Monday morning alarms mark the start of another school week. And as they pack lunches, check backpacks, and send their children to school, parents, and caregivers have high hopes that their kids will receive the best education— along with tenderness, love, and encouragement from their teachers.
For some students, those hours at school are as fulfilling as their loved ones could ever hope they’d be. But when it comes to Black boys, in particular, experts say — and plenty of parents and caregivers know — that the culture of care from educators is lacking, which shows the need for more innovative approaches inside and outside the school setting to ensure students’ well-being and success.
Brooklyn, New York, resident Alexandra Dormoy, 42, has been one of those caregivers. She helped raise three boys in her family starting when she was only 16 and saw first-hand the struggles they faced within the school system.
Dormoy only had any idea what it was like to go to college from reading the young adult “Sweet Valley High” series as a teen.
“We never had college tours or directions on how to sign up for college,” she says.
Two decades later, as an adult, Dormoy adopted another boy, which refocused her attention on the Black male student experience in school. With her own son, she’s seen a shift toward acknowledging that a culture of care is needed to ensure Black boys succeed.
“The new avenues that are allotted for the kids are important to save our youths because it works to let a child know that their parents care, the teachers care, and the world cares about them and their education,” Dormoy says.
“Care culture is predicated on the highest of beliefs in children,” Tyrone Howard, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells Word in Black. “When they are supported unconditionally, and they feel loved, they feel as if they have no limits to how far they can go.”
The conversation, which also included Julius Davis, founder and director of the Center for Research & Mentoring of Black Students & Teachers at Bowie State University, addressed how we can “elevate innovative thinking about approaches and policies that ensure the well-being and success of Black boys, both within and outside of the formal school setting.”
Amongst a more selective hiring process and establishing a physical sense of Black excellence in schools, experts such as Davis agree there’s a need for more ways to involve families in school-related conversations, along with moving away from suspensions and expulsions as punishments, as well as reframing the way we see and interact with Black boys.
Shifting Toward Asset Framing
“We need to move away from deficit-focused approaches for engaging Black boys and instead use asset, strength-based approaches to engaging Black boys,” Davis said during the webinar.
Davis said that in researching Black boys, he found that many times, male African American students are not offered the same opportunities to flourish academically, and are often ostracized by teachers when they request to be challenged.
Numerous studies have shown evidence of systematic bias in teacher expectations for African American students, where non-Black teachers were found to have lower expectations of Black students than Black teachers.
As researchers from the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research wrote in 2015, “nonblack teachers are significantly less likely to expect black students to complete a four-year college degree than are black teachers.”
“Many of the Black boys who are supported in math and STEM areas are successful because of their families’ advocacy,” Davis said. “We don’t talk about when Black boys are doing well in these spaces because their families are advocating for them to gain access.”
Ensuring Teachers Are Carefully Vetted
Howard tells Word In Black that one way to improve the culture of care across the board is to be more stringent about who is allowed in the teaching field, especially if teacher education programs are going to service large urban areas where Black children live.
“I think we have to ask hard questions to candidates who want to teach about what they think about Black people, about Black children, about Black families, and about Black communities,” Howard says. “They need to be able to identify when they’ve seen Black children who were successful.”
During the webinar, Davis said one way to shift this narrative and open more opportunities for an increased level of care is for school settings to encapsulate their environments with what success looks like, which includes setting a standard of excellence and making boys work towards that.
Davis said models of what this looks like in practice are already out there — like Statesman Academy for Boys, a public charter school in Washington D.C. that serves boys in grades 4-8.
“In that school, when you first walk in, you see pictures that look like the boys all throughout,” Davis said. “You see positive affirming words all on the walls. You see educators who look like them, who care about them.”
A Focus on Early Childhood Education
Another way to adjust this culture of care, Howard says, is to recognize the importance of kids receiving a solid, high-quality early education. That helps them avoid reading and writing below grade level during their elementary years.
“We see so many kids who are playing catch up in the time they start kindergarten,” Howard says. “We want to help close that gap so that Black kids can start kindergarten already ready to accelerate.”
As for Dormoy, she says she’s witnessed years of conversations about the education — conversations that sometimes seem repetitive — but she acknowledges she sees a shift in the right direction when it comes to the school experiences of Black boys.
“It has definitely improved from my time to now because it actually being talked about,” she says.
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