Boys don't drop out in the 12th grade. They physically drop out in the ninth grade, but they emotionally and academically drop out in the fourth grade.
That observation is made early by Jawanza Kunjufu, a noted educator, public speaker and publisher, in his new book, Reducing the Black Male Dropout Rate (African American Images, Chicago, 708/672-4909 ) He issues this challenge to readers: "Visit a kindergarten class and observe Black boys in action. They're eager, they sit in the front, they're on task. They love learning."
But something happens by the time they reach the ninth grade.
Kunjufu says approximately 100,000 African American males drop out of high school each year; in some urban areas the Black male rate approaches 70 percent. Even a high school drop-out can calculate that rate amounts to 1 million Black males over 10 years. That 10-year figure is larger than the total population of Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, Baltimore, Memphis or New Orleans.
In his book, Kunjufu provides a lesson plan for reducing the horrendous Black drop-out rate. The turnaround must begin in the home. He notes that schools have students only 9 percent of the time from infancy to 18 years of age. Parents, on the other hand, have students far more longer and must do a far better job of creating the right intellectual atmosphere at home.
"Parents, I'd like for you to do an inventory of your home," Kunjufu writes. "Count the number of books you have vs. the number of CDs and DVDs. That will, in part, explain your child's academic performance."
He adds, "What you have in your house determines the kind of student that comes out of your house."
Parents should also take firm control of their homes. The author scoffs at the idea of a child telling parents paying rent or a mortgage: "You have no right to go into my room." Parents not only have the right to go anywhere in their house, they should also exercise the right to inspect their child's room at anytime.
They should also listen to their children's music and check out their friends.
"Parents, if you don't do anything else, you need to know your children's friends. You can tell an awful lot about your child by his selection of friends. Many parents believe their sons are angels. You need to observe your son's friends in action. Invite them over to your house. Meet the parents of your son's friends. Why is this so important? Because the peer group is the number one influence on African American males."
Because of that influence, parents should know where their children are during the crucial hours of 3 to 7 p.m., when children are most likely to get into trouble.
Poor parents should not expect their children's performance levels to be lower than those from rich families.
"Wealthy parents don't have smarter kids than the poor and working poor, than Blacks or Latinos, but what they perhaps do better is insist that the school do its job better no matter what it takes," Kunjufu believes.
He notes that because African Americans suffer from PTSD – Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder – it is crucial that Black males be exposed to culturally-relevant learning materials.
Another suggestion is better recognition of academic achievement.
"If you have an assembly program of 500 students but are giving out two awards, there's a very good chance that African American males will call those two students nerds," Kunjufu explains. "A more effective assembly program would honor many students. If a student moves from a D to a C, he should receive an award. If he moves from a C to an A, he receives two awards. In this way, it is very possible that all 500 students will receive an award and just maybe the students will buy into academic achievement."
Educators should not buy into the notion of social promotions, the act of promoting non-achieving students to the next grade.
"I acknowledge the pain students must endure when they are held back," Kunjufu says. "But the pain is even greater when, in the ninth grade, they are trying to get through the school day with a fourth-grade reading level."
Churches and community groups also have a role to play in reducing the drop-out rate.
"The most important institution in the African American community is the church, and there are 85,000 African American churches," the author writes. "The One Church, One School program created the concept that churches should sponsor or adopt schools in their community. Can you imagine if each of the 85,000 churches adopted a school? There are some 15,000 elementary and high schools in Black America, which means there would be five to six churches for one school! That's a winning combination for our children."
In his book, Kunjufu Jawanza has given us the winning formula for halting the Black male drop-out rate. The sooner his book is read and his ideas are implemented, the sooner we change the destination of thousands of Black males from prison to educated and productive lives.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge