The outstanding late scholar and historian W. E. B. DuBois emphasized education as the key to African American success. Yet as a lifelong resident of Anne Arundel County, I have witnessed the miseducation of my children in a system that does not favor educating African Americans equally. Since the beginnings of this nation, we have endured enslavement, Jim Crow, lynchings, slavery by another name (mass incarceration), and repeated discriminations. Because the barriers that continue to be created deny us equal rights, the fight for equal opportunity must be carried on. Here I am concerned with African American males because they are at the bottom of the achievement gap according to the data.
I had the good fortune to graduate from the segregated and mighty W. H. Bates High School (Class of 1963). There was so much pride among us; we loved going to school while receiving a great education. Our teachers instilled pride within us, and they inspired us to do and be the best. Those of us (males) who didn’t go off to college received excellent training in vocational tech. It was called “shop” then. We were able to become successful bricklayers, carpenters, car mechanics, and more. After completing high school, some even built their own homes.
Brown vs. Board of Education knocked down the barrier of segregation in public education. It was meant to give us access to better books, buildings, and education. But because of racist resistance, the concept of educating African Americans failed. As the system tried to integrate us into primarily white schools, it crippled us. There was no accountability for equal treatment, to make sure we received the best education. Thus, the resistance—not wanting us to learn—resulted in more poverty, low achievement, and despair within our homes, communities, and schools. Communities that had once been loving and supportive of each other have become dysfunctional. Crime and violence are rampant today, and too much of both are in our communities. Many of my peers think we are actually going backwards.
Fast-forward to 2018. My children attended Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Today’s African American males are limited in the vocational training that they receive. The curriculum is designed for them to go to college, yet everybody isn’t going to college. African American males have higher suspensions, dropout, and failure rates. We need to examine the curriculum and make changes to make it work for those who are not going to college. Early intervention in elementary schools will help close the achievement gap. It will better prepare African Americans, both males and females, by the time they reach middle school.
It is the middle school that puts them on the track of either vocational training or college. Vocational Tech in Anne Arundel County is very competitive because of space. Perhaps we should be looking at a larger program or reinstitute more vocational schools. High school offers too little too late. The earlier the intervention, the better are the results.
We need to take action to implement more vocational training for our young males—and, once this crisis is on the road to a solution, for females as well. The data show that the girls are already generally performing better, so we must attend to the boys first. With a sincere effort by us all, we must take action now to correct the miseducation of so many who are being lost in our society to a life of hopelessness.
L. Odessa Ellis is a community activist and advocate for the rights of children and parents.