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How Schools Kill Black Boys

On Black male stereotypes

Our current school system leaves Black boys set up in a way that is meant to deceive and ultimately fail them in the long run. If you look close enough you will see that schooling slowly breaks down the self-concept and self-esteem of many Black boys. Whether it is low teacher expectations, labelling, or the absence of supporting structures, everyday Black boys walk away from school questioning their identity and how they ought to represent themselves in our society. The sad part is – little is being done to change the status quo. Black boys continue to drop out despite educational initiatives. In classrooms across the country, Black males settle with D’s and C’s, struggle to attain B’s, and battle both internal and external frictions when they actually do succeed with A’s. All the while our Black sons and brothers are internalizing what the institution of education foreshadows about society in general. So when authorities accost Michael Brown and Eric Garner, it’s not anything new to them. Unfortunately, the authorities “surveilling” our schools are not much different than those policing the real world.

Black males are meant to fit into specific molds and are held to specifically lower standards. When Black males meet these standards, everyone accepts it. In my experience as an elementary teacher and as a Black male educated by the public school system, it is unusual to see Black boys encouraged or affirmed in the domain of academics. This is a volatile subject amongst teachers but it is the ugly truth. Despite the “forced” acceptance of multiculturalism, our notions about the “universal student” have not changed. Unfortunately we are not all welcomed to the table when deciding what this “universal student” looks, talks, walks, and acts like. What happens then is that school teaches us the “right” ways to define ourselves but never allow us to question whether what’s right for Adam is also right for Treyvon. What’s worse is that most Black boys don’t even come close to fitting this ideal and are marginalized because of it. So where does that place them? What exactly are they suppose to do? Black boys are stuck trying to be validated and affirmed by school, but scripted social identities leave them in no-man’s land. So some Black males seek affirmation in other ways; some arrive at validation by expressing passive or aggressive resistance to the social structures that have a history of scarring them. Unfortunately, these approaches have come with far too many deadly consequences lately.

Many things need to change in how we “school” children. Pop culture teaches us that Black men can only be athletes, entertainers, or the criminals. And schools foster this acknowledging consent. So who was Michael Brown? How about Eric Garner? More importantly, what did the police assume about these men? Our schools offer very little for the Black boy in terms of the flexibility of his identity. They have a heavy hand in internalizing the conflict of representation that plagues our Black boys. Thus they have the responsibility (and the power) to open up the narratives of the Black male. Our schools must work to challenge how Black boys are read in society. If schools do not counter the current narratives regarding Black males and create alternative ways of knowing our Black men, then Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin will be simply names in a long list of causalities that our schools system teaches us to accept.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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