The effort gap Middle-class black

The effort gap
Middle-class black parents don’t push their children to work hard in school, says John Ogbu, a Berkeley anthropologist who was asked by parents to examine the racial achievement gap in affluent Shaker Heights, Ohio. Ogbu is taking a huge amount of abuse for his conclusions, writes East Bay Express. He’s accused of blaming the victims.

Black students told Ogbu they weren’t working very hard.

Some said they simply didn’t want to do the work; others told Ogbu “it was not cool to be successful.” Some kids blamed school for their failures and said teachers did not motivate them, while others said they wanted to do well but didn’t know how to study. Some students evidently had internalized the belief that blacks are not as intelligent as whites, which gave rise to self-doubt and resignation. But almost of the students admitted that they simply failed to put academic achievement before other pursuits such as TV, work, playing sports, or talking on the phone.

The anthropologist also looked at peer pressure among black students to determine just what effect that had on school performance. He concluded that there was a culture among black students to reject behaviors perceived to be “white,” which included making good grades, speaking Standard English, being overly involved in class, and enrolling in honors or advanced-placement courses. The students told Ogbu that engaging in these behaviors suggested one was renouncing his or her black identity. Ogbu concluded that the African-American peer culture, by and large, put pressure on students not to do well in school, as if it were an affront to blackness.

The professor says he discovered this sentiment even in middle- and upper-class homes where the parents were college-educated. “Black parents mistrusted the school system as a white institution,” he wrote. They did not supervise their children’s homework, didn’t show up at school events, and failed to motivate their children to engage in their work. This too was a cultural norm, Ogbu concluded. “They thought or believed, that it was the responsibility of teachers and the schools to make their children learn and perform successfully; that is, they held the teachers, rather than themselves, accountable for their children’s academic success or failure,” he wrote.

Teachers do have lower expectations for their black students, Ogbu found.

“But you have to ask why. Week after week the kids don’t turn in their homework. What do you expect teachers to do?”

Ogbu is a black power advocate: He thinks black parents have the power — if they exercise it — to affect their children’s education. These days, that makes him an “Uncle Tom.”

Update: As a volunteer at a predominantly black school, Stuart Buck wondered why so many black parents hadn’t taught the alphabet to their kindergarteners. Without being hideously intrusive, what would change parents’ behavior? Maybe we need a Ding-Dong School (televised nursery school in the ’50s hosted by Miss Frances) aimed at black parents. Or a soap opera in which the characters demonstrate and discuss good parenting techniques instead of worrying about who’s got amnesia and whether Damian is Dirk’s long-lost son by Clarissa. Oprah, get on it!

About Joanne