By Rashaad Thomas

As a Black boy, I watched movies like “Boyz n’ the Hood,” “Paid in Full,” and “Menace II Society.” A scene in the 1992 film, “Menace II Society” still haunts me today.

In the scene, Grandpa asks, “Cane, do you care whether you live or die?”

“I don’t know,” Cane responds.

If you constantly tell a person they don’t matter, eventually, they will believe they don’t matter. Black boys are often told they’ll be lucky to see 18-years-old. I believed I was a menace to society and didn’t know if I wanted to live or die, which negatively impacted my school performance.

I didn’t know it, but I was being de-educated.

What Is De-Education?

De-education is a systematic method to make a person seem to others that they are continuously losing intelligence.

Black boys are exposed to many forms of de-education. For example, in 2014, former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old recent high school graduate Michael Brown. The media reiterated how America devalues Black boys by repeatedly airing Brown’s lifeless body lying in the street for approximately four hours.

Black boys nationwide are de-educated and re-educated to believe their lives are meaningless. That’s why California’s Association of Black Educators refuses to ignore the inequity of educating Black boys. In July at the 2nd Annual CABSE Institute, educators from around the country gathered in Napa, California, to address the de-education of Black boys. During the conference, they discussed policy and diverse forms of instruction that yield best practices. Ultimately, attendees declared a state of emergency on the de-education of Black boys.

“We chose to focus on Black boys because much of the qualitative, as well as quantitative analysis reveals Black boys are chronically failing,” Micah Ali, Compton Unified School District President, says.

The Effects of De-Education

Malcolm X once said that “When you get a poor education, you can only work in a poor-paying job. And that poor-paying job enables you to live again in a poor neighborhood. So, it’s a very vicious cycle.”

Given the weight of anti-Black racism, those graduates end up whitening their resumes and doing whatever else they need to do to be hired. But in the end, only 19% of Black boys end up in the top income distribution as adults compared to 40% of white boys. And,given the school-to-prison pipeline, low-income Black men are incarcerated at five times the rate as their white counterparts.

Criminalizing Black Boys

Criminalizing Black boys is one form of psychologically and physically de-educating them.

“I am society’s child. This is how they made me and now I am sayin’ what’s on my mind and they don’t want that. This is what you made me, America,” Tupac Shakur said.

It’s well-known that America’s education system condemns Black boys rather than uplifting them. Schools criminalize Black students with harsh disciplinary actions. Black students receive two times more law enforcement referrals than their white peers for similar infractions.

The digital age has enabled schools to adapt de-educational policing strategies. Center for Democracy and Technology survey conducted surveys 2020 – 2022 and concluded that student surveillance tools harm Black students. Students reported that they or a peer got into trouble because of activity monitoring, which reveals significant racial discrepancies.

What does this look like? For example, Baltimore City Public Schools uses GoGuardian to monitor student activity on nights and weekends. Schools work with police to monitor when GoGuardian flags a student’s activities.

Combating Black Male De-Education

Society tells Black males the ticket out of poverty is to become a professional athlete or music artist. America constantly tells Black boys they are worthless through movies and music and that they are violent and disposable. This pattern is not new. Since the arrival of enslaved Africans on these shores, white supremacy has forced deficit-framed labels on Black males.

“We have to stop blaming people for their circumstances,” D’artagnan Scorza, executive director of racial equity for Los Angeles County told 2Urban Girls in a recent interview.

Scorza not only provides critical analysis, but he also offers a solution. His Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI), based in Inglewood, California, is a summer training program that teaches education stakeholders methods to achieve social equity using education in their schools and community. SJLI hosts educators for training workshops discussing culturally relevant curriculums and academic support through a social justice lens.

The Maryland State Board of Education has also thought of a solution. It created a Task Force on Achieving Academic Equity and Excellence for Black Boys, a pilot program that recommends schools create a Black male mentoring program.

In Detroit, The Hidden Genius Project has created a project that targets Black male youth entering the 9th through the 11th grade. The project focuses on training them through mentorship, technology leadership and career development to change their lives and community.

CABSE’s Black educators’ declaration of a state of emergency confirms that it is not only up to America but the Black community to change things.

“We will look at the long term perspective, the long term goal, and ensure the various models of implementing an innovative educational solution that will continue to produce results far beyond what our eyes can see,” Ali says.

The change must begin within the Black community to reverse the effects of the de-education of Black boys.