Black Boys in Crisis: How Families Can Help

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

The family is where it all begins. The importance of a strong, supportive family environment cannot be overemphasized in the education of the black boy. I have seen this firsthand, both when I attended elementary school and when I taught it. If a student was unruly, rude to teachers, unkempt, or slacking off, I often discovered that he came from a family that had been broken in some way. Perhaps he was a child of a single parent who was struggling to survive, or his parents were involved in criminal activity or were drug abusers. Perhaps he was sleeping on the couch in a cockroach-infested apartment or was in the care of his grandparents.

There is little that educators can do to change a difficult family situation; however, it is important to recognize that, in the African-American community, the woes very often have a historical basis. After all, African Americans only became full citizens half a century ago, after nearly four centuries of persecution. Those chains are still being sundered; those wounds are still being healed.

What can families do to increase the chances that a black boy will flourish in school? First, focus on nurture. Remember that your actions to a child are tools you are giving that child. If you slap him and shout at him, those are tools he will use in the playing field. If you speak calmly to him and get him to think about the consequences of his deeds, he will be able to carry those tools into the classroom.

Even if you don’t have the money to provide your son with the latest cell phone or fancy shoes, you can provide him with something much more important: structure, a safe place, and a harmonious home life. Ensure that your son gets to bed on time each night and is up on time each morning. Ensure that he eats three healthy meals a day. Ensure that there is no violence in the home.

Second, it’s important to ensure screen time is limited. Far too many families rely on television, and now the Internet and digital games, to keep children occupied. Young children should spend a maximum of an hour a day on screens. That includes time spent on cell phones or gaming. The rest of the time should be filled with outdoor play; creative indoor play, such as drawing, building with blocks, and making up stories; and reading.

This last item is crucial. As we saw in an earlier article in this series, children whose parents read to them tend to do better than those whose parents do not. Start early. Even though you think the child is too young to understand, those small ears are picking up and storing away every word. Just leafing through the pages of a picture book for a few minutes a day can instill a love of reading that can last a lifetime.

There is a tremendous gap in the number of books poor families have compared to rich ones. This cannot be explained away by poverty. Make it a habit to go to your local thrift stores or garage sales or public library. In those places, you can often find children’s books for under a dollar. Take your child along, and have him choose books that intrigue him. Every child should have a shelf of books appropriate to his age level and interests.

Finally, ensure that the role models you emulate and celebrate and talk about around the dinner table are ones you want your son to aspire to. Are those role models womanizing athletes who beat their girlfriends? Are they hypocritical, money-grubbing preachers? Or are they astronomers, poets, and Nobel Prize laureates? Think about kind of person you want your son to become, and ensure he is exposed to people of that ilk.

Can you think of any additional ways that families can help end the black boy crisis?

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