Black Boys in Crisis: Manhood Development Classes

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.

One of the most innovative and promising new programs for black male students is what Oakland Unified School District terms “Manhood Development Classes.” More formally known as “Mastering Our Cultural Identity: African-American Male Image,” this elective course is offered to black males in third through twelfth grade at twenty schools in the Oakland school district. The courses vary for each grade, but in general, they teach students about African-American history and prominent black individuals, the civil rights movement, current cultural events such as the #blacklivesmatter movement, and even business and economics topics.

For high school students, the course also involves college visits and college mentoring. Most importantly, black male teachers teach all of the courses. While the topics covered in the curriculum are important, the courses are effective because they give black boys positive role models who consistently support them and promote the importance of education—and they can connect to their students on a personal level. Over half of the teachers in Oakland are white women, so having a teacher who looks like them and can relate to them is especially important.

The Manhood Development Courses are part of Oakland’s Office of African American Male Achievement, a division of the public school system that provides services to black boys such as leadership councils, conferences, peer mentoring, and tutoring, as well as these elective courses. While the office’s initiatives are still in their infancy, there have been many early successes that show promise for the future. For example, more than 50 percent of the students who started the Manhood Development courses as ninth graders got into college with a scholarship. By comparison, only 54 percent of all African-Americans graduate from high school.

Other school districts around the country are following suit in offering programs specifically for black male students. Minneapolis public schools have created the Office of Black Male Student Achievement and Washington, D.C., has supported a $20 million campaign entitled Empowering Males of Color. Other school districts, like New York City, have made commitments to hire male teachers of color.

What do you think; are manhood development programs a viable solution for dealing with the crisis amongst black boys?

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