Part I: Boys Crisis Disputed!: Says Who?

On Tuesday, May 20, 2008, the Hartford Courant printed an article that first appeared in the Washington Post with the following headline: “‘Boys Crisis’ Disputed. Report: Gender Differences In School Success Overstated.”

As a black male professor, the headline caught my attention because the title appeared to contradict what I have been observing (and what friends at other universities say they have been observing) and fretting over the last several years, the declining number of black men in my classes (although, at my university, a growing percentage of the student body is black).

Whenever I walk across my campus, but especially when I enter a classroom for the first time, one of the things that I notice is that women of color outnumber, sometimes 3 to 1, men of color. And though I realize that gender inequity is real in many facets of American life and that one of the only ways to close those gender gaps is to have more women of color successfully matriculate through colleges and universities across this country, my heart sinks a bit because of the noticeable absence of men of color.

I thought to myself as I prepared to read the article in the Courant, if a gender difference in academic success is being overstated, where the hell are the brothas on my campus?

So, what is the article about?

After reviewing more than 40 years of data on achievement from fourth grade to college, a new report by the nonprofit American Association of University Women (AAUW) contends that the “boys crisis” in U.S. schools is more myth than reality.

The AAUW report – “Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education,” – looks at a variety of indicators of educational achievement, including dropout and disciplinary rates. The authors claim that their study is the first to analyze gender differences within economic and ethnic categories. They conclude that academic success is more a function of class (that is, family income) than gender.

Well! Okay! But, what about race and ethnicity?

My question was partially answered in the fourth paragraph of the article. “A lot of people think it is the boys that need the help,” co-author Christianne Corbett said. “The point of the report is to highlight the fact that that is not exclusively true. There is no crisis with boys. If there is a crisis [my emphasis], it is with African American and Hispanic students and low income students, girls and boys.”

What does she mean, “If there is a crisis?” There is a crisis on my campus, I thought to myself.

To my dismay, the rest of the newspaper article was mostly silent on those differences she clearly sought to minimize.

(Sidebar: Damn, I hate this color-blindness stuff – that is, the intentional downplaying of racial and ethnic differences. I’ll save a discussion of the “whitewashing” of race and ethnicity in popular and academic writing for another post).

The finding (whitewashing) reported in the Courant article that really caught my attention was that: “There is virtually no gap between boys and girls entering college immediately after high school.”

Huh!

I next imagined someone from the Courant asking me, who you gonna believe, me, or your “LYING” eyes?

What does a good academic do? I did some research.

But, before I present some of the data I found, there is an important point that readers of this blog should note: even though more black women are attending college and earning degrees, their gains have not come at the expense of black men.

Nonetheless, AAUW’s data and data I culled from other sources (the American Council on Education and the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education) clearly show that there is a growing black male crisis.

A few examples:

· Although black male and female undergraduate enrollment is growing, in 2003-04, black women comprised 64 percent of black undergraduates and the gap is widening

· On many college campus, black women make up two-thirds of black enrollment

· There are roughly 200 black females graduate for every 100 black males; the 2 to 1 ratio is higher than any other racial group

· At many historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), educators say that on average, the ratio of women to men is about 7 to 1, and the graduation rate is 10 females for every 1 male

· Black women, who are 6 percent of the nation’s population, earned 7 percent of all bachelor degrees conferred in 2005-2006; black men, who are 6 percent of the nation’s population, earned 3 percent of all bachelors degrees conferred in 2005-2006

· Black men earned approximately the same percentage of all degrees conferred (3 percent) in 2005–06 as they did in 1976–77

So, what is happening to the brothas?

I’ll try to answer that question in my next post: Black Males and the School to Prison Pipeline.

Stay tuned.

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