The Real Crisis in Education: Black Male Academic Underachievement

Unfortunately, the prevailing professional literature has evinced that Black male students underperform all of their peers throughout the educational pipeline. What has largely been absent in all of this talk about education reform is ideas and initiatives targeted at ameliorating the educational experiences and outcomes of Black male students throughout the educational pipeline. Even more alarming is the fact that Black male student-athletes academically underperform all students. Although there have been some Black people who have been passionate about the improvement of Black male students’ academic performances throughout the educational pipeline, we need many more Black people to zealously fight for the improvement of these students’ academic achievement. For Black males, nothing can be more vital than working to ensure that schools are providing them with the best education possible.

In my scholarly and empirical work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have passionately advocated for and studied innovative ways to improve the academic achievement of Black male students throughout the educational pipeline. My work has, however, primarily focused on improving Black male college student-athletes. One of the reasons I have focused so heavily on Black male student-athletes is I find that by identifying ways to enhance the academic performances of these students will help to provide us with ways that we can improve the general Black male student population. Although we enjoy the great athletic prowess of these Black male student-athletes that we watch on the fields and courts they perform on, we have to think about how these college and universities are exploiting them in ways that have many affinities with how slaves were treated in early America.

At the Pre-K – 12 levels, we are going to have to embrace culturally relevant pedagogy and practices to ensure that Black male students can improve their academic achievement. Many teachers are going to need to explore better ways to reach these students, especially when they see that the ways in which they have attempted to reach them are not working. Many White teachers are going to have to see Black male students as students who can be successful academically and who are worth more than their entertainment and athletic value.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have had the unfortunate opportunity to see people who find my research interest in college Black male student-athletes to be something that they can take for their own research interest to make themselves sound good. Additionally, I have found someone who has actually stolen one of my ideas about college Black male student-athletes and has received grant funding for the idea. The stealing of the idea and receiving grant funding for it does not anger me, but what does anger me is people not having a true commitment to the improvement of the educational experiences and outcomes of Black male student-athletes.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you have an Associate Athletic Director, Sean Frazier, who is in charge of diversity in the athletic department and his idea of diversity means having a “Soul Food Night.” Are you kidding me? This is the same guy who claims to have written an article on mentoring Black male college student-athletes, but I have to wonder just how informed this article is when one’s idea of diversity in the athletic department is having a “Soul Food Night.” “The Soul Food Night” would be fine if there were other substantive diversity efforts being engaged in. The scary thing about this reality is this man is second in charge in the athletic department. Sean Frazier is a Black man and former college student-athlete at the University of Alabama.

Sean Frazier and others are simply exploiting Black college male student-athletes. You would think that a Black man placed second in charge at a predominantly White elite public research university would make things better for Black male student-athletes, but he is simply interested in keeping his six figure salary and just spitting out meaningless rhetoric about his serious interest in the academic achievement of Black male student-athletes. I have had the unfortunate opportunity to work with this man in the athletic department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and have found him to be a man who is only interested in himself. This is not the type of Black leadership that Black male student-athletes need.

I am writing a scholarly book that uncovers how colleges and universities are currently exploiting Black male student-athletes. I contend that Black male student-athletes should receive modest stipends for the athletic labor they offer to the colleges and universities they are situated in. These predominantly White colleges and universities are receiving so much money from the athletic labor of Black male student-athletes, but they are certainly receiving an uneven exchange for their labor because they are not receiving modest stipends for their work. Uninformed individuals think that all student-athletes are on scholarship. This could not be further from the truth. Most student-athletes are not on scholarship. Most student-athletes have to struggle to purchase the necessary things that they need. Yes, many of them receive free tuition and room and board, but not all of them. Make sure you have all the facts about these student-athletes before you try to unfairly criticize them.

The great problems that Black male college student-athletes experience need greater attention in the professional literature. We cannot turn their academic problems over to people who simply want to exploit them. When you engage in discussions about education reform, be sure to include Black male students in your discussions. When politicians are talking about education reform, be sure to ask them what they propose to ameliorate the academic achievement of Black male students throughout the educational pipeline.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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