For 20 years, Tavis Smiley has been known for advocacy journalism, usually centering on politics. But with his new project, he’s tackling what many consider to be the next civil rights struggle: education.
In a two-part interview theGrio’s managing editor Joy-Ann Reid, discussed his sometimes controversial politics, and his upcoming PBS special and companion e-book, entitled “Too Important to Fail.”
Smiley says the racial education gap, particularly the growing achievement gap for black boys, is a crisis, that would take on the proportions of a national emergency if those being left behind were white.
Smiley said black boys face a number of impediments to learning, including a lack of course materials that reflect their experience and few teachers who look like them.
“The reality is that 83 percent of teachers in this country are white women,” Smiley said. “So to be frank about it, the future of black boys in America to some degree is in the hands of white women.”
Smiley also faulted the lack of attention to the specific problems plaguing black boys, including the Obama administration, which introduced the “Race to the Top” initiative to try and combat the problem of failing schools.
“This notion of a competition of a race, is not the best way I think to approach the education crisis,” Smiley said. “It’s taking a hard look at what the problems are, what the crisis is specifically as it relates to African-American boys who are being left the farthest behind… That’s not a race. And if it were a race… ain’t nobody racing to help these black boys according to what we’ve discovered.”
“Too Important to Fail” airs Tuesday night from 8-9 pm EST on PBS.
Click here for part one of theGrio’s interview with Tavis Smiley.