This was the topic of a talk I went to at yesterday’s CAG Conference, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was hoping to find out some research or information about how to help Pseudonymous Kid overcome his current aversion to all things “school”-related (which is lessening, thank god, but I am impatient and want More! Faster! strategies). One thing that the speaker said in passing really bothered me, and because I saw heads nodding all around the audience, I thought I’d write about it here since it seems to be a commonly-held belief: that Black students may underachieve because of pressure not to “act white” by doing well in school.
It just so happens that I read a recent article about this exact topic at The Root: Ivory A. Toldson’s article “The ‘Acting White Theory’ Doesn’t Add Up,” reprinted from the Journal of Negro Education. Her research shows not only that black students actually perceive that educational achievement is valued by their black peers, but that “white males are the most forthright about being apathetic toward educational values.”
Much as I enjoyed the conference, it really bugged me to see a featured speaker and several of the teachers in the audience unaware of this article, or more importantly–since obviously working teachers can’t really be expected to have read every recent article about education that exists*–that it seemed to be such an accepted truism that black underachievement is part of “black culture” rather than part of the culture of education or the broader American culture (which it surely is). In the context of gifted education, which also has a problem with underidentifying gifted black students, this strikes me as a doubly-pressing issue, and attributing it to the students’ attitudes seems like a kind of victim-blaming that lets educators and educational systems off the hook, or at least functions as an excuse for not doing better.
So I sent a very polite letter to the speaker and posted the article, along with a version of what I’m saying here, on a couple of FB pages including CAG’s own page. I’ve definitely noticed that my own educational background–formal scholing, yes! up the ying yang–means that over and over in discussion K-12 education (in or out of school), I want RESEARCH and SOURCES and EVIDENCE.
*Which, let’s be honest, is one of the biggest problems in K-12 education; that teachers are so seldom given access–and almost never given the time–to keep up with research in their field. Or rather, fields: education itself, and their subject matter (math, history, etc.).