November 30, 2002
Why Are Black Students Lagging?
(FELICIA R. LEE, 11/30/02, NY Times)
Professor Ogbu's latest conclusions are highlighted in a study of blacks in Shaker Heights, Ohio, an affluent Cleveland suburb whose school district is equally divided between blacks and whites. As in many racially integrated school districts, the black students have lagged behind whites in grade-point averages, test scores and placement in high-level classes. Professor Ogbu was invited by black parents in 1997 to examine the district's 5,000 students to figure out why.
"What amazed me is that these kids who come from homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents; they don't know how their parents made it," Professor Ogbu said in an interview. "They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models, they are looking at entertainers. The parents work two jobs, three jobs, to give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children."
For example, he said that middle-class black parents in general spent no more time on homework or tracking their children's schooling than poor white parents. And he said that while black students talked in detail about what efforts were needed to get an A and about their desire to achieve, too many nonetheless failed to put forth that effort.
Those kinds of attitudes reflect a long history of adapting to oppression and stymied opportunities, said Professor Ogbu, a Nigerian immigrant who has written that involuntary black immigrants behave like low-status minorities in other societies.
One wonders if we're capable as a society of discussing problems like this and inspiring blacks to transform their culture, or whether we're all too afraid of being labeled racist.
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 30, 2002 8:01 AM
"Those kinds of attitudes reflect a long history of adapting to oppression and stymied opportunities, said Professor Ogbu, a Nigerian immigrant who has written that involuntary black immigrants behave like low-status minorities in other societies."
Will someone please explain what this means? The prof seems to be saying that these kids of achieving affluent parents are involuntary black immigrants???
Yeah, I caught that too. It makes no sense unless he is saying that 'low-status minorities' (kids of affluent blacks in the US) act like 'involuntary immigrants' of other
countries. But this reverses the original sentence.
I have seen plenty of evidence of this personally,
among the classmates of my children.
Ken Auletta ventilated the issue cogently in
"The Underclass" nearly 20 years ago,
but he included low-status whites, too.
That probably ensured his book would be
Thomas Sowell has written about it--the descendants of slaves are outperformed by modern black immigrants.
John McWhorter caught hell for saying the same thing, and he's black.
His book, "Losing the Race" went over much of the same ground. Shaker Heights is, he says, a perfect system to look at because they have a high per-pupil expenditure (no poverty excuse), affluent parents of all races, and early and vigorous intervention programs.
Most of the variables usually hauled in are therefore controlled for, leaving the inconvenient ones.
My own village has been in the state news on this one. The Illinois standardized achievement tests for 3rd, 4th and 9th grades were released about two weeks ago, and my village (just west of Chicago) is affluent, racially mixed, with high spending per pupil, and thoroughly integrated. Results? The percentage of students meeting or exceeding the standard in reading, math and writing scores is 30 points lower in black students compared to white students. What they didn't release is any stratification of scores by both race and parental income, but I'm betting that doesn't explain the problem.
Clearly it's an attitude problem. Now then, how do you tackle it?
Suppose all of the black civil rights leaders, athletes, entertainers, businessmen, politicians, and anyone else who can get to a microphone or get themselves covered by the media made it their first priority to effect a transformation in this generation of black schoolkids? Rappers could even give it a racialist tinge: The ofays want to keep us down, but they've given us a weapon: school.
Been tried, to a small degree.
You run into the oreo problem, though. As soon
as the achieving blacks start talking like that,
they're labeled as sellouts. The kids tune out.
I don't know how you get around that. I mean,
black racists are no more amenable to
reasonable arguments than white racists.
When one of my daughters was a senior in
high school, she was the top student. I was
rather the proud papa. One of her teachers
took me to a second-floor window and pointed
to a bunch of cool guys on the corner. "Your
daughter is nowhere near as talented as that
boy," she said.
Only he wasn't coming to class. Doing well in
class was "too white" and what could the
school system offer a 17-year-old to offset
One of the truest things written about human nature was written by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice
. (Although I may get some details wrong because its too late for me to go hunt the book down.)
Elizabeth Bennet goes to visit a friend, newly married to a Vicar. They are taken to meet his benefactress, from whom Elizabeth plays the piano. The woman states that if only her daughter were not suffering from some vague (and probably imaginery) illness, she would be a much better pianist than Elizabeth.
There are millions of great achievers around us who are too cool to actually try. But only doing is doing; everything else is not doing.
Great point, David. There are hundreds of obstacles to every success. Successful people just keep going until they've overcome every hurdle. This "cool" boy doesn't even want to jump at his first hurdle. In the end, he's just a loser. He may be looked up to by some other kids in grade school, but who will look up to him 20 years from now?
Agreed. But the problem is, this boy wasn't
a lifetime loser. He had a chance. There
wasn't the right countervailing pressure to
overcome the negative pressures on him.
Where could it come from? I don't know.
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