Factors that affect African-American children



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African-American STUDENTS

“They never want to hear what I have to say…it doesn’t matter who started a fight, or what a teacher said to you that made you mad.

You might have something heavy going on at home but no one asks.

They’re not interested. They just want you out of the school.”

17-year-old 11th grade African-American female student, NYC

(Sullivan, 2007, p. iii).

In New York City, one of the two largest urban public school districts in the United States (U.S.), as well as throughout the U.S. An educational crisis exists; particularly relating to African-American students, that links to a number of factors. According to Sullivan (2007) in the published study, Deprived of Dignity. Degrading treatment and abusive discipline in New York City & Los Angeles public schools, 58% of African-American fourth grade students attending school in the U.S. during 2005 scored below the basic reading level for fourth graders, compared to 36% of students overall.

Even though African-American children in the U.S. repeatedly demonstrate low performance rates on standardized academic tests and exhibit high dropout rates in high school, Johnson (2011) stresses in the study, “No home for Blacks and Latinos at top NY high schools,” that not enough is being done enough to remedy this malady. During the paper, the writer discusses numerous developmental factors that affect African-American children in school, with particular emphasis on the global self-concept of African-American youth in academia and how it contributes to poor performance within school. Other considerations relating to psychosocial issues affecting African-American students in NYC public schools include the use of “special education” label on African-American students in these schools.

In the study, “School belonging and the African-American adolescent: What do we know and where should we go?,” Booker asserts (2006) that the student’s sense of belonging and association proves critical in an educational setting? Students need a sense of community or bond to others to maximize their abilities to learn and engage in academic ventures. Sullivan (2007) also expresses concern that many black students in New York City (NYC) public schools are routinely labeled as troublemakers and also that some of those labeled as special needs students or placed in special education classes are sometimes deliberately “expelled, transferred, or counseled out by staff” (Sullivan, p. iii). Some teachers acknowledge that a number of schools expel students to reduce overcrowding and avoid helping students with special academic and/or behavioral needs. In some instances, students who experience repeated suspensions and removals do not receive supportive services. Over time, this frequently contributes over time to the student also experiencing more alienation. He or she may in turn demonstrate more and misbehaviours which also lead to dropping out of school Students being expelled contribute to a four-year graduation rate of 38% in New York City. Sullivan (2007) reports that recently in NYC:

Students and parents reported that some students who are labeled as troublemakers and/or are struggling academically are intentionally pushed out by being expelled, transferred, or counseled out by staff. Teachers acknowledged that some schools openly push students out as a strategy to reduce overcrowding and avoid the burden of helping students with special academic or behavioral needs. In other cases, schools subject students to repeated suspensions and removals without supportive services, contributing over time to alienation and misbehavior which can lead to pushout. These pushouts contribute to a low four-year graduation rate of 38% in New York City (Sullivan, 2007, p. iii).

Factors Affecting Academia

“Research shows, for African-American adolescents,

issues of school belonging, identification, and engagement are critical to academic performance and successful completion of high school” (Booker, 2008, p.1).

A 2011 report obtained Student Safety Coalition through Freedom of Information requests and analyzed by the New York Civil Liberties Union relates that New York City’s public schools currently suspend more students and for longer periods of time than the schools did a decade ago. In the publication, “City schools are suspending more students, and for longer,” Phillips (2011) presents the following graph documenting school suspension growth from 1999 — 2000 in NYC schools.

In response to the fact Black students are suspended in disproportionate numbers with a third of suspensions occurring during months students sit for extended periods of time while they complete state exams, Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director, stated: “Education is a child’s right, not a reward for good behavior. . .. Sadly, the growing reliance on suspensions in New York City schools all too often denies children – often the most vulnerable and in need of support – their right to an education” (Phillips, 2011). Excessively harsh approaches to discipline, conjoined with aggressive policing in schools frequently transitions youth from the classroom into the criminal justice system.

The report also found:

Students with disabilities are four times more likely to be suspended than students without disabilities.

Black students, who compose 33% of the student body, served 53% of suspensions over the past 10 years. Black students with disabilities represent more than

50% of suspended students with disabilities.

Black students served longer suspensions on average and were more likely to be suspended for subjective misconduct, like profanity and insubordination.

Thirty percent of suspensions occur in March and May of each school year when students often are taking exams. ” (Phillips, 2011; Analysis finds dramatic spike in NYC suspensions: Black children and students with special needs most affected, 2011).).

Among its recommendations, the report stresses the need for NYC schools to provide support services to address students’ emotional and psychological needs. Schools also need to invest in school aides, guidance counselors, and social workers trained in conflict resolution and restorative justice methods to address and help resolve disciplinary infractions. Schools should also collaborate with community-based organizations as well as medical, mental health and social service providers to deal with and help students better address non-academic developmental needs (Phillips, 2011).

In the study, “Closing the gap: A group counselingapproach to improve test performance of African-American students,” Bruce, Getch, and Ziomek-Daigle (2009) report that historically, as in contemporary society, education proves to be of critical value as well as a and an indispensable prerequisite for an individual to succeed and experience a minimum of a moderately high quality of life as an adult. African-Americans, albeit, comprise a major portion of the most at-risk populations for underachieving in school and society.

Black men are more highly represented in the prison system than in higher education, and only 15.5% of Black Americans have graduated from college compared to 27.7% of White Americans and 42.4% of Asian-Americans. Regardless of race, opportunities for youth without a high school diploma are scarce and individuals without a high school diploma are approximately four times more likely to be unemployed than college graduates. . .. Additionally, the poverty rate among African-Americans is approximately three times that of White Americans. (Bruce, Getch & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009, Literature Review Section, para 2). (Bruce, Getch, & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009, Literature Review Section, ¶ 2)

Data from Bruce, Getch, and Ziomek-Daigle (2009) and other credible sources confirm that addressing contemporary challenges relating to African-American youth proves critical to determining the future these youth. Increases educational achievement, attainment, and employment need to be implemented to help bridge the existing educational gap in the United States. A number of psychosocial issues may contribute to African-American students internalizing negative stereotypes about their intellectual abilities or academic performances. Consequently, due to fear of embarrassment, failure, and/or risk of confirming the stereotype, the African-Americans may generally experience diminishing effects on their achievement levels due. Such stereotype threat, Bruce, Getch, and Ziomek-Daigle, assert, comprises “a construct rooted in the social and cultural contexts of racism and oppression” (Bruce, Getch & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009, Literature Review Section, ¶ 4). When the perceived significance and weight of negative stereotypes decrease, African-American students reportedly perform significantly better in school. This indicates stereotype threat potentially impacts the achievement levels of African-American students in their education.

In the book, Psychology made simple, Thomas-Cottingham (2004), clinical psychologist and an assistant professor at Rider University, explains that Erik Erikson emphasized that cultural as well as society significantly influence a person’s development. A person will resolve each stage of his or her development, characterized by a crisis, with either adaptive or maladaptive coping. In the following table, the title for each stage Erikson defined, illustrate this point. For example in the stage, trust vs. mistrust, a responsive caregiver instills a sense of trust in the baby. An unresponsive caregiver, however, who does not respond to cries, for instance, instills a sense of mistrust in the child. The theory of psychosocial development by Erikson identifies the adolescent stage as identity vs. identity diffusion. As the adolescent struggles to develop a sense of self during this time, teens typically “try on” or experiment with becoming various identities. As teens transition from childhood to adulthood, this time provides the opportunity for teens to contemplate who they are at this time and who they will ultimately become. Definitions of self include ethnic identify, religious affiliations, political viewpoints, sexual orientations, and establishing educational and occupational aspirations. Friends and peers as well as others in the psychosocial realm of the teens prove critical in their struggle. Ideally, the adolescent exits this stage and enters early adulthood with a strong sense of self and identity. At times, however, teens do not develop a sense of self and merely adopt vague beliefs or perceptions devoid of definition; contributing to an undesirable position defined as identity diffusion. The following table relates Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development and proffers stages and definitions of adaptive ways for a person to cope in each stage.


Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development (Thomas-Cottingham, 2004).




Trust vs. mistrust

Birth to 18 months

When caregiver proves responsive to infant’s needs, he or she will develop a sense trust.

Autonomy vs. shame and doubt

18 months to 3 years

When caregiver permits the child to explore and become an independent being, he or she will develop a sense of autonomy.

Initiative vs. guilt

3 to 6 years

When caregiver encourages child’s self-initiated activities, he or she will develop a sense of initiative.

Industry vs. inferiority

6 to 12 years

If parents and teachers provide positive feedback as children master new skills, children will develop a sense of industriousness.

Identity vs. identity diffusion

12 to 18 years

When the adolescent can begin to answer the questions, “Who am I” (identifying values, beliefs, aspirations), he or she will develop a sense of identity.

Intimacy vs. isolation

Early adulthood

When the adult can establish close committed relationships with others, the adult will develop a sense of intimacy.

Generativity vs. stagnation

Middle adulthood

When the adult can reach out and guide members from the next generation, he or she will develop a sense of generativity [concern for future generations to be productive members of society].

Integrity vs. despair

Late adulthood

When the adult can reflect on life and feel a sense of satisfaction, he or she will develop a sense of integrity.

Thomas-Cottingham (2004) asserts that as positive associations with one’s ethnicity relates to a positive sense of self, children of ethnic minorities need to develop as well as relate in a positive sense to their ethnic group. A number of theories assert ways this process materializes. Thomas-Cottingham explains that according to the model Phinney and Devich-Navarro developed, on their identify search, teens adopt one of the following four paths for determining their ethnic identity:

1. Assimilation,

2. marginalization,

3. separation, and

4. biculturalism (Thomas-Cottingham, 2004).

Figure: Paths for Teens to Determine Ethnic Identity (created from Thomas-Cottingham, 2004).

Challenges the increasing gender achievement gap pose for restricted career options for African-Americans; including family formation, and the overall stability of African-American communities comprise a few of the myriad of reasons for concern regarding the K- 12 performance and higher education participation rates of African-Americans. In the study, “Risk, protection, and achievement disparities among African-American males: Cross-generation theory, research, and comprehensive intervention,” Rowley and Bowman (2009) express concern regarding the acute need for amelioration to counter contemporary trends in the realm of African-American education coupled with the data on African-American incarceration rates. Research reveals a number of variables associated with the academic achievement of African-Americans which includes “individual-level factors as well as family, neighborhood, school and macro-structural forces (Rowley & Bowman, 2009, ¶ 2). Even though overall high school graduation rates and college participation rates for African-Americans in higher education have steadily increased during the past two decades, African-American college enrollment still lags behind that of Whites and Asians. For African-Americans who successfully complete high school, attaining college degrees includes various financial, social, emotional, and psychological challenges. Research indicates that adjustment and academic outcomes of African-American students in a high school as well as in college partially relates to with whether they attend a predominantly White school or one with high black enrollment. Other psychosocial non-cognitive factors include the actual as well as the perceived racial climate of the campus, peer relationships, and the quality of student-faculty relationships. Poor academic and psychosocial outcomes for many African-American students may evolve from the student experiencing feelings of isolation, low social support, a dearth of mentoring, and lack of racial and ethnic representation among peers and faculty members (Rowley & Bowman, 2009). Some research indicates that African-American students feel more accepted and supported in their academic pursuits when attending schools with higher Black student enrolment. The students are also reportedly more involved in their schools social activities compared to their counterparts in predominantly White schools. In the study, “Racial and ethnic-related stressors as predictors of perceived stress and academic performance for African-American students at a historically black college and university,” Greer (2008) asserts that students, faculty, and staff reflect the values of the larger society, which include the biases and prejudices. In the study, “The impact of college racial composition on African-American students’ academic self-concept: A replication and extension,” Cokley (2002) asserts that no significant institutional differences in academic self-concept relate to the balance of Black and White students. Reported mean institutional differences can prove misleading. Once society focuses on underlying reasons associated with difficulties contributing to the gap in African-American education, whatever their root, schools will more likely begin to do the same. In addition to societal perceptions and persuasions regarding race, vicarious experiences as well as emotional states can influence students’ efficacy assessments. In the study, “Racial identity, centrality and giftedness: An expectancy-value application of motivation in gifted African-American Students,” Rodgers (2008) asserts that gifted students from underrepresented groups are frequently in educational settings where they constitute part of a racial or ethnic minority. Such “a social situation is conducive to feelings of stereotype threat, in which individuals’ heightened self-awareness of stereotypes existing about their group that are relevant to the task at hand leads to feelings of anxiety” (Rodgers, 2008, Expectancy Section, ¶ 5). Just as underachievement can prove to be problematic for African-American students, giftedness may also relate to the students racial identity and prove challenging at times. Racial identity reportedly relates to race-related adjustments to the perceived cultural and a sociopolitical constructs regarding race. Even though ethnic identity is reportedly similarly perceived, it more directly relates to dynamic forces that connect one to his or her racial group. For example, one’s racial identity refers to “how one acknowledges, perceives, and consequently adapts to the social and political experiences as an African-American, whereas ethnic identity reflects the connection that individuals have with other African-Americans, the acknowledgement of shared cultural elements” (Rodgers, 2008, Racial & ethnic identity . . . Section, ¶ 1). Often, as the distinction between racial and ethnic identity is not obvious, the constructs are inevitably interchanged.

Rodgers (2008) asserts that the following list depicts eight types of African-American identity; related from the least psychologically healthy to the most psychologically healthy:

1. Assimilation,

2. miseducation,

3. Racial self-hatred,

4. anti-White,

5. intense Black involvement,

6. nationalist,

7. biculturalist, and

8. multiculturalist. (Rodgers, 2008)

The determination of the African-American’s identity initially depends on the individual’s experiences as well as his or her opportunities to have particular experiences (Rodgers, 2008). African-American students with poor self-concept and racial identity development are reportedly less likely to achieve/succeed than African-American students possessing high or positive self-concept and positive racial identity development. In the book, The Sage handbook of African-American education, Tillman (2008) asserts that racial identity development clearly, closely, and critically links to academic achievement. “Those students who possess a positive affiliation and attitude toward one’s racial group are also more likely to reject society’s negative stereotypes of their racial group” (Tillman, p. 355). Conversely, African-American students affiliated with groups which possessed less positive feelings toward their group held elevated negative societal perceptions about themselves and numbered among the highest levels of African-Americans who dropped out of school by and their senior year. African-American youth with a positive attitude toward their racial group; dismissing society’s negative attitudes toward their race, revealed the lowest number of students to drop out of school. These individuals who cultivate positive identities and confront African-American psychosocial issues more likely complete their senior year, graduate from high school and experience higher rates of post-secondary educational attainment. Most likely, African-American students experience more stress and a greater number of problems associated to their racial heritages than do White students. This in turn, can adversely affect the racial identity and development of the African-American student. And it can also influence his or her self-concept, self-esteem, motivation, and success in education. Tillman (2008) contends:

As African-American children begin to mature into adolescence, an awareness of race begins to emerge. . .. Adolescents are also aware of the societal implications and stereotypes of being from particular racial nr ethnic group. African-Americans. particularly at adolescence, may wish to disassociate themselves from African-American culture, because of the negative stereotypes associated with their race. Over the years, numerous psychological theories have been given to explain why African-American students underachieve or low achieve. Recently, the inability to achieve academically has been attributed to the “stereotype threat.” (Tillman, 2008, p. 355)

The prevailing, negative and intellectual image of African-Americans can contribute to African-American adolescent students experiencing self-doubt and fear seeping into their hearts and minds. “As a result, many African-American students disengage academically or remove themselves from the situation to avoid the psychological pressures of confirming the stereo-type threat in the eyes of others or themselves” (Ibid.). For some students, albeit, the stereotype threat can simultaneously generate other alternatives; ultimately fostering and nurturing and more positive results, as they determine two work harder and engage into their studies more to disprove the stereotype threat regarding their race. Positive racial socialization, nevertheless, proves to be a significant factor to better promote academic achievement. In regard to factors attributing to academic achievement, included in the number of differences exist between African-American youth and their White counterparts, fears also comprise a prominent psychosocial component. In the study, “Examining race/ethnicity and fears of children and adolescents in the United States: Differences between White, African-American, and Hispanic populations,” Burnham and Lomax (2009) report that African-American children typically experience more fears then White children, with African-Americans reportedly more likely to generally admit more phobic responses than Whites. “African-American children are more likely to report specific fears, whereas White children are more likely to use generic terms” (Burnham & Lomax, ¶ 6). African-American children, for instance, may recount experiencing a fear of rats, while White children, might reveal a fear of small animals. African-American children also reportedly related more fears and/or concerns regarding issues of health, personal harm, and about their family as well as war than White or Hispanic children revealed. A number of experts express fear that not enough is being done to address multiple barriers, including psychosocial issues, that operate individually as well as in blending with other components to undermine the academic achievement of African-American children. In the study, “Testing while Black: Standards-based school reform and African-American learners,” Townsend (2002) argues some test critics contend that the frequent assessment of low levels of learning by state tests has contributed to “dumbing down” or “watering down” the curriculum to help students become more successful. African-American children and youth undoubtedly face a double jeopardy. They are already exposed to differential instructional approaches characterized by low teach r expectations and myths about the needs of students from a nondominant culture” (Townsend, 2002, Conclusions Section, ¶ 1). In turn, these students may adopt racial identities in opposition to school expectations and codes to erect personal barriers to academic achievement. A number of assumptions relating to African-American children and youth and standards-based assessment proved particularly troublesome. One assumption purports that African-American children have been effectively taught, nevertheless, these students have not yet have not mastered the content. “Another assumption is that effective pedagogy for African-American learners must consist solely of remedial and basic skills instructional formats as opposed to learning arrangements involving critical thinking” (Townsend, 2002, Conclusions Section, ¶ 1) . Some in education wrongly assume that standards and instructional expectations need to be lowered for African-American children. These faulty assumptions and proposals to reduce the widening achievement gap need to be replaced with different mindsets relating to the strengths and talents African-American learners. Adopting more positive perceptions and strategies to address the notorious gap will more likely produce outcomes qualitatively conducive to improving academic achievement. To achieve effective schooling for African-American learners, instead of labeling schools solely on the basis of standardized test scores, emphasis needs to be invested on culturally responsive teaching and assessment (Townsend, 2002). Those in education also need to listen to and talk with youth who attend schools. Engaging ideas that exist outside the mainstream America adult could help critically mediate answers to problems. In the study, “Space, place and the problematic of race: Black adolescent discourse as mediated action, Duncan (1996) asserts that in predominantly Black schools, one proposition prevalent in the U.S. informs the practices of many teachers. Consequently, these teachers do not make the acquisition of both academic skills and Black consciousness high on their list of priorities. “This is evident in studies indicating that teachers have double standards for academic achievement that cut along lines of race and class” (Duncan, 1996, Conclusion Section, ¶ 5). Strategies to help improve schooling of Black urban youth need to become a high priority and also include the cultural tools that mediate Black adolescent development. A number of studies suggest that Black students adopt oppositional identities that ultimately lead them to reject academic achievement as a results of contemporary cultural distortions and omissions. In the study, “Black adolescent racial identity and respectability,” Duncan and McCoy (2007) assert that the psychosocial component of support from one’s peers in the face of stress proves to be a positive coping strategy for African-American students. At times, however, being black proves to be problematic for young people who operate on a limited definition of what it means to be Black, gained primarily from cultural stereotype. Curricular interventions, albeit, can encourage these students to grown and achieve new frames of reference; including perceptions that consider academic success to be synonymous with a genuine Black African-American identity. A number of obvious as well and subtle environmental reinforcements and psychosocial factors influence behavior/s and the potential for African-American students to succeed academically. In the book, Psychosocial worlds of the adolescent: Public and private, Seltzer (1989) asserts that each individual experiences a state of uncertainty in life and a similar task to discover what defines himself or herself as a person and as a result forge and follow a particular direction in life. According to Seltzer, during early adolescence, psychological forces surface and stimulate strong desires in the youth to be with agemates. One behaviors condition that signal psychosocial growth for adolescents involves their recognition that “change of self-orientation necessitates alternation of friendship networks” (Seltzer, 1989, p. 32). Conformity pressures from agemates to resist change, however, frequently proves to so strong that it may delay progress toward life and one’s goals and psychosocial advance. The African-American adolescent may experience a period when here she stalls with further experimentation with behavioral and characteristic combinations that could better serve maturational purposes. The ego of the youth, however, may be particularly vulnerable from difficulties experienced in the psychological growth process and the youth cannot risk losing the emotional peace evolving from similarity with the group. Present success, albeit, may be at risk if present behaviors are continued; disregarding more desired personality traits. If pressures from agemates influences the adolescent to continue “to satisfy current needs too long at the expense of future development, resolution of a full identity will be in jeopardy” (Seltzer, 1989, p. 33). The adolescent successfully handles peer relations, nevertheless, and successfully acts to accommodate future needs, particularly in the realm of education, will discover opportunities to achieve a “self’ that not only serves the present well but also offers the potential to contribute to his or her future aspirations. The school the African-American student attends portrays as a major component of the peer arena. Seltzer (1989) explains that the educational arena holes the responsibility for socializing children into adults who will fill responsible adult roles. The school reportedly serves as “the focus for major exchange of psychosocial energy. Here adolescents encounter hundreds of agemates daily. They interact physically, verbally, and nonverbally. They have opportunities to compare on appearance, abilities, personality attributes, interpersonal skills, and possessions” (Seltzer, p. 239). As agemates are available to one another five days each week for nine months of the year, there opportunity exists for them to engage in a protracted study of one another. As each adolescent constitutes the object of other adolescents’ looking and listening, the adolescents develop an unexpressed sense of mutual need for one another as raw materials of development. Seltzer (1989) explains:

To define psychosocial identity requires that the adolescent engage in continuing comparison with others, particularly peers, and in subsequent evaluations of attributes and characteristics of self in relation to those peers. Results of comparisons may be very disappointing or even debilitating to the ego. At times, the experiences may be so painful that the adolescent may seek to leave the physical or psychological arena of peers. Adolescent evaluation does not just affect present performance; present performance carries implications for performance in future life. (Seltzer, 1989, p. 164)

Adolescent evaluation proves critical in the adolescent’s development. “Comparative behavior begins on the way to school and continues in the hallways, classrooms, lunchroom, gym, swimming pool, athletic court, at after-school functions, and on the route home” (Seltzer, 1989, p. 239). The dynamics affect the youth subliminally as well as continuously amidst their socializing and learning activities. This contributes to the school being an intense arena. Ironically, the role of school as a major component of the peer arena is not perceived as a school function. Activity at school is perceived as academic production. Contrasting academics, however, psychosocial development, not discussed in class, strongly influences the success of the student academically. As they mature, adolescents let go of the former guideposts parents provided for them and exist in a “frameworkiessness” condition until they ultimately arrive at their own mature perspectives. “Along the road to adulthood, they look to others in a similar condition as models. They measure themselves through comparisons. When the results are discouraging, anxiety about self and self in relation to others surfaces” (Seltzer, 1989, p. 240). At times, the adolescents can control and discouragement. At other times, however, here she may struggle to maintain control as well as a sense of self at an acceptable level. When the anxiety becomes overwhelming, the adolescent may experience the need to protect him or herself and do so in a number of ways. Anxiety as well as developmental activity can adversely affect academic production. “Outcomes in one area have emotional ramifications for the other.

For example, a lower mark on a math test than that received by a friend perceived to be less talented at math brings more than academic disappointment” (Ibid.). The student’s perception on relative standing on math ability affects his or her future. The way the adolescent repeatedly aligns and/or realigns his or her performance perception relative to that of others contributes to his or her self-picture in regard to academic as well as social attributes, their comparative merit, and their future prospective. In another book, Peer-impact diagnosis and therapy: A handbook for successful practice with adolescents, Seltzer (2009) stresses that rather than reflecting the base behavior, adolescents’ interactions with their peers at school and outside of the home frequently constitute the primary mode of psychological and social development for their development. As peers strongly to shape adolescent behavior, they often contribute two behavioral problems adolescents may exhibit at home as well as in school. “Inevitably, cognitive and emotional aftermaths, as adolescents rank themselves against their peers, affect their changing system benignly or harshly. To be unaware of these processes is to miss the essence of the stage” (Seltzer, p. 2). As adolescents compare themselves with other adolescents to assess how they are doing, they assess what the other adolescents are doing, tune into can what they are singing, study how they dance, consider what they read, investigate what they watch on television, examine the latest gadget they are carrying round, and listen what they talk about. This process proves to be the adolescents’ developmental school. Those who counsel adolescents and produce a plate in their educational system need to recognize when the adolescent’s perception of his or her progress becomes purposely exaggerated to make themselves feel better and when that perception proves to be authentic.

Just as many adults in contemporary society express apprehension about adolescent uncertainty, Aristotle also reportedly contributed concern. He perceived adolescence as a period of instability. “Aristotle wrote about adolescents’ sensitivities and their concern about fair treatment” (Seltzer, 2009, p. 21). Then as now, stressors could be related to the adolescents’ concerns and desires. In contemporary times as in the days of Aristotle, adolescents typically reflect what they hear.

In the book, Key indicators of child and youth well-being: Completing the picture, Brown (2008). director of Indicators Research at Child Trends, asserts that during adolescence, a time for a youth to discover and refine the answer to the “Who am I?” question, a number of cognitive, physical, and social changes and experiences may contribute to youth concluding: “I ain’t what I ought to be; I ain’t what I’m gonna be; I ain’t what I was” (Erikson, as cited in Brown, p. 168). Youth who successfully establish an identity, or a solid and logical sense of who they are as well as where they plan to go, and where they best fit in society usually possess confidence. In and outside of school, youth who possess high self-esteem not only recognize their strengths, they are able to acknowledge their weaknesses. “Possessing confidence entails an evaluative component of the self as well, referred to as self-esteem. Self-esteem conveys satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the self” (Brown, 2008, p. 169). Basically, these youth are with who they are. Confidence, albeit, requires both a sense of agency or self-efficacy, but also a belief in one’s ability and power to accomplish particular goals. “Adolescents’ success at managing the biological, social, and educational role transitions associated with the teen years depends, in large part, on the strength of their perceived self-efficacy” (Brown, 2008, p. 168). The adolescent’s sense of confidence evolves from his or her perception of his or herself; his or her beliefs and abilities. The components of confidence include the following:

1. Identity a firm and coherent sense of self

2. Self-Concept domain-specific evaluations of the self

3. Self-Esteem level of regard one has for the self as a person

4. Self-Efficacy belief about ones capability to succeed. (Brown, 2008, p. 169).

In the book, Adolescence: growing up in America today, Dryfoos and Barkin (2006) stress that of the 33 million adolescents in the U.S., almost 10 million attend schools that do not serve their needs. Many of these youth projected to fail to become productive adults, lack the support of caring adults. Many perceive themselves to be; with many youth actually being alienated from mainstream society. African-Americans, increasingly living disadvantaged neighborhoods, prove to be particularly vulnerable to isolation as well as academic failure. Failing to address these current critical concerns relating to adolescents will likely lead to the following unsettling consequences:

1. The educational achievement gap will continue grow,

2. outcomes in education and consequently, in society will worsen,

3. school systems will continue to struggle with the increasing disparities, and

4. The U.S. As a nation will fall behind the rest of the world in its capacity to educate American youth (Dryfoos & Barkin, 2006).

Education in the U.S., Dryfoos and Barkin (2006) argue, reflects the biggest problem the United States currently faces and likely depicts the area garnering the most interest and action. “Education may be the key issue in the welfare of young people. If our schools . are not able to respond to the needs of twenty-first-century teenagers, our whole society will be weaker” (Dryfoos & Barkin, 2006, p. 183). Determining to work to help secure a better quality education for African-American in the NYC schools as well as students of all races attending other schools in the United States will help insure every young person can access an excellent education.


“Education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality,

Talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential [and]

the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”

(Sulliven, 2007, Executive Summary)

The answer to the question as to why so many African-American students prematurely leave school, particularly in the NYC school system, according to much past research on academic achievement of Black students, projected blame on the individual student or attributed failure to the individual student not being capable of succeeding. In the book,

Black students: Psychosocial issues and academic achievement, Berry and Asamen (1989). argue that not only do circumstances inherent in the individual or family and school settings as well as a myriad of other factors influence academic achievement for Black students, social and economic environments also impact this concern. A few of the many factors include, however, may not be limited to “the development of the self-concept, peer pressure, personal attributes such as resources, skills and motivation” (Berry & Asamen, Book Preview Section). Berry and Asamen shift from the common consensus regarding and the gap in educational attainment for African-Americans and consider an number of casualities and losses black youth routinely experience – especially low income black youth within the contemporary educational system.

In the book, Family life and school achievement: Why poor black children succeed or fail, Clark (1984) challenges the usually cited reasons for poor urban children experiencing academic problems like broken homes, poverty, racial or ethnic background, poorly educated parents, and working mothers. These reasons do not predict or explain the extensive variation in academic achievement children and youth experience. Clark contends that instead, the total family life envelops the most significant indicators of academic potential. Clark argues, albeit, “Every single American family is in some ways like all other American families, in other ways like some American families, and in still other ways like no other American family” (p. 11). What differs is the family’s ethnic or racial background, as this has historically determined the way other groups have responded to the family and its members.

Furthermore, differences between the particular social histories of ethnic groups in the United States have led to fundamental differences in the quality and level of knowledge acquired by particular ethnic groups. It is these life quality differences in (a) personal life histories. (b) opportunities for economic and knowledge resources, and (c) residential segregation over time that have produced different sensibilities in parents about how to organize their particular family unit for survival. (Clark, 1984, p. 11).

Despite unique ethnic and racial group experiences in the NYC school system as well in other school systems in the U.S., many identical communication dynamics and processes contribute to the success or failure of adolescence in the school – regardless of racial, work, income, or structural familial variations. What must be considered to successfully combat the contemporary crisis regarding psychosocial issues affecting African-American students in NYC public schools is the antithesis to the statement by the 17-year-old 11th grade African-American female student, NYC, quoted at the start of this paper. Those involved in the schools and other aspects of the educational system of the U.S. need to make a point to hear what the students have to say. In the current melee to address the educational gap African-American students routinely encounter, it does not matter who or what started the fight or what reasons caused the battle, what matters is that those who care about the U.S., and its children, and the future of America and its children — do whatever must be done to begin to win the war and ensure that all youths, no matter their race — receive the kind of education that will help them grow into the best adult they can be. After all, even though/if these youth ain’t what they ought to be — they ain’t what they are gonna be (adapted from Erikson, as cited in Brown). Like these youth, those in education, shaping the system as well as those whose lives are shaped by that system, still have much to learn.


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