The Young, Gifted & Black: A look at African-American education

Before I properly introduce myself, I’d like to do a quick bit of word association. When you hear the phrase, “African-American education”, what are the first things that come to mind? I’ll bet it goes a little something like this:

I believe that children are our future… failing schools, successful schools, public schools, Catholic schools, Christian schools, Muslim schools, private schools, charter schools, Head Start, incompetent teachers, outstanding teachers, crumbling school infrastructure, dropout rates, illiteracy, black boys, black girls, discipline issues, IEP’s, social promotion, no one cares, parental involvement, special education, school vouchers, below basic, basic, proficient, advanced, Catholic schools versus public schools, private schools versus public schools, teachers unions, testing, tutoring, personal responsibility, PTAs, No Child Left Behind, college, community college, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste, predominately white schools and universities, graduation, graduate school, innovation, complacency…teach them well and let them lead the way…

Did some of this ring true to you? Are you dealing with some of these issues on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis as a parent, a teacher, a principal, a student? Good, because then you’ve come to the right place.

Welcome to Young, Gifted and Black, theGrio’s newest blog on everything dealing with African-Americans and education. My name is Lawrence Ross, and I’ll be your guide through the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to figuring out how African-Americans are being educated, and more often being undereducated. We’ll look at the problems, but more importantly, we’ll search for the solutions that already exist to varying educational issues, and the ones that have yet to be discovered.

First, to give you a little background about me, let’s begin with my own education. I was a Catholic school baby, going from my local parish elementary schools before heading to an all boys Jesuit college prep school in Los Angeles, Loyola High. Yet despite being educated in the Catholic school tradition, my mother was an active public school advocate, serving on the Inglewood School Board for eight years.

For college, I first attended the University of California at Berkeley, where I studied for four years, before moving to Los Angeles, eventually graduating with a BA in History from UCLA. I also received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television a few years ago.

I began my writing career working for a small Los Angeles area newspaper back in the late ‘90s, where one of my assignments was to cover the educational trends in the small communities that make up Southern California. I was able to get into the nitty-gritty of elementary education, learning about local school boards politics, teachers unions, PTAs, and the needs of children.

I reported on successful schools, like a public school that immersed their children in a second language from the first grade on, creating fluent second language speakers by the eighth grade. And then there were the failing inner city schools with dismal test scores and apathetic teachers, and no books, which caused African-American and Latino children to fall two grades behind their white peer before they’d reached the fifth grade.
For the past ten years, I’ve been writing books about African-Americans. From The Divine Nine: The History of African-American Fraternities and Sororities, to The Ways of Black Folks: A Year in the Life of a People, education has been at the forefront. With The Divine Nine, I’ve lectured at over 350 colleges and universities about black college fraternalism, and in the process met thousands of black college students who were striving to make themselves better. I’ve been impressed by some students, disappointed by others, and there are reasons for both conclusions.

But my purpose with Young, Gifted and Black is to do something different than what you’ll see in other blogs or columns about African-American education. Yes, I’ll talk about the statistics that create sensational headlines in the newspapers. I’ll breakdown the studies on African-American education at all levels, and see if we can make some sense of it. However, Young, Gifted and Black will not just be about the problem, I’m going on a search for solutions to our educational issues.

I want to find out what’s working, not only in the African-American community, but also in other communities who have tackled problems and succeeded. Maybe the solutions will be conventional, other times unorthodox. But regardless, I want to move beyond the clichés, the accepted conclusions, and seek innovation where others are settling for rhetoric. Don’t tell me that children are the future if you can’t provide me a blueprint for that future. Don’t tell me that certain things are just the “reality” of the situation. I challenge you to think in ways that change the reality of thousands, even millions, of African-Americans seeking an education at all levels.

I’ll talk to university president and single moms. I’ll speak to elementary school kids, and students in graduate school. I’ll ask questions like whether college is for everyone, and should we really encourage every African-American child to attend? I’ll explore areas like home schooling, the use of technology in educating our kids, and which old school methods are still useful, and which are causing harm. Are HBCUs still useful, and if so, why? Which colleges are best for African-Americans, and which don’t educate our students?

Young, Gifted and Black is all about being big, bad and bold. The status quo is unacceptable, the comfortable need to be afflicted, and when it comes to the education of our African-American student, no matter what age, they all deserve the best.
That’s what I’ll do. What do I need for you to do? Young, Gifted and Black is a blog and that means you need to be an active participant, not a passive one. You need to read and then leave your opinions in the comment area. I’m not looking for an “Amen Choir” that agrees with everything that I say, but I welcome the contribution of thoughtful comments so that we all learn together.

African-American education is about investing your knowledge, your expertise and sharing it with others. New ideas and thoughts can come from those with a ton of degrees behind their name, and those who quit school after learning cursive. I want to hear both.

So check in everyday to Young, Gifted and Black. Together we’re going to change African-American education, one blog entry at a time.