Black men in college, briefly

Black female students are more likely than ever to enroll in college and earn degrees. Black males who make it to college often fail to earn a degree, reports the New York Times, focusing on an anti-dropout program for black males at Medgar Evers College.

Watching Simon Jackson in class is like watching a man who is conflicted about being in college. For long stretches, he huddles silently in the back corner, his head sunk into his bulky jacket. But every so often he strides to the front of the room to chat with the professor or to write on the chalkboard, self-assured to the point of cockiness.

A 10th-grade dropout who earned a high school equivalency diploma, Mr. Jackson, 21, is now a freshman at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, eager, he says, to get a college degree.

“I was in school trying to learn,” he said. “I liked to learn. I still do. That’s why I’m here now.”

As a black man, he is also a rare commodity that the college, part of the City University of New York, is eager to hold on to. The class Mr. Jackson was sitting in recently was a freshman orientation class created this year for men only, in hopes of keeping black male students on track.

Over the course of the semester, class discussions veered from little things, like ways to remember to bring books to school, to how the students felt when they could not get waited on in stores and how difficult it was to go anywhere, even to school, without money in their pockets.

How to remember to bring books to school?

The story quotes a researcher who says the problem starts in Head Start, where black boys are likely to be labeled “developmentally delayed” and shunted into special education programs. Implicitly, special ed is portrayed as a dead end, not a chance to learn. Unfortunately, that’s often accurate.

About Joanne


  1. While I suspect I could quibble about the specifics of some of what the school is doing if I had more information. I think that these types of classes can be very beneficial if they are done correctly.

    Because of geography and finances I attended a Historically Black College for several years to finish my undergraduate degree. It was not uncommon for the other students to tell me I cheapened the educational experience by my very presence. While most of the faculty in the College of Business were very supportive when I had to take classes outside the business college or when I had to deal with the administration I was not always treated in the manner I would have liked. After a while, it got where anytime anyone treated me badly I suspected it was because of my skin color. Fortunately for me I had a core group of faculty who supported me and would give me advice about when to fight something. There were times when the person who was being a jerk to me was just a jerk to everyone.

    All of this just to say that what I went through for two years as an adult is what many minorities have to go through their entire life. It is not fair and it is not right but it is the way life is for some people. For most of us in the majority not getting decent service at a restaurant is irritating and is a sign of poor management. If you are a minority it could also be a direct insult toward your worth as a human being.

    I am absolutely opposed to affirmative action, which is just discrimination by another name. But anything we can do to help people be able to alter their world view and focus their attention on the things they can do to improve their life is worth considering.

  2. [email protected] says:

    Right on, Ross. What’s happened to black males in the past generation or two is tragic. The anti-establishment attitude all too often found within their ranks must be reversed. Otherwise, the social programs and prison building will continue. Yeah, discrimination is there and it’s not fair, but it’s still those blacks kids who end up paying with a life of poverty and/or prison, not those responsible for the discrimination. Neither throwing money at the problem nor affirmative action have worked, so it’s time to look for other solutions.

    One bright spot is the U.S. military, which has not compromised standards, but continues to mold highly qualified black officers and NCOs, all of whom get it when it comes to education and integration into the greater society. Clearly the school and social welfare establishments don’t have a clue as to what to do. Maybe they should look to the military.

    In the meantime, we should applaud young men like this and root for them to make it.

  3. I don’t understand. Someone who needs to learn how to remember to bring books to school sounds as if he has serious mental problems. It’s such a basic thing. I have a hard time believing this is a widespread problem. It’s too inane.

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    When you have been taught that carrying books is a white thing, and that the ultimate black experience is to make every day push day, the rest follows. If the time and cost of busing had gone instead for traditional educational functions, generations would have been saved.

  5. The commentor who mentioned the military holds what, I think, is the key to this.

    Black men simply will not give up their machismo. And, I am not saying this in disrespect. I am also a macho man, a white one. Most black man are macho and that equals trouble within a feminist dominated school system. It wasn’t easy for me. I quit teaching in the college environment because I saw the handwriting on the wall in the midst of the PC nightmare. If I had continued to teach in the humanities in colleges, I would have been destroyed in the kangaroo courts dominated by feminists. I know many men who were. Read Philip Roth’s new novel for further illumination.

    Black men value their machismo, and they are not going to give it up. The hostility of liberal arts colleges, in particular, to this is intense. If you read websites devoted to the PC plague, you will discover that the PC kangaroo court is often convened for the purpose of railroading a black scholarship athlete who has had the misfortune to take a romantic interest in a white suburban girl who majors in English.

    It isn’t racism that is the problem. The problem is hostility to traditional male values, i.e., the honorable tradition of machismo.

  6. If the problem starts in Head Start, shouldn’t the solution start there too?

    What is the opinion around here regarding Shrub’s proposal to move Head Start from department of Human Services to Department of Education?

  7. Richard Cook says:

    I do not think that Head Start is the problem. If the Black family has disintigrated, and, the people that African Americans have as leaders just tell them what they want to hear the scope of the problem is more akin to turning around Africa. The cultural meme seems to be “don’t air dirty laundry in public” and solidarity at any cost. Even the cost of their own future.

  8. Well, the problem in general is that schools anymore (both K-12 and higher ed) aren’t really tailored as an environment where guys are really welcome at all (women now outnumber men in terms of attending college, earn more degrees than men do (assoc, bachelor’s, masters, Ph.D, with the exception of math, computer science, and engineering), and in terms of black women, they earn college degrees at the rate of 2 to 1 over black men.

    I can remember when I was in high school, and got the ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ label stuck on me (did I care, no, since most of the people I went to high school with I would never see again after graduation, which is true to this day). When I was in school, it was popular to be the class ‘****up’, esp. if you were a guy.

    I knew several guys who loved getting kicked out of regular school and being sent to opportunity school (fighting, dope, you name it), and after they came back to regular school, they repeated the same behavior within a week of returning.

    The end result is that most public schools are geared towards females, rather than males, and what winds up happening is that males (in general) get left behind (studies have shown that by the time a male graduates from high school, he is at least 1 grade level behind in reading skills and 1.5 grade levels behind in math skills).

    Now, do you wonder why males are vanishing from college campuses (or simply tuning out to education)?

  9. It looks like some of the posters on this article would benefit from a bit of ‘special ed’

    It’s dismaying enough to think that a college has to create a special track to keep black males focused enough to actually graduate–or even make some small effort in that direction and then to see posters justifying it just showcases how far gone the whole situation is.

    Carrying books is not a ‘white’ thing–and someone raised to think that is a victim of racism–black racism, not white. Black racism, the kind the first poster endured from people who decry racism–unless they’re the ones getting to be racist.

    And getting a good education is not an assault on ‘traditional male values’. Or has the preponderance of males in the sciences escaped your notice?

    Excuses. Layer on more excuses for failure. More reasons that failure stems from a mysterious ‘other’. Excuses are what builds those prisons. Jackson’s ‘cockiness’ says it all–exaggerated self-esteem. Something easily crushed in a college setting.

    The world has people of many races–and the racism that implies in it. It has men, women and children in it. It is not a quiet sexually and racially segregated classroom wherein black role models whisper esteem affirming wisdom to endangered black men.

    And yet everyone seems surprised when black men can’t cope.

    They need the real world–not the ‘hood and not a cocoon.

  10. Well, Jack, you are right and you are wrong.

    Black racism certainly exists.

    However, the welfare entitlements created in response to white liberal demands in the 1960s have been devastating to the black community. Prior to the great expansion of welfare, a higher percentage of black kids lived in two parent families than did white kids. Liberal welfare policies are almost entirely to blame for creating a 70% illegitimacy rate in the black community.

    And, yes, the liberal arts are now a concerted assault on “traditional male values.” As I said, I left to escape the McCarthyite purge that enveloped the academy in the 1990s. My male friends who stayed refused to even allow their female students into their offices for fear of persecution. The accusation of sexual harassment was just about the equivalent of conviction.

    When I was in college the great authors who chronicled adventure and action were still read… and I mean Hemingway, Henry Miller, Mark Twain, etc. Artists still thought of themselves as adventurers and tough guys. You won’t find that at any liberal arts college now. In fact, many have not hired a single white, hetero man in over 30 years of quota hiring.

    This simply creates an atmosphere that no sane macho, hetero man wants to inhabit. The potential for ambush and personal destruction is just too great. And what is there to gain?

    You are wrong that black men cannot cope. They’ve largely made choices that you don’t like so that they can spend their days as honorable macho men. (I live in a community that is about 40% black.) That means most work with their hands.

    I have a different motivation in this than you seem to understand. The educational system (and liberal communities in general) would benefit tremendously by taking the values of macho black men seriously. Without going into great detail, let me get to the end result. It isn’t really black men who need to change. The academic environment is seriously in need of change. The liberal arts are sick and dying. The feminists need to be expelled so that sanity (and decent men) can return. The liberal arts don’t have to be a garbage heap. I am old enough to remember when a liberal arts degree was hard earned and well respected.

  11. Happy New Year!

    Before I depart for the party, I want to add something. Blacks are not talking about nothing when they express their distaste for “acting white.”

    Blacks continue, to a very large degree, to value sexiness. It’s a big part of black art, music and religion. And blacks, in general, see the white community as absolutely sexless. They also tend to see the over-intellectualization that is characteristic of educated whites as the cause of that sexlessness. And, I’m here to tell you that they are largely right.

    Sex is dying in the white community, and I do mean the liberal white community. White women virtually refuse to have children. Sex dies in white people, usually around the age of 30. (Believe me, I know. I am married to a black, Filipina woman. The belief that sex simply dies with age does not rule either the Asian or black community the way it does the white community.)

    White, educated people are usually absolutely sexless, particularly in the eyes of traditional, religious black people. This is the dreaded outcome of “acting white,” is it is justly feared and ridiculed.

    For verification of this, attend the services of a black Baptist congregation on any Sunday. You will discover, to your amazement, a religion that values and cherishes sexiness. It will astound you.

  12. copy editor says:

    I’m going to forget the forest and concentrate on one tree. The NYT reporter writes:
    “Watching Simon Jackson in class is like watching a man who is conflicted about being in college.”

    No, you moron. Watching Simon Jackson is class is not LIKE watching a man who is conflicted about being in college. Watching Simon Jackson in class IS watching a man conflicted about being in college. If you’re going to attemt a simile, try a little harder than that.

  13. Is it that white people are sexless or that they’re just more publically repressed? Namely, what happens in public is not the same as what happens behind closed doors. Aren’t the British rumored to be big freaks behind doors? Is the belief that “sex dies with age” in the white community based on reality or just distaste for getting old?

  14. And blacks, in general, see the white community as absolutely sexless.

    Actually, the decription I have more often heard is soulless. There are cultural differences between blacks and whites that some people on both sides interpret negatively.

    Whites see that blacks tend be much more boisterous and that is taken as a sign of low intellegence or of being primitive. Blacks on the other hand tend to think that whites are lacking spirit (soul) because of how restrained we tend to act. The way this difference manifest itself during religious services is interesting to observe.

    Whites traditionally bury their dead shortly after death. Blacks wait for a while. Many blacks believe the reasons whites bury their dead quickly is because white people turn black after death if not buried quickly. (Yes, I was surprised when a black friend asked me if that rumor was true.) As an aside, reasons for blacks waiting to bury their dead include the wider dispersal or black families made it where it took longer for everyone to arrive and many of the funeral homes required blacks to pay in advance and the money had to be raised before the funeral.

    Dang, I lost track of time and I am late leaving to pick my wife up from work!

    Happy New Year,

  15. Mike James says:

    Is it that white people are sexless or that they’re just more publically repressed?”

    Perhaps a more relevant term for this discussion, rather than “sexless” or “publically repressed”, would be self-control. People with self-control, or self-discipline, tend to be more successful in all walks of life, because they don’t immediately gratify every little desire which flits through their mind. They have a more highly developed ability to focus on goals, and attain their goals because they do not easily allow themselves to become distracted.

  16. Jeff,

    The armed forces have a comparitively good record with minorities, but don’t overstate it. They do their best to avoid felons, high school drop outs and GEDs. These categories have a much higher failure rate. The Army takes them when it needs bodies to put make their enlistment quotas. The Army loses one third of their troops before they complete their initial enlistment. They keep the ones who accept its values and remove those who do not. The Army decides who they get rid of, not the troops. Students decide when they have enough of school.

  17. Mark Odell says:

    Stephen wrote: White, educated people are usually absolutely sexless, particularly in the eyes of traditional, religious black people.

    Whoa….this gives a whole new meaning to the expression “White Man’s Burden”!

    Be that as it may, what’s this got to do with education and its value, other than somebody perhaps engaging in A=A thinking, viz.: valuing education = acting “white” = over-intellectualization = sexlessness?

    Sex is dying in the white community, and I do mean the liberal white community.

    Oh, so it’s not all bad then…. 😉

    Ross wrote: Many blacks believe the reasons whites bury their dead quickly is because white people turn black after death if not buried quickly.


  18. jeff wright says:

    George, your points are all well taken and I accept the numbers. However, to me, the most important (and gratifying) lesson to be learned from the military experience is that black men can be equal and indeed thrive in a traditionally white institution that places a premium on education, discipline and leadership skills. In other words, they’re not inherently inferior, even in an environment where standards are not compromised—e.g., affirmative action, etc.—which is darn good news.

    My point was and is that these guys can get the job done. The challenge is how to convince more of them of this.

  19. “Many blacks believe the reasons whites bury their dead quickly is because white people turn black after death if not buried quickly.” I have never heard or overheard this – not even the part about white people burying their dead quickly. (I can see how the “bury quickly” part might be said of Jews, I guess.)

    I am not sure that I would want to bring my books to school if my TEACHER was going to make snide remarks about why did I bother instead of trying to help me from, oh, starting in the fifth grade and continuing on through when I was shunted to special ed or worse. I don’t think they forget to bring books to school, I think they’re afraid to be seen trying when they have been told over and over again that they will fail. Seems like this argument –not wanting to try for fear of not doing well or failing – is acceptable when we talk about nerdy kids being subjected to PE. Why doesn’t it apply here?

    Having gone to mixed schools where black and brown students, poor students, and students with absentee parents were treated like, at best, interlopers and gate crashers, I empathize with many of the coping strategies these guys come up with.

    Why is so terribly wrong for society to destroy young girl’s hearts and minds with images of beauty in the media but not at all a problem when schoolteachers – teachers speaking directly to and specifically about individual students – tell the poor kids that they cannot learn?

    I’m not saying that I buy the whole beauty myth thing. I’m just baffled because the average TV talking head or magazine pieces or cocktail party chatter accepts one pretty much entirely and rejects the other totally.

  20. My black former coworker (I left that job Wednesday, ha ha) has a son the age of my daughter (16). He goes to an all-black high school. She told me that the teachers tried to make him sign up for honors English this year and he wouldn’t do it. He started out in the standard English class, and the honors English teacher came into the classroom during the first week, told him to get his stuff, and physically moved him into her room. So he was reading the same novels my daughter was at the same time: “The Scarlett Letter” and all the rest. (We have district-wide standards as to what “honors” means.) And my coworker said he actually decided that he liked being in that class. It’s just not true that all black males in inner-city public schools are expected not to do well.

  21. Quoth j.c.:

    Why is so terribly wrong for society to destroy young girl’s hearts and minds with images of beauty in the media but not at all a problem when schoolteachers – teachers speaking directly to and specifically about individual students – tell the poor kids that they cannot learn?


    Because beauty is considered cool & learning isn’t. Tell ’em they can’t learn, & they’ll sigh with relief because they’re officially not geeks. Tell ’em they’re ugly, & the little tin god Self-Esteem will shriek in outrage. Must keep one’s priorities straight, after all.

  22. I doubt that’s true. I think the issue comes down to the fact that many people probably have a hard time understanding how or why a teacher would tell such a thing to a student.

  23. If your “honorable” definition of machismo includes wife-beating, impregnating women and then abandoning them, gay bashing and the violent, drug-impacted fraternity of the ‘hood, then you can have it.