VIA Inside Higher Ed: “When Black Men Succeed”

This article about the research of Shaun Harper into the academic success of black men at college, and this cogent response from the Dean Dad blog, got me thinking about how we usually talk about “student success,” and how even the most well-meaning programs and services are organized around the presumed deficits or failures of the students.  I should say that even the baldly stated title of the IHE article unwittingly reinforces this set of assumptions.

Harper’s counter to this deep problem in framing and background assumptions about black male students was to look closely at successful students’ histories, to see what they might be able to tell us.  Unsurprisingly, the story is largely about the enormous impact of parents can have on their kids’ academic attitudes, largely in terms of setting expectations, and also about the surprisingly large impact of the conscious mentoring that these students received at some critical point in their education. Though these mentoring moments were felt by the students as “serendipitous” and unplanned, they had a considerable influence on students’ later directions:

Parents weren’t the only supporters who pushed and encouraged them. “The participants’ early schooling experiences almost always included at least one influential teacher who helped solidify their interest in going to college,” often going beyond simply teaching them to help get them information or access to services that would help them prepare for college.

Many of the research subjects “considered themselves among the lucky few to have had teachers who, for some reason, thought they were worth the investment” —  and often for reasons that were unclear to them. It was not, most believed, that they were academically high-achieving; fewer than half had taken an Advanced Placement course in high school, and fewer than one in five had participated in a gifted and talented program.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed
From a teacher’s perspective, the challenge then becomes how to reexamine one’s attitudes towards mentoring.  Who have we reached out to in this fashion, and could we do this kind of mentoring work more consciously, and more broadly, since the stakes are so high for our students?



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