photo by Peter Dean Rickards
Black students continually fail to equal or surpass their white counterparts in the area of educational achievement. High school graduation rates, and college attendance and graduation rates are lower than any other minority population in the country. There are all kinds of strategies and theories for combatting this academic epidemic. More government funding for public education, charter schools, after school programs, early childhood education programs, incentives for students and incentives for teachers to work in impoverished and under-served communities. While all of these are great ideas, in addition to these practical changes, we must also undergo a change in mindset.
A University of Michigan research study, Social Costs of School Success are Highest for Blacks, notes:
For whites, the link between GPA and social acceptance was strongly positive over time—the better their GPA, the more likely that students were to feel accepted, and the less likely to report feeling lonely, feeling that others had been unfriendly, or that others disliked them. For black students, the relationship between GPA and social acceptance was reversed: the higher their GPA, the lonelier they were likely to report feeling, and the more they were likely to report that others had been unfriendly or disliked them.
School is where many children learn valuable social skills, and among skills such as effective communication and conflict resolution they are also learning to form relationships. Cliques form, friendships are made, and for students what friends and peers think matter. If friends think doing well in school makes you a “nerd,” or means you're “acting white,” or are otherwise an outsider, the draw to excel academically is significantly diminished. This aspect of the school environment cannot be ignored and should be seriously considered in the debate as to how to improve the educational outcomes within the Black community. Being different in school, is something that is not often celebrated, especially when it comes to being academically inclined as a young person of color. But what if we could normalize academic achievement?
We have to get the entire community, youth, elders and everyone in between on board with the idea that education is relevant and important and factor book smarts into our definition of “cool.” We have to make our homes environments where learning is expected and celebrated. We have to look at the role models being presented to our children. We have to take responsibility for the priority we give education in our own lives. All of these things shape the perception of our children and shape how they prioritize education in their own lives.