Posts tagged with: black progress

My contribution for this week’s Acton News & Commentary:

Inner-city education fails without the church

By Anthony Bradley

As Congress moves toward reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the problem is not that the Department of Education is not doing enough but that it suffers from an acute case of what psychologists call “organizational narcissism.” If they really wish to address America’s inner-city public school crisis, federal education officials must look beyond the boundaries of their own agencies and recognize the crucial role of churches.

Steven Churchill, of the Center for Organizational Design, explains that organizations can have a grandiose sense of self-importance and an inflated judgment of their own accomplishments, leading to “an unreal, self-defeating preoccupation with the company’s own image.” For example, even with overwhelming evidence that, other than family support, church involvement is the most consistent predictor of academic success for inner-city children, the organizational narcissism of the education industry prevents it from tapping into the resources of black and Latino churches.

In 2008, President Obama rightly acknowledged that, “There is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child’s education from day one.” This is an indisputable truth. What should baffle every American citizen is that the role of inner-city ethnic churches is oddly missing from the Obama administration’s education reform vision.

A series of 2010 studies in Howard University’s Journal of Negro Education (JNE), one of America’s oldest continuous academic journals focusing on black people, reported how church involvement increases education success in inner-cities. In “Faith in the Inner City: The Urban Black Church and Students’ Educational Outcomes,” Dr. Brian Barrett, an education professor at the State University of New York College at Cortland, describes the unique contributions black churches play in cultivating successful students in the inner-cities. He observed that “religious socialization reinforces attitudes, outlooks, behaviors, and practices … particularly through individuals’ commitment to and adoption of the goals and expectations of the group” that are conducive to “positive educational outcomes.”  In fact, back in 2009 Barrett reported that for black inner-city youth who reported attending religious services often, the black/white achievement gap “was eliminated.”

Barrett reports that one of the most important advantages of inner-city churches is that they provide “a community where Black students are valued, both for their academic success and, more broadly, as human beings and members of society with promise, with talents to contribute, and from whom success is to be expected.” Churches also affirm inner-city youth as trusted members of a community that celebrates academic success, and the practices that produce it, which overrides the low expectations communicated at school. Additionally, Barrett highlights the ways in which black churches, because they are equipped to deal with families, are effective at sustaining and encouraging parental educational involvement from the heart as well as providing contexts where youth can have regular contact with other adults for role-modeling and mentoring.

Barrett is not alone. In another JNE study of 4,273 black students titled, “How Religious, Social, and Cultural Capital Factors Influence Educational Aspirations of African American Adolescents,” Hussain Al-Fadhli and Thomas Kersen, sociology professors at Jackson State University, report that “family and religious social capital are the most potent predictors for positive student college aspirations.” These scholars explain that “students who attend church and believe religion is important may be more likely to interact with more adults who can help them with their school work and even provide guidance about their futures goals and plans.” The authors conclude that students with an “active religious life, involved parents, and active social life have greater opportunities and choices in the future.”

Since W.E.B. DuBois wrote in the 1890s about the black church, dozens of studies confirm this truth: Low-income black kids will not achieve academic success without strong families and the church. Strengthening these institutions, however, is beyond the expertise of any government agency or education program or policy. Using President Obama’s phrasing, if parents need to be involved in a child’s education from day one, in the inner-city the church must be involved beginning on day two. Without thriving and healthy inner-city churches, low-performing schools are simply cultivating the next generation of crime and welfare statistics. We owe it to children to place them in contexts that are sustainable and effective.

The Pew Research Center released a new report stating: “African Americans see a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks, and nearly four-in-ten say that because of the diversity within their community, blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race.”

Here are the key findings:

• Asked whether blacks can still be thought of as a single race, given the increasing diversity within the black community, 53% of blacks say they can, but 37% of blacks say they cannot.

A 53% majority of African Americans say that blacks who don’t get ahead are mainly responsible for their situation, while just three-in-ten say discrimination is mainly to blame. As recently as the mid-1990s, black opinion on this question tilted in the opposite direction, with a majority of African Americans saying then that discrimination is the main reason for a lack of black progress.

• Blacks and whites concur that there has been a convergence in the values held by blacks and whites. On the popular culture front, large majorities of both blacks and whites say that rap and hip hop have a bad influence on society.

• Blacks and whites express very little overt racial animosity. As they have for decades, about eight-in-ten members of each racial group express a favorable view about members of the other group. More than eight-in-ten adults in each group also say they know a person of a different race whom they consider a friend.

The most newsworthy African American figure in politics today – Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama – draws broadly (though not intensely felt) favorable ratings from both blacks and whites. But blacks are more inclined to say that his race will detract from his chances to be elected president; whites are more inclined to say his relative inexperience will hurt his chances.

• Three-quarters of blacks (76%) say that Obama is a good influence on the black community. Even greater numbers say this about Oprah Winfrey (87%) and Bill Cosby (85%), who are the most highly regarded by blacks from among 14 black newsmakers tested in this survey. By contrast, just 17% of blacks say that rap artist 50 Cent is a good influence.

• Over the past two decades, blacks have lost some confidence in the effectiveness of leaders within their community, including national black political figures, the clergy, and the NAACP. A sizable majority of blacks still see all of these groups as either very or somewhat effective, but the number saying “very” effective has declined since 1986.

• On the issue of immigration, blacks and whites agree that most immigrants work harder than most blacks and most whites at low-wage jobs. Also, blacks are less inclined now than they were two decades ago to say that blacks would have more jobs if there were fewer immigrants.

This report is not telling us anything new. Here’s why:

(1) Blacks have always been heterogeneous. In previous generations blacks were all forced to live in the same neighborhoods during segregation so the profound diversity among the black community was masked. This Pew report should remind America of the fact that all blacks do not think alike and never have. Therefore, using language like “the black vote” is as silly as using a phrase like “the white vote.”

(2) The report should awaken us to the fact that blacks are so heterogeneous that to talk about “black leaders” is brutish and primitive. Are there “white leaders?”

(3) The only people who seem to pimp the idea the lack of black progress in 2007 is due to white racism are the black elite. It seems that people on the street, Juan Williams, Bill Cosby, and others seem to understand that the lack of black progress, in some sectors, is the fault of individuals not taking advantage of the freedoms granted by the blood, sweat, and tears of their ancestors.

(4) The black middle-class are analogous and have the same materialistic worldview as middle-class whites but more hypocritical in some ways. While middle-class whites seem to despise “white trash,” middle-class blacks despise “ghetto” black folks, doing nothing to help them other than writing occasional checks during black history month or during the holiday season–as they live in gated communities, drive luxury vehicles, and send their kids to private schools– many middle-class blacks are oddly the first to come out and defend communities and lifestyles that they refuse to embrace themselves. Many middle-class blacks who defend the 6 boys in Jena, Louisiana would never live in the neighborhood from which the boys came.

Overall, this report confirms what many of us have always known: black America is divided by class just like the rest of America.