Frederick Douglas once said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” There is much truth to these words. Reading brings about an insight and understanding of the world around us. It allows us to share ideas and opens us to the ideas of others. Reading opens doors to new discoveries and gives voice to our truths. But what happens when the ability to read is not present? There is no secret why slave masters denied Blacks the right to an education, and why if you were a slave learning to read, it could result in death. There is a certain power one obtains when one is able to make sense of words on a page. It could be the difference between freedom, both literally and figuratively, or a life of enslavement.
The idea of separate but equal governed our country for decades limiting the education of Black children in the United States. However, despite the landmark 1954 Supreme Court Case of Brown vs. the Board of Education, the right to an equal and fair education still eludes many of our children of color. This disparity is often seen as a result of institutional racism which denies students of color a right to skilled teachers, quality curriculum, and educational resources (Darling-Hammond). However, embedded with the institutional racism and the socioeconomic imparity between the races, there is an adjunct prevailing concern with the lack of interest and ability to read among Black students, especially our males. This issue is prevalent across the country even in school districts that do offer qualified teaching, quality curriculums, and vast educational resources.
Even when socioeconomics is removed from the mix, Black students in general and males, in particular, perform poorer than all other subcategories of students. It is recognized that in general, females outperform males in the area of reading. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, females outscored their male peers by at least ten points consistently between 2002 and 2013. This trend takes place across racial and ethnic backgrounds. (National Center for Educational Statistics) What becomes a more troubling issue is the performance of Black males. Black males score lower than any other subcategory tested, an example of this is the performance of Black males scoring seven points below Hispanics males and five points below American Indian/ Alaskan Natives males in 2013. This is troubling. (NCES) When compared to Black females the issue of gender becomes extremely noticeable as females outscored males by at least ten points or more during the same time period with the exception of 2005. (NCES)
How is this happening? Research suggests that the chasm begins to grow as early as the fourth grade when reading switches from learning to read to reading to learn. Reasons for this occurrence may include an educational style centered more feminine learning styles, unengaging curriculums, lack of role models in elementary and middle schools, and the pervasive stereotype of the aggressive Black male. The bottom line is that Black males are failing to master a necessary skill to be successful in school at any level.
It is not good enough to acknowledge the problem, more needs to be done to aggressively attack it head-on. There was a moment in education when females were not performing well in science and math. This became a national problem and programs such as STEM were created to assist in introducing more young women into the sciences and mathematics. Such an aggressive measure seems to be lacking in the area of reading. Why does there seem to be a lack of concern about reading? Though I have spent time focusing on the performance of Black males, it should be noted that according to the National Assesment of Education only 46% of white students and 10% of Black students in 8th grade were considered proficient in reading. (Lynch) These numbers should be disturbing enough to bring a stronger call to action.
If reading is the key to freedom, we are responsible to provide every student, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, skills to make that freedom not just a right but a reality.