Washington. -- A terribly high percentage of black American youngsters are getting lousy excuses for an education. Any look at the verbal and math skills, the ability to read and write, the rates of dropouts and pregnancies as early as junior high and as late as college, makes it clear that black youngsters represent a grave challenge to this nation's education leaders.
What I find shocking are some of the silly ''panaceas'' being proposed: schools set up almost exclusively for black males; ''parental choice'' under which families can use government vouchers to send their children away from their bad public school, and now cries to make the curriculums at predominantly black schools and colleges ''Afrocentric.''
After years of fighting Jim Crow, plus the weakening of millions of black families, in educational futility some blacks in Milwaukee, New York and a few other cities seem to have decided that young black men are ''different'' -- that they can't learn or achieve in the presence of either whites or black females.
Unless these schools become the equivalent of males-only military boarding academies, where the young men never go home or have their hormones roiled by the sight of a young woman, they are not going to turn out ambitious black men whose single-minded passions are to invent things, build skyscrapers or write great novels. Racial or sexual isolation will cure nothing.
What's worse, any black-decreed or accepted resegregation of black males or females can only leave the students with false senses of achievement, because every youngster will know that he didn't get good grades in competition with the white majority that he ultimately must compete against in inventing, building and writing.
The frustration in black America today is so pervasive that we debate about what we want to be called -- colored, Negro, black, Afro-American, African-American -- which is a colossal waste of black thought. The newest ''let's have pride'' fad is to put Africa at the center of studies programs in predominantly black public schools and colleges.
Lord knows that I favor a heavy emphasis on the black heritage in these institutions. I want every school system to expose its children to African history. But I do not want to see spasms over ''Afrocentrism'' blind black youngsters to the fact that math, medicine, reading and writing are not delivered to us by any continent or clan. Learning about Timbuktu must never be an escape from taking the tough calculus, physics and English courses.
Our children must know that the only life-lifting pride comes from one's own achievements, not from any vicarious flirtation with history.
This business of vouchers and ''parental choice'' is a powerful snare and delusion for many black parents. They know that their neighborhood school is third-rate, and may even see the teachers there sending their children to private schools. Ordinary parents want the same for their children.
The terrible truth is that no more than a relative handful of black youngsters will get vouchered into a private school, or a ''magnet'' or first-class public school. The rest will be left to mediocrity and worse in voucher-weakened public school systems.
What our kids need is a legally required equalization of expenditures on public school children, rich and poor alike. They need a great infusion of federal money to lift the level of expenditures per child as between, say, Mississippi and Michigan. They need intense pressures on black teachers to care and sacrifice more, on black parents to become involved, and church leaders of every race to ''get religion'' about the educational needs of disadvantaged children.
If black kids get these things we can dismiss the misguided, destructive ''solutions'' of resegregation, Africanization and voucherism. We can just teach children of every race and background to excel.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.