Young, Gifted and Black: Choosing Segregation

KEN HAMBLIN

May 08, 1991|By KEN HAMBLIN

Denver. -- During the 1960s when my people sang of being ''young, gifted and black,'' I remember how a new wave of ebony educators challenged the white-controlled public school system in America. They asserted that black students were resistant to education because white teachers all too frequently focused on Eurocentric values.

Today, I think that charge was an excuse which afforded many ghetto families the opportunity to dodge the responsibility for the academic failures of their children.

I say that because while a lot of Afro-centric rhetoric and misinformation about education has floated under the bridge, blacks from the ghetto continue to lend credence to the stereotype that they are too furious to be educated.

Like it or not, it's time to admit that not even years of federally forced busing has been successful in accumulating a utilitarian education for black children from ghetto neighborhoods. A generation has passed since black and white students first were integrated in the public schools and the system still is failing the black student.

In Denver, the Urban League president, Tom Jenkins, has said ''Each year we [blacks] observe the same phenomena. Black students, for the most part, are not achieving academically, resulting in poor attitudes and disruptive behaviors because of frustration at not being able to succeed.''

Personally, I am not mystified about why so many black students from Americas ghetto's continue to function as poorly as they do in school. I believe the flaw has little if anything to do with the standard whipping boy, white racism, or even a lack of quality teachers.

I think the problem is that education in the ghetto isn't negotiable; it's not something that can be gained by mugging a sucker on the street. We have to want to be educated, and work hard to be educated. Literacy has no value when the inclination is to be street smart and neighborhood cool.

In the 1920s, '30s and '40s it used to be popular to say blacks didn't do well in school because of the lack of dark-skinned role models. But that charge is no longer valid today.

So, the newest rationalization by apologists who labor to explain away the ghetto's failure is to call for a return to the comforting quarantine of segregation. They strive for it by hoping to establish all-black -- male only -- learning academies created for the edification of disruptive ghetto boys.

The apologists always manage to offer up racism to avoid accepting the responsibility for their failures as parents. Now they want to tell us that disruptive black boys will learn better if they are segregated from the perceived hostility of white educators and black women. The segregationists also intend to exclude women of color from teaching their boys.

I consider that plan to be extraordinarily sexist and unlikely to develop a healthy respect for women, no matter what the color. It's the classic example of a wounded animal turning upon itself in a desperate effort to bite away the pain it doesn't understand.

I believe a vigorous program to introduce respect for authority, education, personal responsibility, the family and the rights of others is the real means to cope with disruptive and anti-social black boys and girls in the ghetto.

It's time someone acknowledged that kids in the ghetto are laden with the same apprehension, misgivings and xenophobia that their parents suffer from. It's apparent, to me at least, that segregated schools will serve no better purpose than to postpone the inevitable shock of bi-racial and cultural saturation -- something we all must eventually cope with.

I question the credibility of black educators who failed to teach ghetto boys how to read and write in the Chicago, New York and Detroit ghettos, but who now say they have a new idea. But since the boys in question are black and represent a massive disciplinary problem for the system, few people are likely to demand they be kept among the students who are willing to learn in an integrated academic environment.

The 1990 U.S. census has already documented that 9.1 million ghetto blacks live in virtual racial isolation. I fear that the concept of segregated black institutions may -- for the coming generation of inner-city boys -- be the straw that fractures the camel's back.

Ken Hamblin is a Denver columnist and talk-show personality.

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