Black Boys and 4th Grade Failure Syndrome
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 12:00 pm
It is no secret that Black men are disproportionately
uneducated, unemployed and incarcerated. Articles I’ve read
in Noteworthy News and The Black Scholar toss out statistics
that say that a six year old Black boy has a one in three
chance of going to prison in his lifetime and the
unemployment rate among young Black men is forty percent. To
understand the issues affecting Black men, we have to
understand the life experiences of Black boys which shape
the attitudes and behaviors of Black men. These statistics
say one thing to me: Black men are becoming more and more
disconnected from society each day.
Where does this start? How can we prevent this? Is it a
The author of Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black
Boys (an old book but one that I recommend nonetheless)
tried to explain this phenomenon by performing a
longitudinal study of test scores, general attitude toward
school and self-image in a group of 80 boys, all in the same
school, and all in the same class. What he found was
alarming. Through first grade, the Black boys in his study
express positive feelings about themselves and school. These
feelings make a shift for the worse in second grade and by
fifth grade the boys are outright cynical about the
schooling process and their sense of self has degraded
correspondingly. This shift in attitude correlates with a
shift in performance. The author refers to this drop in
enthusiasm and academic performance as Fourth Grade Failure
Syndrome, the “poor transition boys make between the primary
and intermediate division”.
The causes can be identified as teachers not understanding
“Black Male Culture” which leads to boys feeling as if they
are marginalized in class, that they exist outside of the
culture of the classroom. The teachers in the study became
less encouraging academically and more inclined to pushing
Black boys disproportionately toward athletics. This is
reinforced by the media and the fact that Black boys have
limited access to positive images of Black men.
Second through fifth grade is a crucial time in any of our
lives. We are building ideas of self at this time while
trying to reconcile the different ways that people view us.
If teachers positively reinforce athletic achievement in
Black males more than academic achievement and the idea that
academic achievement being akin to “acting White” among
Black schoolchildren, then we have a confluence of pressure
from teachers and peers to find success outside of the
schoolbooks at an early age. To achieve academically then is
to reconfigure ideas of self that are not consistent with
those that society tends to impose on Black males.
By the time young Black men enter the intermediate stage of
their schooling, they are left confused by notions of
success and have constructed negative images of self. And if
you ask me, that is the real Fourth Grade Failure Syndrome.
The fact that Black boys enter the school system on par with
their peers shows that there are no at risk kids, just at
risk situations. If we can remedy the situations, then
perhaps we can take a step toward improving the current
condition of Black males.