Moving African American Students Past Stuck Point

By: Tsahai H. London Sandrock

What causes disproportionate numbers of minority students to become stuck and refrain from taking a seat at the table of opportunity granted them by schools? Dr.John Ogbu, noted scholar, after an extensive survey-based research, shed some light on the working-class, minority, and female youth resistance to school (Ogbu, 1991,1994). Ogbu observed a notable disparity in the school performance of students belonging to different minority groups. He noted a distinct relationship between the level of student performance and the prevailing ideology relating to achievement, also a definite discontinuity between the students’ home and school cultures. He claimed that African American youths fail in schools because of deeply historical and pervading societal factors. Ogbu referred to this group as involuntary minorities because historically, they had no choice in their minority and subjugated status. He reasoned that the way involuntary youths understand their place in the American social order dashes their hopes of advancement and opportunity.

When African American youths observe the inequitable distribution of social rewards in society- inferior housing,inferior education, limited and low level jobs- they are unlikely to work hard. Students echo high sounding dreams of what they would like to aspire. Nonetheless, their behavior is frequently inconsistent with the accomplishment of these goals. This disparity between verbalized values and their actions is most telling. They have superficially, but only superficially bought into the dominant theory of how to make it in America. They know what the theory is. They have heard the rhetoric. But they do not believe it. This “attitude achievement paradox” expresses itself in subsequent behaviors, dispositions, and identity which negatively affect academic progress.

Students believe that they are being unduly discriminated against, that impediments to their social mobility are posed both at the institutional and structural levels. They believe that the discrimination they experience is undeserved. So they become distrustful of Whites and any establishment with which they are associated . Schools fall under the category of distrusted institutions. Students readily observe cases of biased presentation of textbook material, biased assessments, favoritism, tracking, and sometimes open racism. Their observations or interpretations of their observations are legion.

Undoubtedly these factors must be taken into consideration when schools make plans and strive vigorously to improve the quality of education for minority students. Nor will the problems disappear on their own unless and until these issues are addressed head on. The answers to the problems are not far from where the problems themselves reside. Hence, educators need to analyze each phase of the problem, fix it, and then move on.

Larabee, D. Public goods, private goods: the American struggle over educational goals. American Educational Research Journal. Spring 1997, vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 39-81

Ogbu, J.U. (1978). Minority Education and Caste. New York:Academic Press.

Ogbu, J. U. (1991). Low school performances as an adaptation: The case of Blacks in Stockton, California. In M. Gibson & J. Ogbu (Eds.), Minority status and schooling: A comparative study of immigrant and involuntary minorities (pp. 249-286). New York: Garland.

Ogbu, J. U. (1994). Racial stratification and education in the United States: Why inequity persists. Teachers College Record, 96, 264-299.

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