A Black Male Teacher for Every Student!
Our education secretary, Arne Duncan, offered the following bizarre claim: "I think all of our students benefit from having a black male in the classroom."
Black males represent only one out of every 50 teachers, and that's a major social problem, according to the federal government. The solution is de rigueur racial preferences and more government spending. With that solution in mind, the federal government is now going to devote untold resources to a program called the TEACH Campaign.
The goal of the program is to "increase the number, quality, and diversity of teachers in the classroom." The methods employed are described only in warm and fuzzy terms, such as "trying to recruit more African-American men to go into teaching straight out of college." The premise of the program is that black students, especially black males, would benefit from a black male role model in the classroom. While there may be some minimal short-term benefit to such an approach, the long-term implications are exceptionally troubling.
The significance of this program is that one racial group is slowly gaining the right to choose to associate with members of its own racial group in the educational system. Duncan has said, "We need more men of color in our schools." The "of color" designation refers only to Hispanics and blacks, for the purposes of the TEACH program. Whites and Asians don't count. The federal government is not advocating racial matching of teachers and students for the benefit of whites and Asians. The mere suggestion would be treated as a racist absurdity.
Only time will tell how many tax dollars and how much government power will be brought to bear to achieve this feat of social engineering. In the meantime, so much for a colorblind America, and so much for judging people by the content of their character.
Racial favoritism is not surprising coming from the Obama administration, but it is certainly still disturbing on several levels. When it comes to programs like the TEACH Campaign, the underlying rationale is rarely questioned. One deeper problem, which is almost never mentioned, concerns the racial attitudes inherent in such policies.
As Duncan made clear, the main beneficiaries of the program are supposed to be black male students. Black male teachers benefit "all of our students[,]" Duncan says, "[b]ut particularly our young black males." As one black teacher explained to CNN News, black male students with a black male teacher are "able to see what they'll become one day, and if those images are positive, it raises their self identity to another level." This can be called the race-based education theory -- the notion that one learns better when instructed by a person with the same racial group identity.
Race-based education is a step far beyond the promising and often successful experiments in single-sex education. Having a male teacher in the classroom is of some benefit to male students. Schools around the country, with diverse ethnic and ideological identities, are opting for single-sex education. Young men of all racial groups are more likely to defer and compose themselves in the presence of a male authority figure.
But Arne Duncan is not talking about young men in general benefiting from male authority figures per se. Instead, Duncan tells us that "a black male" teacher in particular will be of benefit to "all" students. The evidence is mixed on whether race-based student-teacher pairings benefit members of the designated racial groups. On the other hand, there is no evidence that all students benefit from having a minority teacher. It is a major oversell for Duncan to claim as much. But Duncan had to say that "all" students benefit, because the only alternative was to make an honest statement about the one group of students who might actually stand to gain: black males.
The grotesquely contorted logic of Duncan's assertion is further highlighted by applying that logic to other racial groups. There are just as few Hispanic male teachers as there are black male teachers. The TEACH program makes mention of Hispanics as well, but we have not yet been told by our federal government that all students would benefit from having a Hispanic male in the classroom. For that matter, all students could benefit from an Asian male, or a biracial male. Perhaps all students could benefit from a Scotch-Irish WASP male as well. Once the government begins playing racial favorites, there is no principled end to the crass tribal favoritism that will ensue.
The need for black male teachers arises from the supposed interests of the black male students. Duncan should have simply left it at that.
Let us pretend that Secretary Duncan has cracked the code; assume that there would be some significant improvement in learning if there were more black male teachers for black male students. Let us also assume that the benefits of race-based education are worth the costs. Even assuming all of that, Duncan will still need to find black males willing to enter the teaching profession. Specifically, Duncan will have to find college-educated black men who will volunteer to teach the "disadvantaged," by serving in classrooms in troubled communities. This may prove to be infeasible. Young black men, like many other students, often go to college to advance themselves and leave behind the neighborhoods that threatened to hold them back. In some schools, particularly those which perform worst, being verbally abused is the very least of a teacher's fears. The prospect of attempting to teach such difficult young men (the group that Duncan said will "particularly" benefit from race-based education) is not a future that many will embrace. For instance, Philadelphia's mayor, who is black, publicly referred to the teens responsible for a rash of racial mob violence and said of those teens, "[Y]ou've damaged your own race."
In fact, it requires a combination of optimism and unfamiliarity -- i.e., naiveté -- to set foot into such troubled classrooms. Young whites possess those qualities in abundance, which explains why whites make up an incredible 73% of teachers in urban city schools, and 91% of teachers in urban schools outside cities, according to Leslie T. Fenwick, the Dean of Howard University's School of Education.
College-educated black men will be aware of what awaits in "disadvantaged" classrooms. They will be familiar with the slander, repeated by too many black students, that getting good grades is "acting white." Given that mentality, the teacher is just someone who helps black kids "act white." Black men, many of whom are directly familiar with the challenges that await teachers, will quite reasonably choose other careers. Or, rather, if they do become teachers, they will generally prefer not to teach in poorly performing schools where their racial identity would ostensibly be of greatest benefit.
As dubious as race-based education is, many will argue that it is a necessary evil in response to a dire educational problem. Duncan points out:
... [W]e're competing with the gangs, we're competing with the drug dealers on the corner, and when students fall through the cracks, when young people don't have that positive mentor, in a school setting, in the church or community, there's always a guy on the street corner that can say come my way.
In other words, to counter the disastrous effects of ghetto culture, it may be necessary to engage in patently race-based social engineering.
So this is what liberalism has come to: we're meeting cultural decline with bad policy. Perhaps we can take some comfort in knowing that the students themselves haven't advocated for race-based education. Rather, educational experts -- many of whom are white and almost all of whom are liberal -- have decided that young black men should be taught more often by black men. Aside from the blatant racial hypocrisy involved, race-based education is another desperate effort to alter a subculture that is actively refusing the clear path to opportunity, which is so clearly laid out by free K-12 public education.
John Bennett (MA, University of Chicago, MAPSS '07) is a veteran, writer, and law student at Emory University living in Atlanta, GA.