To Save Black Boys We Must Teach Them How to Read

by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu

Only 12% of Black males are proficient in reading by 8th grade.  If this was the case for White males, the media would categorize this as an epidemic and a national security risk.  If a Black male is not proficient in reading by the 4th grade, they only have a 20% chance of graduating from high school on grade level.  America is not doing very well teaching Black boys how to read in the primary grades.  They are atrocious in the upper grades.  I never imagined when I wrote Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys, that governors were going to use my fourth grade research to build more prisons.

I naively thought they would realize it’s more cost efficient to teach them literacy, than incarcerate them at $38,000 per inmate per year, with a recidivism rate of 85%.  I believe literacy is the civil rights issue of this century.  How can Black males be economically competitive illiterate?

In 1920, 90% of Black youth had their fathers in the home because while many were illiterate, they worked on farms.  In 1960, 80% had their fathers at home.  While many were illiterate, they worked in factories.  Today, the figures has dropped to a meager 28%.  It is impossible to be economically viable in this information economy illiterate.

Historically, America has had a challenge teaching the majority of Black males how to read.   Some schools believe that is the job of parents and pre-school.  As a result, some children are now failing kindergarten.

Many schools reduced their emphasis on phonics.  Other schools believe in social promotion, which explains how Black males are in high school with 4th grade reading and math scores.  Can you imagine how Black males feel being in high school illiterate?

This explains why many are placed in special education, suspended and dropout.  Over 50% of Black males in special education are there because they are deficient in reading.  Literacy not Ritalin is the answer.  We must teach Black boys how to read.

Can you fathom if we simply taught Black males how to read, we could reduce disproportionate number of Black males in special education, suspended, dropping out, unemployment, crime, drug addiction, incarceration and fatherlessness?  Again, that’s why I believe literacy is the 21st century civil rights issue.

I also believe another factor contributing to illiteracy is that Black boys have never fallen in love with reading.   They never were given a book, they could not put down. They have only read books to pass a test.  Black boys need to love to read.  They need books where they see themselves, their communities, their history and culture.

I suggest four books they will not be able to put down.  Reading and Writing for Urban Survival, Hip Hop: A Street Curriculum, Yo Little Brother, volumes 1 & 2, and The Autobiography of Malcom X.

African American Images offers a collection of books titled Best Books for Boys and children’s library.

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