When Phillip Jackson founded the Black Star Project in 1996, few school reformers had fully focused on the crisis of low educational attainment among young black men. Fourteen years — and numerous reports on racial and gender achievement gaps — later, the former Chicago Public Schools Chief of Staff’s grassroots efforts have fostered organizations focused on improving education for young black men such as UCLA’s Black Male Institute and Success for Black Boys. But Jackson still sees plenty of ground uncovered — especially among inside-the-Beltway school reform types and major education reform philanthropies — on addressing the black-white achievement gap.
In this week’s Three Questions, Jackson offers some of his own thoughts on achievement gaps, school reform, and the role of families in improving education and stemming youth violence. Read, think and consider.
Why should African-Americans care about achievement gaps and the quality of education in their schools?
The educational achievement gap is predictive of the social and economic achievement gaps in life. If Black children are not trained, equipped and empowered to do well in school, their chances of doing well in life are severely limited. The educational achievement gap is a precursor to a generational curse of failure, cultural destruction and genocide.
What is the one thing school reform activists inside the Beltway seem to ignore when it comes to addressing education and youth issues and why?
The number one solution ignored by theorist inside the Beltway is the role of parents in producing successful students. Schools cannot produce successful students without the support of caring, nurturing and demanding parents, guardians, families and communities. Until Washington realizes this and invests in this, the United States will never be a 21st century global educational power.
Given your experiences working on youth violence and educational issues, what are the three solutions you offer for dealing with youth violence?
Rebuild the family. The current epidemic youth violence, mostly in Black communities, can be traced back to the degeneration of the Black family. The police have no ability to stop youth violence. They have arresting powers and can disperse mobs, but they cannot eliminate the source of youth violence. Failed families is the source of youth violence. The family is the most important social unit in human society. Without strong families, education, economics, spirituality, physical health, emotional health, morality, etc. are all in jeopardy.
Provide positive mentors and role models for youth, especially young Black males. Children become what they see. They are going to adopt a model of behavior and a value system that is available. If we don’t have positive role models and a constructive value system for them, they will adopt negative models and the destructive system. In fact, negative role models and a destructive value system is heavily marketed to our children. Without a counter-marketing strategy, we have little chance of reaching, impressing and persuading our children not to be violent.
We must provide an education that prepares our youth to become viable parts of our society. They must have economic alternatives and practical reasons not to engage in negative, destructive behaviors. We have not helped most young Black men to obtain the necessary skills to be successful in the 21st century. We should not be surprised at the hyper-violence as their response to our failure to create a viable world in which they can live.