African-American Males and STEM
We are inundated daily with messages about the challenges and disparities facing African-American males. From educational outcomes, to economic and health indicators, to criminal justice involvement, we are constantly reminded of the bleak statistics and associated decreased future possibilities for African-American males. Decades of scholarly research has sought to examine the complex interplay between race, gender, identity, socioeconomic status, social structure, oppression, and opportunity, and the development of African-American males within this reality. Within education, the field has moved forward dramatically in understanding the outcomes of African-American males, thanks in part to researchers looking beyond the blame of individuals and instead examining systemic influences.
Yet, we have not seen anywhere near the amount of progress necessary to transform the educational experiences of African-American males. Reminders of the exceptionally high dropout rates (Schott Foundation, 2010), disproportionate discipline statistics (Skiba & Losen, 2010), and depressing academic outcomes (Council of Great City Schools, 2010) abound. There appears to be more of a focus on documenting the problem, than on proposing comprehensive, practical, and actionable solutions. Of equal importance is the relative lack of focus on moving beyond discussions of developing minimum skill competencies and achieving high school diplomas, to engaging in discussions about improving the educational and future occupational/economic outcomes of African-American males through a focus on the STEM fields, both in K-12 and higher education.
The dedication of a scholarly journal to examine in great detail the experiences and outcomes of African-American males within the educational system is a step in the right direction. The Journal of African-American Males in Education’s March 2011 Special Issue on Black Males in STEMincludes a set of articles focused on math and science education for African-American boys, particularly examining how identities and narratives within the classroom shape achievement. Understanding the intersection between classroom learning experiences, curriculum content, non-school experiences, and societal messages all within the context of race and gender are critical to understanding how to effectively engage and teach African-American students. Teachers and teacher educators must be engaged in these dialogues. Educators must no longer view content, curriculum, or instruction through a one-size-fits-all-lens. This dangerously overlooks the multidimensional, contextual influences on student achievement. Furthermore, understanding and capitalizing on the development of mathematical and scientific identities (within the lens of race and gender) can be transformative for teachers and can have a profound impact on the very students who are often marginalized and disengaged from the traditional math and science curriculum.
Reading these articles and engaging in critical discussions about math and science education for African-American males is the first step; the next step must be to transform the ways in which math and science are taught within our urban schools.