Research into Black underperformance prevails. Wait till the annual standardized test scores by race come out at the beginning of this fall’s school year.
Let’s invert the implied question. Let’s inquire into Black success in our schools – success is born of resilience in facing formidable challenges. Black folks’ discourses of defiance against despair and deficit orientations are at the core of rising to the challenge of academic success.
Black families emphasize the legacy of successfully beating the system and taking a stand for the dignity of Black lives matter for their students’ well-being in schools – read what the students say in Family Engagement in Black Students’ Academic Success preview chapters on this site. Cameron recalled,
“My grandfather and his mother, I didn’t know her, but…my mom is my foundational influence, and I always felt strong … that if I was making them happy, I was doing the right thing…. So, knowing yourself through and through allows you to eliminate all insecurities that will prevent you from sharing yourself and your heritage with others.“
The Atchison parents (pseudonym) in the Shaker Heights, Ohio, schools put it this way,
“We told the kids; you represent this family. They were proud of being Black … Even though the teachers say, I don’t think they will excel, … that’s America’s expectation … We explained to the kids how you deal with people who don’t think you’re going anywhere. You prove them wrong.”
Their three kids all went on to Big Ten universities.
“Educational success for their children is precisely a form of acting Black while navigating a social system, including its schools, that does not have their best interests at heart,” says Zeus Leonardo, professor of education at UC Berkley.
For Black students and parents in our book, their self-affirmed racial identity served as a resource that fortified them to negotiate, resist, and reconfigure the aggressive achievement orientation in the Shaker Schools. They counteracted the American narrative on underperformance by fashioning successful adaptive behaviors grounded in the realism of what was “expected” of them in favor of an ethos of belonging and serving their families and communities of the future.
Mrs. Edwards showed how this worked to equalize school opportunities: “I thought about the community. I think just being around had a positive impact [on the schools], you know, Black people caring about what’s going on with them and the schools.”
This is what we know about Black students’ success in public schools in America. The pride in the family story, grounding children in the family, kin, and church community, protects children in facing the school’s systemic and personal challenges. A racial realist perspective empowers parents and youth in pushing against negative expectations and ethos extant in most schools to create a path for their children to flourish.