For these students, the exorbitant price of some college texts poses a much greater financial hardship than decreasing the amount of money available for clothing and entertainment. Such students often fund their school books through part-time or full-time work, the proceeds from which must also cover housing, food, tuition and — for these often uninsured students — any healthcare costs. For students with children, the financial hardship of inflated textbook prices is amplified.

The shocking cost of many college textbooks also conveys a powerfully elitist message about the culture of higher education, a message that can undermine the success of students for whom the college environment — with it’s upper-middle class and 2nd- and 3rd-generation college matriculants — can feel like an alien environment in which the scholarship student, the student of color, and/or the first-generation student is an interloper or imposter. For these and other economically marginalized students, the experience of walking into the campus bookstore and realizing that the price of the required texts exceeds his or her available funds can be a sad reinforcement of that student’s deepest doubts about whether or not he or she even belongs in school.

In a surprising but welcome move, however, the U.S. House of Representatives has taken important steps toward alleviating the burden of textbook costs for all students on campus. An editorial in today’s New York Times describes the magnitude of this problem and Congress’s pending legislation on the issue:

College students and their families are rightly outraged about the bankrupting costs of textbooks that have nearly tripled since the 1980s, mainly because of marginally useful CD-ROMs and other supplements. A bill pending in Congress would require publishers to sell “unbundled” versions of the books — minus the pricey add-ons. Even more important, it would require publishers to reveal book prices in marketing material so that professors could choose less-expensive titles.

Like the Times editors, I agree that this is “a good first step”; but unbundling college textbooks will only address one aspect of the problem. Even unbundled, textbooks are grotesquely overpriced, with some books costing $100.00 or more, and all of this for a book that will have little resale value, because students in subsequent years will likely be forced to purchased a newer edition.

The Times editorial poses several possible solutions to this problem:

[…] colleges and universities will need to embrace new methods of textbook development and distribution if they want to rein in runaway costs. That means using digital textbooks, which can often be presented online free of charge or in hard copies for as little as one-fifth the cost of traditional books. The digital books can also be easily customized and updated.

The editorial also highlights some initiatives already in place to reduce the cost to students of required course materials:

Schools are beginning to balk at outrageous pricing. Rice University offers textbooks for some classes free online and charges a nominal fee for the printed version. A new company called Flat World Knowledge, based in Nyack, N.Y., plans to offer online textbooks free and hopes to make its profit by selling supplemental materials like study guides and hard copies printed on demand.

In my opinion, schools cannot embrace textbook cost reform fast enough. Politicians, pundits, and social activists across the nation are decrying Black students’ alleged belief that education is a “white thing.” I do not, in fact, believe that this is true; but if it was — if the prevailing belief among Black youth was, indeed, that book learnin’ is a white thing — then I say, who can blame them. Nothing conveys that education is for rich, white people only, like the discovery that the cost of a single textbook for your calculus course is $178.00.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

5 Black Students Among This Year’s Truman Honorees April 24, 2008

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On 4/24/08 aJournal of Blacks in HIgher Education report highlighted the 5 young Black men and women who are among this year’s Truman Scholars.

The Harry S. Truman scholarship foundation provides this description of its scholarship awards:

The Truman Scholarship provides up to $30,000 in funding to students pursuing graduate degrees in public service fields. Students must be college juniors at the time of selection. The Foundation also provides assistance with career counseling, internship placement, graduate school admissions, and professional development. Scholars are invited to participate in a number of programs: Truman Scholar Leadership Week, The Summer Institute, The Truman Fellows Program, and the Public Service Law Conference. Please visit the For Scholars section of the website for an overview of the programs the Foundation currently offers for Scholars.

This year’s Black Truman scholars, as described on the Jbhe wesbite, are as follows:

• Danielle Maria Allen is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is majoring in public policy and economics with a concentration in urban studies. She plans to go to law school and to focus on education law. Allen, from Monroe, North Carolina, has worked as a volunteer for a U.S. Department of Commerce research study on the effects of racial discrimination on economic relations.

Jennifer Collette Bailey is a native of Illinois. She is a political science major at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. At Tufts, she is the president of the local chapter of Emerging Black Leaders and codirector of the Tufts Social Justice Arts Initiative. After graduation, Bailey wants to pursue master’s degrees in both public policy and divinity.

Aysha Reniece Gregory was born and raised in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is currently a student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Gregory is pursuing a double major in political science and Africana studies. She has served as an intern for Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen. Gregory plans to obtain a master’s degree in public policy and then go on to law school.

Jarvis Conell McInnis is a native of Gulfport, Mississippi. He is currently an English major at Tougaloo College, a historically black educational institution in Mississippi. He was honored as National Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America for his effort in raising $25,000 to rebuild clubs devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

McInnis plans to seek a master’s degree in African-American studies and a Ph.D. in English literature.

Thomas Hayling Price, from New Rochelle, New York, is a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He is pursuing a double major in urban studies and Africana studies. He spent a summer abroad in Ghana researching economic development. He plans to go to law school and to concentrate on public interest law.

Congratulations to these and the other 65 Truman scholarship recipients. May you have success in your future studies. May reach all of your intellectual and political goals, and may you work within your nation and beyond, to improve the lives of all people.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Making Bucks while Hitting the Books April 22, 2008

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The decision of Fairburn, Georgia school officials to pay students to earn good grades may seem like the ultimate expression of desperation. Indeed, to pay students for something that is, fundamentally, both a right and a privilege seems a bit off the mark.

And yet it appears that paying students to learn has the capacity to motivate the community’s sizeable population of at-risk youth to prioritize school over the other distractions — family strife, alienation, economic struggle, street violence, and peer pressure — that compete for the attention and energy of troubled teens. Indeed, over 90% of the students who participate in the “Learn and Earn” programs at Creekside High School and Bear Creek Middle School (both in Fairburn, Georgia) are low-income students of color.

Odette Yousef describes the origin and details of this program in this transcript of her report from this today’s edition of NPR’s Morning Edition:

A pilot project sponsored by a local foundation is offering a group of low-income students $8 an hour to go to after-school study sessions twice a week.

Jackie Cushman, engineer of the Learn and Earn program, said she hopes the money will get the kids into the classroom, but that, once there, they’ll start to enjoy learning.

Cushman is the founder of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Learning Makes a Difference. She’s also the daughter of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who suggested paying low-income students to improve their grades in a 2005 speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Cushman launched Learn and Earn this year after an Atlanta businessman offered to sponsor it, and Creekside High School in Fairburn, Ga., and neighboring Bear Creek Middle School fit the right profile for it. More than 60 percent of the students are considered low-income; more than 90 percent are minorities; and the schools trail district-wide achievement rates by eye-popping margins.

Click HERE for the full text of this transcription.

Not surprisingly, the “Learn and Earn” program has faced with a lot of criticism, especially from those who fear that this program inhibits it’s young participants from developing an appreciation of learning for learning’s sake.

While these are understandable concerns, I come down on the side of Cushman and other supporters of “Learn and Earn.” Like Cushman, I believe that paying kids to learn now is simply a way of engaging them in a process that they will, as they mature, come to value in and of itself. I don’t really care why the kid sin this program are getting good grades. I am more interested in the fact that a previously disenfranchised student population has found a way into academic achievement. A sense of the inherent value of education will come along the way; as these young men and women gain access to college and careers they will begin to see the value of learning, above and beyond the small sum they were paid for good grades and study habits in junior high and high school.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

 

Those Wacky American Blacks and that Crazy Achievement Gap April 21, 2008

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This past weekend I stole a few moments to catch up on some of my favorite blogs. The March 18 post on the New York Times Freakonomics blog made me pause in my tracks. The entry, titled “How Can the Achievement Gap Be Closed? A Freakonomics Quorum,” was posted by Freakonomics co-author, Stephen Dubner.

The blogpost iteself was benign enough, though decidedly slanted toward a social sciences analysis of a problem that I believe requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Through the miracle of online communication, Dubner assembled a diverse group of economists, policy analysts, and education administrators and posed this single question: “How can the U.S. black-white achievement gap be closed?”

The assembled respondents — Caroline Hoxby, Daniel Hurley, Richard J. Murnane, and Andrew Rotherham — offered compelling, thoughtful, and earnest solutions, mostly based in the notion that a combination of school transformation and community investment and family support could effect great enough change in the U.S. education system to at least begin to close the racial achievement gap between Black and white students. Click HERE for a link to the blogpost in quesiton.

The reactions that followed, however, were a completely different story. I remember a Vibe Magazine interview with Black feminist scholar bell hooks in which she made a truly thought-provoking observation about how in the U.S. the white majority uses the highly publicized foibles, errors, and crimes of the most troubled and vulnerable members of the Black community as a vehicle for confronting and exploring its own challenges and issues. Hooks gave the examples of O.J. and Mike Tyson, each of whose highly publicized arrest and trial served as a launchpad for white America’s discussion of domestic violence and acquaintance rape, respectively and including the impact of this crimes in majority communities.

The curious collection of readers’ reactions to Dubner’s assembled experts (which range from the measured and constructive to the bizarre to the patently racist) can be explained in no other way than as the phenomenon that bell hooks describes, as a bizarre ritual of objectification, honing in on issues facing all young people in crisis (failing schools in impoverished areas, lack of parental involvement, inadequate education funding), but filtering it through the experiences of Black youth who are, throughout, characterized as always already underachieving and underprepared.

Many readers’ reactions to this post were engaging, creative, thoughtful, and provocative. The excerpts below, however, represent two of the most disturbing trends I noted among the responses. They are 1) the pathologization of U.S. Black culture as degraded and degenerate compared to those of other American minority groups, including the culture and values of Caribbean and African immigrants and 2) the assertion that the problem of Black student underachievement is rooted in their generally lower I.Q. scores, and issue whose only apparent solution would be the removal of African American children from their families of origin. Here are a few choice excerpts from the reader responses to Dubner’s March 18th post: 

  • “Achievement is something that is earned by the student through work, not something that can be given by the state. Only opportunity and help can be given. If a student does not want to learn, or has other factors in their lives that make it difficult for them to learn, then there is very little that the state can do for that person.”
  • “I agree that Richard J. Mundane ignored the elephant in the room by blaming it on “poverty” when in fact all the empirical evidence shows that Asian and white kids do better in poor areas than Latin and Black kids, and ditto in wealthy areas – on AVERAGE. We also know from international testing that kids in poor countries often score much higher than American kids. Finally, we know that Black kids in American schools who have at least one grandparent who is Caribbean or African score much better than other African Americans. All of which points to the fact that its largely a family/social expectation thing. And I should know – I am half Mexican, half black, went to Berkeley undergrad and Stern for MBA (so I did well academically) but ALWAYS heard from my black and brown peers that I was “acting white” or “thought I was too good for them” because I took AP classes, etc. The fact is, we know from looking at the scores of Black and brown kids in wealthy school districts that until their is more social and parental pressure to do well, White, the Indian and Chinese (and even Caribbean Black) kids will do better.”
  • “My family is black. My sister attends Columbia, and I went to Stanford… We both did very well on our SAT’s (exact same scores although I did better on the math 730, and she did better on the verbal). Why have we had relatively successful academic careers?

    “I attribute much of it to our parents who are immigrants from Nigeria. Our parents view education as the ONLY means of social mobility. Better to become a doctor or professor where you are judged more on your schooling, than go in business or ‘wing it’ without a degree, where white people can more easily discriminate against you. Most of my Asian friends had parents who felt the same way.

    “Black Americans will have to make a cultural shift and begin placing more importance on education. They have to do this even in the formative years, otherwise not even a good school can close the gap. Ebonics doesn’t help either…but that’s another issue”

  • “What about corporal punishment and discipline? Doesn’t the army have a good track record of improving achievement and straightening out youth from all races? And isn’t part of that success due to tough discipline and what is effectively legal corporal punishment?”
  • “In order to increase student engagement in school, it needs to be a privilege instead of a right. Why do classrooms in China with sixty students brim with excitement for learning while classrooms in the U.S. with fewer than half that teem with boredom and disinterest? Simple, in China if your not in school, then you are at work in the fields or factories.”
  • “Now that we have black history month, the poles are agitating for polish history month and the Mexicans want a Mexican history month. There are only so many hours in the school day and school year available for instruction. No wonder American university students don’t know what century the American civil war occurred in. No political constituency exists for teaching American history. In foreign schools which outperform ours, the curriculum is narrow and deep, by that I mean that communication and quantitation skills are developed in depth. It is not diluted with mandates for broad superficial coverage of topics of slight educational importance. This has led to a curriculum here that is overbroad and superficial as a whole. Many schools here are doing something called character education, emphasizing a character trait each week or month of the school term. My parents would have regarded that as presumptuous nonsense. Today we generally think it’s a good idea because we have no confidence in the parents’ ability to teach such things. The same lack of confidence in parents gives cover to the sex,drugs,alcohol, and tobacco ed and perhaps also the the various ethnic history curricula.”
  • “I am amazed that there has been only one mention of one of the most controversial aspects of this problem. Mental ability has been consistently shown to differ amongst different racial groups, just as athletic ability, height, and facial features differ amongst different racial groups. Mental ability as measured by the SAT, LSAT, GMAT, or even by IQ tests, have a very strong correlation with educational achievement. The only know persistent method of increasing IQ lifelong is adoption, regardless of what race the child or the parents are. This means that all the effort and special programs and money thrown at the issue will all fail miserably because they don’t address the underlying issue of IQ differences in different racial groups.”
  • “Anyone who seriously delves into the matter will quickly conclude that of course the real reason that lower IQ ethnic groups (blacks and Hispanics) have lower academic achievement is because on average they tend to be less intelligent. Any honest teacher will tell you that the three main factors that predict academic achievement in a student are 1. IQ, 2. IQ, and 3. IQ; beyond this raw intelligence factor then more minor things like effort and discipline can also be significant…All this talk about how blacks and Hispanics would perform far better academically if only they could attend better schools is ridiculous nonsense! There are countless examples of affluent blacks who attend the same schools as middle class and upper class whites and asians, yet the upscale blacks and Hispanics still show much lower academic achievement compared with their white and Asian classmates. In fact the late U Cal Berkeley sociologist John Ogbu wrote a book about how black students from affluent homes in a suburb of Cleveland (Shaker Heights) still performed much worse than their fellow white students. In most cities if you switched the student body from all black inner city ghetto schools with the student body from the most affluent suburbs and left the teachers in place, I am certain that suddenly all the upscale parents would be talking about bad the suburban schools are and how excellent the inner city schools are. It is all about how smart the students are, not how fancy the building is or how “good” the teachers are. This is really nothing new, the Johns Hopkins sociologist James Coleman proved this during the 1960s in his famous “Coleman Report”.
  • “The problem is not the education gap, it’s the IQ gap. Unfortunately, no amount of social engineering or politically correct doublespeak is going to make that go away.”
  • “To Veritas:

    “There IS one consistent, measurable way to permanently raise IQ: adoption. Adopted children score 5-7 points higher than their racial average on IQ tests.”

Posted by Ajuan Mance