|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
This past weekend I was listening with interest to a story on NPR about middle class black and Latino students and the continued achievement gap with their white and Asian peers of similar backgrounds. Part one was on Weekend Edition Saturday and part two on Sunday. The NPR site also has a link to the full hour long radio documentary, Mind the Gap: Why Good Schools are Failing Black Students by Nancy Soloman as well as a few links to other related stories.
I'm still processing how I feel about the story and my own thoughts about the gap, but among many things, I found this interesting from the story:
[Melissa Cooper, sociology teacher at Columbia High School says] racial stereotypes are so powerful that black children are much more limited in how they see themselves, even in a place like Maplewood [NJ], which is largely middle-class.
"It's a freedom that white children have that black children don't have," she says. "They get to pick from this huge array of personality types, behaviors, authentic selves that they can put on and take off. There is a challenge for black children in terms of, when they go to the identity closet, how may options of what guise they can put on and take off, and still be considered authentically black."
This question of black teenagers and their identity is a clue to the mystery of why middle-class black students aren't keeping pace with white and Asian students. Middle-class black students do just as well as their white peers in elementary school, but as they become teenagers, they begin to fall behind. Pedro Noguera, sociology of education professor at New York University, says middle-class black children have the same benefits of middle-class white children— two parents at home, lots of support and extracurricular activities — but many of them desire to be more like poor children.
"In many black communities, it is the ethos, the style, the orientation of poor black kids that influences middle-class black kids in ways that [are not] true for middle-class white kids," Noguera says. "Most middle-class white kids don't know poor white kids.
I do feel that that is true to some extent. Impressions and images of African-Americans and Latinos are often limited to a few standard tropes in many minds and especially in the media (in music, I think of how far away "black rock" or country music seems from the mainstream view of what is black or even light years away from that, African-Americans in the classical world). And while I do wonder when the media will show the complexity and range of the black community (see "DORF" post October 2009), I also wonder with all of the opportunity of wealth and education offered to some of the young middle class African-Americans in the story, when does it become THEIR responsibility to defy the challenges of stereotype? of wanting to be more than a rapper, sports star, or entertainer (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course)? of not wanting to only sit in the middle of the classroom and "never so much as pick up a pencil, and often disrupt the class"? beyond all of the external societal issues, a case could be made for why are some black students failing themselves?
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 9:40 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.