“These are all our children. We will profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.”
Though made over 30 years ago by African American writer and social critic James Baldwin, this statement still emphasizes the choice that sits before us as a nation.
The choice of whether or not we make the investment in our public schools to the benefit of our students.
While that investment can be presented as one of physical capital, i.e., real estate, equipment, inventory, etc., the more significant expenditure is that of human capital, which is namely teachers.
From student performance and achievement, their social and emotional well-being, or the development of non-cognitive skills, a wealth of research shows the impact of teachers on student outcomes.
And if, like Baldwin, we believe these are “all our children,” we should be deeply concerned about the status of Black boys.
Looking at my state of North Carolina, Black male students in 2019 ranked last or near the bottom in Reading and Mathematics scores among 4th, 8th and 12th graders (NAEP). They made up the lowest percentage of students identified as Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) despite making up a higher percentage of male students overall (13 percent) than American Indian, Hispanic and Asian males combined. Black males had the highest rate of short-term and long-term suspensions, the fourth highest dropout rate and were placed more frequently in ALP (Alternative Learning Programs) than any other student groups. Black students as a whole are much more likely than their White counterparts to be arrested as they made up 49 percent of juvenile complaints at school.
These dismal educational scenarios lead to even more somber results in their lives, as Black males in North Carolina have one of the highest unemployment rates, one of the lowest life expectancies and the highest incarceration rate (49 percent of all state inmates as of December 2021).
Despite these grim statistics, the plight of Black male P-12 students can be alleviated by making the aforementioned investment in the recruitment AND retention of Black male teachers.
Research indicates Black male students having Black male teachers leads to lower dropout rates, fewer disciplinary issues, more positive views of schooling, better test scores and increased college aspirations. Our very presence undermines Black male stereotypes and we are more likely to be familiar with the cultural needs of our Black male students, as we were once these students ourselves. These students identify with us, and are able to see themselves working later in life as educated professionals. Black students taught by Black teachers are three times more likely to be assigned to AIG services than those taught by non-Black teachers and are more likely to take AP (Advanced Placement) courses taught by Black teachers.
Students of all races benefit in that they not only have lower likelihoods of discipline when taught by a Black male teacher, but the social and emotional impact of our presence lessens the possibility of those students developing implicit bias as adults. Simply put, seeing Black men in positions of authority helps all students develop dispositions for not only civic life but the workforce. In several models controlling for student, teacher and school conditions, researchers have continuously found students expressed more favorable perceptions of Black male teachers than non-Black ones.
But there’s an impediment to these benefits of having Black men in P-12 classrooms.
In North Carolina, Black male teachers made up only 3% of teachers in 2017-18. We make up only 2% nationwide.
How do we solve this?
By making that investment.
The model is already available from groups and organizations like Call Me MISTER (South Carolina), the He Is Me Institute, Profound Gentlemen (Charlotte, NC), the BOND Project, the Center for Black Educator Development, the Boston Public Schools Male Educators of Color Program, etc.
If you want to recruit, develop, retain and ultimately, empower Black male teachers, you need to listen to the Black men who run these entities. Unfortunately, our country doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to that.
But if we don’t make the investment now, we will be making the investment later when it comes to Black male outlooks in unemployment, incarceration and health (life expectancies).
“These are all our children. We will profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.” Let’s ensure that we profit.
Rodney D. Pierce is a seventh-year middle school Social Studies teacher in eastern North Carolina. He was the 2019 North Carolina Council for the Social Studies Teacher of the Year and the inaugural Teacher Fellow for the NC Equity Fellowship through the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED). He is a Fellow of Carolina Public Humanities, the UNC-Chapel Hill Southern Oral History Program, and the NC Public School Forum’s Education Policy Fellowship.
Pierce has appeared on MSNBC’s The Reidout and the Tamron Hall Show on ABC to speak about the teaching of American history in public schools. An avid historian, his research on re-segregation in his native Halifax County was featured in the Washington Post.
He serves the Governor’s Teacher Advisory Committee.