Monday, May 10, 2004

'Brown's' Benefits: Black Educational Achievement

With the 50th anniversary next week, everybody and their mama is writing about the landmark "Brown vs. Board of Education" case and the aftermath. What's in this brief article about "Brown's" benefits:

- Just 15 percent of black Americans 25 and older were high school graduates in 1952, the year the high court took the Brown case. The graduation rate stood at 79 percent by 2002, the latest year for which figures are available.

- Sixty-nine percent of black children 5 and 6 years old were enrolled in school in 1954. By 2002, 96 percent of black children ages 5 and 6 were enrolled in school.

- Twenty-four percent of young black adults 18 and 19 years old were enrolled in school in 1954. Their enrollment rate rose to 58 percent in 2002.

These are good stats, so of course we won't hear black "leaders" or intellectuals hype it up, and then further build upon our strengths to increase the good news. They yawn at good stats, and dwell endlessly on bad ones. But fact remains, W.E.B.'s "Talented Tenth" has now become the Talented Twentieth. Yet much work remains, especially given some of "Brown's" negative effects.

How well and what black children are learning are now the key issues, not access. The most irksome thing that I see in too many black children is the equation of academic achievement with whiteness. This is not part of our history! In slavery, folks would risk a beating or even death to learn to read and then teach others. Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, etc. We have a rich educational history. As John McWhorter writes in his bestseller, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, this ridiculous viewpoint rose up around 1966. It sure isn't reflected in my grandparents' generation, and they shake their heads about it. I believe that the changes in the 1960s came "so quickly" (in terms of legislation, one after another) that our parents' generation didn't map out what it would look like to live free and be competitive. Thus at a time where we had -- and have -- the most power over our lives, we ceded control to government programs. It's had a deleterious effect ever since, and "leaders" aren't talking about the widening gap within Black America.

Education is the #2 most important item on black folks' plate, after decreasing illegitimacy which is the key root cause of most of our negative stats. We must stamp out this "education is white" nonsense! If ex-slaves didn't believe it, why do folks today? Black kids watch too much TV, and must study more. More black parents must put the foot down regarding their kids' study habits, as parental involvement is the #1 determinant of how well a child does in school. School vouchers would inject competition into the educational system, enable parents to choose schools that reflect their values and educational wishes for their children, and reduce the number of kids trapped in crappy schools where bad-ass apples disrupt everybody else's learning. Teachers' salaries should be based on merit, not seniority. This dream can become reality if we work to make it happen!


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