Teaching ‘manhood’ at school

Against a backdrop of role models, Ernest Jenkins III teaches a class at Oakland High School called “Mastering Our Cultural Identity: African American Male Image.” Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Hoping to lift achievement for black male students, Oakland (California) schools have hired black male teachers to teach African-American history and culture in what’s called the Manhood Development Project, reports Patricia Leigh Brown in the New York Times.

“The No. 1 strategy to reduce discipline issues is engaged instruction,”  says Christopher P. Chatmon, who runs the district’s Office of African American Male Achievement.

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few students in his Manhood Development class with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few Manhood Development students growing up with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Many students have grown up without a father or male role model. Students form strong relationships with teachers and the program also brings in black male professionals and college advisers.

Chatmon’s office compiles an honor roll of black students with a 3.0 average or better. Three years ago, only 16 percent were male. That’s risen to 25 percent.

China is looking for male teachers to teach manhood, reports Javier C. Hernnandez, also in the New York Times.

Lin Wei, 27, a male sixth-grade teacher in Fuzhou, tells stories about manly warlords and soldiers. “Men have special duties,” he said. “They have to be brave, protect women and take responsibility for wrongdoing.”

Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom.

In Zhengzhou, a city on the Yellow River, schools have asked boys to sign pledges to act like “real men.” In Shanghai, principals are trying boys-only classes with courses like martial arts, computer repair and physics.

The motto of West Point Boys, an all-male summer camp in Hangzhou, in eastern China, is: “We bring out the men in boys.”

When Mark Judge was hired as the only male teacher at a Catholic K-8 school, the boys were ecstatic, he writes on Acculturated.

. . . the boys literally formed a circle around me and started jumping up and down. There were requests to play football, questions about cars, inquiries into my favorite baseball player, light punches (from them) on my shoulder.

The U.S. should “encourage more men to become the kind of teachers our boys need,” he concludes.

‘Quiet middle’ needs to help to reach goals

As a social studies teacher in Atlanta, Ian Cohen taught ninth-graders who wanted to be doctors, lawyers, and CEOs, or entrepreneurs, chefs, and engineers. But the school’s graduation rate was only 42 percent — even lower for black males.

"Next Generation" apprentices visit the set of Inside NBA Football.

“Next Generation Men” visit the set of Inside NBA Football.

Males in the “quiet middle” were doing the minimum needed to pass, Cohen writes. They didn’t realize what it would take to achieve their goals.

Cohen and two other Teach for America corps members have founded Next Generation Men) to provide “exposure to different careers and post-secondary options, guidance on how to achieve them, and consistent support.”

If my student wants to be an engineer, but doesn’t know how integral math and science are to that profession, what other reason would he have to be interested in trigonometry or calculus? And if he came from a family without a college graduate, how would he manage to learn about the application process, the importance of school selection, and what the actual experience entails or requires?

Tenth-grade “apprentices” meet with teachers twice a week and visit a different industry each month.

For example, students met the cameramen, audio engineers, writers and producers of one of their favorite TV shows, Inside the NBA, at Turner Studios, writes Cohen. “Now, they understand that there are over 20 careers involved in making that show possible, and that it takes a commitment to mastering a craft or skill set that will enable them to pursue one of those professions.”

Many young people are encouraged to say they want to go to college and say they want to be doctors, lawyers, etc. But they have no clue what they should be doing in school to make those goals a reality.

Virginia lets cops arrest ‘disorderly’ kids

Kayleb Moon-Robinson was 11 years old last fall when he was charged with disorderly conduct for kicking a trash can at his Virginia middle school. A few weeks later, the autistic sixth-grader tried to leave class with fellow students instead of waiting, as ordered. The same police officer grabbed the boy, who struggled to get away.

Kayleb Moon-Robinson

Kayleb Moon-Robinson

Kayleb was handcuffed and taken to juvenile court, where he was charged with a second disorderly conduct misdemeanor and felony assault on a police officer.

Virginia students are arrested in school at three times the national average, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The report ranks all the states on law-enforcement referrals. 

Many of those arrested are middle-school students 11 to 14 charged with disorderly conduct.

. . .  a 12-year-old girl was charged earlier this year with four misdemeanors — including obstruction of justice — or “clenching her fist” at a school cop who intervened in a school fight.

In Green County, Virginia, last October, a school cop handcuffed a 4-year-old who was throwing blocks and kicking at teachers and drove him to a sheriff’s department.

Stacey Doss, Kayleb’s mother and the daughter of a police officer herself,  said her son “doesn’t fully understand how to differentiate the roles of certain people.”

She refused a plea deal reducing the felony to a misdemeanor because it required the 11-year-old to serve time in a detention center. Kayleb was found guilty of all charges this month. He’ll return to court in June for sentencing.

Doss said the judge had a deputy show him a cell, and told him if he gets into trouble again he could go straight to youth detention.

“He said that Kayleb had been handled with kid gloves. And that he understood that Kayleb had special needs, but that he needed to ‘man up,’ that he needed to behave better,” Doss said. “And that he needed to start controlling himself or that eventually they would start controlling him.”

Kayleb now attends an alternative school that’s sensitive to the autistic boy’s difficulty with sudden changes in routine, Doss said.

Black brains matter

Fifty-nine percent of black males earn a high school diploma, according to a new Schott Foundation report on public school students. The rate has risen from an even more dismal 51 percent, but is lower than the rate for Latino males (65 percent) or white males (80 percent).

Only 44 percent of black males in Nevada public schools earned a diploma, the worst in the nation. Of the six states with black male graduation rates of 75 percent or higher, only New Jersey and Tennessee have black populations larger than 5 percent.


Rapper: You’ve earned a worthless diploma

Black male graduates of Chicago high school are “four, five steps behind people in other countries,” rapper Lupe Fiasco told young men at a Mass Black Male Graduation and Transition to Manhood ceremony.

The local rapper began by saying, “Congratulations, you have graduated from one of the most terrible, substandard school systems in the entire world. You have just spent the last . . . 12 years receiving one of the worst educations on earth.”

. . .  “Transition to manhood is the most important thing that’s going on right now. The caps and the gowns and your tassels and your honorary blah blah blahs don’t mean nothing. . . . They just represent to someone else that you’ve achieved something. But then when you look back at it, what have you achieved?”

The rapper, a product of Chicago-area schools, told the young men to earn and maintain their manhood, “one of the last things that we can control.”

Philip Jackson, the event’s organizer, called the speech a needed “dose of reality.”

Colleges try to recruit, retain black men

Community colleges are developing special programs to improve the success rates of black male students.

If poverty is destiny, what about Maine?

If the education crisis is all about poverty, what about Maine? Maine is a poor state — especially for blacks — yet graduation rates are high, writes Michael Holzman on Dropout Nation. Some 84 percent of black males in Maine complete high school compared to 89 percent of white males. Nationwide, 49 percent of black males and 73 percent of white males earn a diploma. That means those low-income blacks in Maine are outperforming the national average for whites by a healthy margin.

Of course, there aren’t many blacks in Maine. They’re not concentrated in inferior schools, writes Holzman.

 They attend the same schools as their white peers, have the same teachers, and must meet the same expectations. They are not herded into “drop-out factories” and expected to fail.

I’d guess ghetto culture hasn’t taken root in Maine. We drove up there  in late September to meet our future son-in-law’s family, who live way up north in potato-and-moose country. The week after we were there, his grandmother shot a moose. There was talk of serving it at the rehearsal dinner, but it was an old, tough moose which apparently requires injecting pig lard and cooking for several days to be edible. So maybe not.


KIPP mobility matches nearby schools

KIPP middle schools take as many transfer students as nearby district schools, according to a Mathematica working paper (pdf). Furthermore, attrition rates for black males are lower than in neighboring schools, Mathematica found.

“KIPP’s success is not simply a mirage that is based on the results of a select number of high achievers who persist through 8th grade,” the researchers write.

A 2010 study by Mathematica found large achievement gains at KIPP schools, even when the scores of students who had left the schools were included, Inside School Research notes.

A Western Michigan study found high attrition for KIPP’s black males, charging that 40 percent of black male students leave between sixth and eighth grade.  The study compared two or three KIPP schools to entire school districts.

Mathematica compared individual KIPP schools to neighboring district schools. “Our data is showing that KIPP loses black males overall at a lower rate than the local district schools,” said Christina Clark Tuttle, a senior researcher.

Urban black male students often change schools, whether they attend a district or charter school, but are less likely to leave the district.

KIPP students are more likely to be black or Hispanic and have lower incomes than students in the surrounding school districts, Mathematica confirmed.

47% of black males graduate on time

Only 47 percent of black male students earned a high school diploma on schedule in 2008, reports the Schott Foundation.  In New York, 25 percent of black males earned a Regents diploma on time.

New Jersey, with a 69 percent black male graduation rate, is the only state with a significant black population to top 65 percent. Maryland came second at 55 percent with California third at 54 percent and Pennsylvania close behind at 53 percent.

Not known for educational excellence, Newark had the highest black male graduation rate of any major city, notes Jay Mathews.

In Newark, the graduation rate for black males was 76 percent. The other school districts nearest that level were Fort Bend, Tex. (68 percent), Baltimore County, Md. (67 percent) and Montgomery County, Md. (65 percent). The list only included states with more than 100,000 black male students and districts with more than 10,000 black male students.

New Jersey’s data is self-reported by schools and may be inflated, Mathews warns. In addition, the state lets schools graduate some students who haven’t passed the state graduation exam. One way to raise graduation rates is to lower standards.

Black female students, who face different social pressures, do much better than their brothers.