Breaking the Barriers: Talking About Race in Baltimore

Baltimore in Black and White from Urbanite. Thanks to Michael Corbin for the tip.

A number of heavy hitters in education reform name closing the achievement gap as a driving mission. They’re mostly white. Because I was curious about whether closing that gap was in itself a driver for education reform-minded African Americans, I made my way to the Enoch Pratt Free Library on the night of October 20 to listen to two black male professors tackle the subject of black male achievement.

The event was called “Breaking the Barriers: Helping Black Males Achieve Academic Success,” the twelfth event in the Open Society Institute -Baltimore‘s Talking About Race series. The panelists: Ivory Toldson, associate professor at Howard University, and Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University. The moderator: Shawn Dove, campaign manager for the Open Society Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

In the first answer of the night, Toldson questioned the “achievement gap” talk in precisely the way I was hoping someone would:

“…I started my research because I wanted us to talk about race – particularly as it pertains to African-American males – much differently than I’d seen it represented in the media. One of the things I noticed when I first started research related to African-American male achievement was the absence of the word ‘achievement.’ Most of it had something to do with ‘failure.’ It had something to do with an ‘achievement gap.’ …What I wanted to do was look at black males who were achieving…

You can listen to the event on the Enoch Pratt Library’s website. Here’s a look at my notebook:

Toldson:
Root cause of underachievement: There’s a disconnect between young black males and their teachers.
Nationwide, 63 percent of the teaching force is white female.
Teachers in urban schools come from outside the communities they serve. Understanding the nuances of the community is necessary to give context to behavior. (Result = unnecessary suspensions.)

Winbush:
The system of racism – and how black males fit into it globally – is something we need to talk about. We need to fix the system of racism.

Toldson:
The Justice Policy Institute Report came out in 2002 saying more blacks were in prison than in college by a margin of 100,000. That was up for debate then. Twelve years later, that finding has never been replicated.
There are more than 400,000 black men in college now than there are black men in prison. But we’re still operating with old data. And while the 100,000 number might rile up activists from inside the black community, it feeds negative perception from the outside (most importantly, among the white female teachers who are tasked with teaching black boys). “We need real-time data to change perception,” he says.

Winbush:
Likens teaching blacks to teaching in a foreign country. You need to know the history, the language, the culture to teach effectively.

Toldson:
Responds to a question about the school-to-prison pipeline. (See his report, Breaking Barriers 2.) Talks about unfair expulsions and suspensions. (Calls it “push-out”).

Sixty-six percent of suspensions are of students who don’t understand the material or who aren’t socialized to the environment.

Recommends policy change: Stop suspensions for academic reasons (e.g., repeated lateness, “last straw” suspensions). End “zero tolerance” language. Zero tolerance doesn’t work.

FACT: There are more blacks in prison now than were released from slavery. 

Toldson:
Nationally, 1.8% of teachers are black males. While the percentage in Baltimore may be higher, it needs to be 6% nationally to reflect percentage of black males in the United States.

Too few blacks are graduating high school. 16% of blacks have a B.A., as opposed to 30% of whites.

* * *

Listen to the whole thing if you have some time. My notes heavily skew toward Toldson’s comments over those of Winbush – an imbalance I plan to correct in another post. (UPDATE: See “The Failure of Desegregation in Baltimore City Schools: An Interview with Ray Winbush,” by Edit Barry, for Baltimore Fishbowl, Nov. 29, 2011) In the meantime, here are some potentially useful links:

Published Reports

Breaking Barriers: Plotting the Path to Academic Success for School-Age African-American Males [PDF]

Breaking Barriers 2: Plotting the Path Away from Juvenile Detention and Toward Academic Success for School-age African American Males [PDF]

Cellblocks or Classrooms?: The Funding of Higher Education and Corrections and Its Impact on African American Men [PDF]

Notable Organizations and Programs

Books Mentioned

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

The Isis Papers by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing

The Warrior Method: A Parents’ Guide to Rearing Healthy Black Boys by Raymond Winbush, PhD

Happy reading, Baltimore.

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3 Responses to “Breaking the Barriers: Talking About Race in Baltimore”

  1. Thanks for taking the time to share some of this conversation Edit. It points to the most powerful factor in the social and economic structure of this city, nation, and beyond, our mental models. Literally, what we see is what we get. There is some work that has been done by Dr. Wayne Beckles that talks about reframing the way we think about the education of our people. We are different, not because of genetics, but because of the impact of the conditions of racism. These differences are not deficits, as they are almost always painted. They are undeniable, yet unmined, assets.

    We need a different measuring stick – one that can measure creativity as an example – then, we need to create learning environments with the capacity to see those assets and maximize their capacity to leverage true achievement. I would also encourage folks interested in this conversation to peek into what Sam Holmes and others are lifting into awareness through the Black Male Identity Project here in Baltimore. The first step is to change our own mental models so that we do not perpetuate the oppressive circumstances through our passive (or active) acceptance of the current mindset. As you pointed out – it isn’t even real.

    Paulo Gregory Harris

    paulogregory.com

    Like

  2. This is awesome right my alley, I’m an artisan myself n I have wanted find a way to teach my trade to other black men, I’m upholster 30yrs one of the best know all about furniture I’m here

    Like

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