In a recent opinion piece, Mary Carey, the founder of a volunteer group representing children who can’t read, points to the low literacy rates of black males as the cause of the UNC academic scandal. She raises important issues about race, literacy, and our education system.
Unfortunately, Ms. Cary oversimplifies aspects of both student achievement and reading instruction that we as literacy educators need to correct and explain. Above all, we want to point out that the UNC Scandal is about adults cheating, it is
not about young black males who cannot read. Young black males were a small percentage of those implicated in the cheating scandal, which was perpetrated by many non-athletes and many non-Black students, and many women. To use the UNC scandal as segue to talk about black males’ reading achievement is disingenuous at best and racist at the worst.
However, there are some important points that we feel need to be addressed. As experienced educators and literacy scholars, our classroom experiences and scholarly research address many of the issues that are related to this topic. So, while we feel that Mary Carey conflates issues when she uses her commentary about the UNC cheating scandal to focus on literacy rates of black males, we believe that there are many important issues that should be addressed. Our intention is to bring up some issues from her commentary, provide research-based understandings, and suggest some possible solutions.
Certainly, race is an issue and understanding how race impacts literacy rates is paramount to literacy levels of black males. We cannot effectively focus on low levels of literacy rates without addressing the larger issue of race and education. Achievement in public schools reflects systemic issues that affect achievement for many minorities. While some research
demonstrates that after background characteristics are controlled, African American and White students enter school with equal reading readiness, research almost unanimously demonstrates that reading achievement gaps widen for African American students as they progress through school. Research has also demonstrated a discrepancy in participation of programs that support future opportunities for African American students, such as advanced placement programs, high
school graduation rates, and admittance to college programs. All of this points to the idea that schools may sustain or add to racial disparities and thus create achievement gaps.
We believe that a key answer is to recruit more diverse teachers into education and specifically the teaching force, which is predominantly white and female (n=83%). Teachers must help African American students develop healthy racial identities and show students that academically successful people are part of all racial and ethnic groups. Also, it’s important to
incorporate diverse perspectives into the curriculum in the way of curriculum materials, texts, and approaches to learning. For many students who may be struggling with reading, the ways in which students respond to reading instruction can reflect larger issues, including what it means to be a reader and whose ideas or perspectives are accepted in school settings. We need more diverse participation in education so that we hear from multiple perspectives and voices so
children have role models.
By Angela Wiseman, Abbey Graham, Kirsten Aleman, Donna Hawkins,
June Hurt, Jill Jones, Julie Justice, Shea Kerkoff, Justin Richards