Testosterone, not racism, is schools' main problem

March 06, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

The Baltimore County NAACP, in choosing to raise the test scores of black public school students, has chosen the right fight. But -- as is historically the case with the NAACP -- the premise is wrong.

About 42 years ago, the NAACP's Thurgood Marshall successfully convinced the Supreme Court that the segregated schools blacks were required to attend were "inherently unequal" to white ones. The result was a near mania on the part of the NAACP for integration of schools. The organization even advocated busing despite the absence of clear evidence that the tactic worked.

The integration movement had its critics. Black nationalists and black conservatives said that the NAACP itself was promoting the idea of black inferiority by supporting the notion that blacks could not be educated in separate schools. But it was Thurgood Marshall himself -- educated at the all-black Douglass High School, Lincoln University and Howard University law school -- who proved the fallacy of the NAACP's position. The organization was fighting the right battle but with the wrong goal.

So the old NAACP position was that separate education was inferior education. Now, with Baltimore County's schools integrated and the test scores of black students still trailing those of white students, the blame has shifted. Robert Dashiell, a black member of the county school board, blames white racism. The county NAACP, at least, is more specific. At a Feb. 26 news conference, chapter Vice President Bernetha George pointed the finger at acting Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione.

"The record of African-American students during his tenure is dismal," Dr. George was quoted in a Sun article written by Marego Athans.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was wrong in the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954. It was wrong to force W. E. B. DuBois out of the organization when he refused to slavishly kowtow to the organization's pro-integration stance. And the Baltimore County branch is wrong now.

On Dec. 13, I wrote that the attitudes among black students have much to do with low test scores -- much to the dismay of those African-Americans still mired in the "blame whitey" mode of thought. I stand by the column even more so now than in December. Too many teachers have written to me and said I was right on the money. Several have revealed that the problem is not low achievement among black students. The problem is with black male students.

One teacher at John Stricker Middle School who asked that his name not be used sent me a survey he had to complete for an area superintendent.

"Data we have received indicate that there continues to be gaps between achievement levels of African-American males and the other student groups," the survey said. The teacher lamented that he was hard-working and expects "three things above all from my students: hard work, respect for themselves and others and their best efforts at everything they try." There was a time when -- for black males and all other students -- this teacher's requirements were enough.

Jonathan Brice, a black teacher at Catonsville High School, didn't write but invited me to talk to a group of students. Later, he expressed dismay that students in his "African-American Experience" course consider him a "sell-out" for -- horror of horrors -- giving them tests and expecting them to actually learn something.

A black Baltimore County mother whose son is in a gifted and talented program at his middle school told me he is harassed, threatened and beaten by his black male classmates for daring to achieve. It'll be a stretch to see how, in the NAACP's elegant language, a superintendent who "understands the political makeup of the county and ... who has an understanding of multiculturalism" will help this poor lad.

The problem with low achievement among black male students isn't racism. That's a melanin thing. We're dealing with a testosterone thing here: the lingering effects of a black male macho culture that considers learning and erudition sissy stuff. The worst manifestation of black male macho culture is the ghastly homicide rate among young African-American men. Until we stop thinking melanin and start thinking testosterone, the problems of black male students will persist.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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