Schools as solutions
Psychologists’ research points to specific factors that can help
change black boys’ trajectories for the better.
Some are related to the school environment. In particular, a
teaching style that Barbarin calls “warm demanding” — being
emotionally responsive while maintaining high expectations —
is a promising way to counter the tendency of some teachers to
emotionally distance themselves from youngsters they fear will
act out behaviorally. A more interactive style “really has to do
with affirming that there’s something [good] about the child,”
Classroom structure may also be a factor. In a study reported
in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry special issue,
Barbarin found a significant drop in teacher ratings of black
boys’ social competence between pre-K and kindergarten. A
possible reason, he and others surmise, may be schools’ abrupt
shift from a developmental, early childhood model that allows
for activity and play, to a more rigid academic one.
Meanwhile, some schools are adopting innovative
interventions to foster prosocial outcomes for kids who act
out. One called restorative justice is a growing movement in
educational, criminal justice and other settings. It reframes
discipline in terms of helping the perpetrator make amends
and reconcile with the community, rather than punishing
him or her. The framework includes following a set of specific
practices, such as having the victim and perpetrator talk directly
about how the perpetrator’s actions may have caused harm and
giving the perpetrator a task to repair the damage. Once the
young person has finished the assignment, the group welcomes
him or her back.
Research suggests the approach works. After a year of
a restorative-justice intervention at Cole Middle School in
Oakland, California, suspension rates fell by 89 percent,
while a restorative school discipline program launched in
2011 at Richmond High School in Richmond, California,
cut suspension rates in half a year later, according to
FixSchoolDiscipline.org, an online resource that’s a project of
Public Counsel, a pro-bono law firm dedicated to education
rights in California.
Moms and dads as solutions
Parents can also play a powerful role in their kids’ academic
and behavioral development. One way for them to intervene,
research shows, is to monitor their children’s activities with
peers and after school, says Belgrave.
“If you know where your boys are, who they’re with, what
they’re doing, you’ll be ahead of the game,” she says.
In one study, researchers found that black teens who refused
drugs or didn’t use drugs at all were more likely than those who
used drugs to have parents who expressed negative attitudes
toward drug use and to monitor their behaviors (Journal of
Black Psychology, 2012).
Another study underscores the importance of parent-child
communication in black youngsters’ emotional well-being.
In a 2012 study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies,
researchers found that African-American teens were more likely
President Barack Obama greets participants before an event to highlight “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative to expand opportunity
for young men and boys of color, in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2014.