Why the Lack of Black Male Educators Isn't Just a Problem for Black Students

Jun 6, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Robert Croston

Lately, there has been a clarion call to increase the percentage of Black male teachers in American public schools. Currently, we make up only 2 percent of American public school teachers. While researchers, parents and educators recognize the symbolic importance of Black male teachers for Black students, the conversation is lacking a critical perspective. We should demand Black male teachers teach all students, especially White students. We cite statistics about how the absentee father—whether gone due to divorce, incarceration or outright abandonment—reduces the ability of Black students, especially males, to see themselves as "doers of school." But White students don’t see Black males that way, either, and that’s a problem. The lack of Black men teaching students sends the unintended message to all students that “we don't do school.” We do, “dunk basketballs.” We do, “score touchdowns.” We do, “rap the illest lyrics to scratch a pad.” We do, “drive the most fast and furious cars.”

It’s an American Need

For centuries, Black men have been reviled in American folklore as brutes, field hands and petty criminal gangsters just looking for a prime opportunity to take advantage of White women. In January 1923, most of the town of Rosewood, Florida was burnt to the ground by a White mob that gathered in response to a rumor that a White woman was sexually assaulted by a Black man. The need for more Black male teachers is not just a Black student’s need; it is an American student’s need. From kindergarten through my first two years of college, I had three Black male teachers. How many Black men taught the murderers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandy Bland and Laquan McDonald? How many were corrected by, motivated by or nurtured by Blackmen? Would the recollection of a positive Black male role model have influenced their decision-making during those tragic moments? White men are disproportionately represented in Fortune 500 boardrooms and professional sports teams’ front offices. They have access to the most capital to launch tech start-ups. They continue to make up the lion’s share of law enforcement, judges and public policymakers. I wonder how many of those white CEOs and chairmen of the wealthiest companies were educated by Black males. How would their economic decision-making have been affected if their educational foundation had included the wisdom and care of us?

The ‘Obama Babies’

If we limit the demand for Black males to teach only Black children, we miss the mark and promote educational separatism. President Obama's presidency is not merely politically, economically and symbolically significant for Black youth, his presidency is important for all youth—especially White young people who are constantly bombarded by negative and stereotypical images of Black men. With the Obama administration, White children experience a counter-narrative that Black men are intelligent and full of life, love and leadership. I am looking forward to the 2028 election cycle when the 2008 “Obama babies” will be able to vote in their first presidential election. Imagine how your biases regarding Black males would differ if for the first eight years of your life, your president was a Black man married to a Black woman with whom he had two beautiful daughters. Would you believe for a second that Black men are deadbeats? Would you believe that we were inherently unintelligent with a criminally latent personality worthy of surveillance and civic exile? Now imagine if your kindergarten teacher, the most important teacher in your entire academic career, was a Black man. Your Advanced Placement literature teacher? Wouldn’t you perceive him as able to command the attention of 30 for long enough to teach classroom etiquette, phonics, penmanship, number sense and how to make friends? When making analytical decisions on the job, wouldn’t you remember how it was a Black man who helped you deconstruct Toni Morrison's “Beloved” to reveal the inner truths of the African-American experience?

Diverse Teacher Candidates for All Students

If we limit the demand for Black males to teach only Black children, we fall short of our democratic ideals. That is why I am a TeachStrong ambassador and proud of our first principle: to identify and recruit more diverse teacher candidates for all students. The TeachStrong campaign is a coalition of 60 diverse education organizations and nearly 100 teacher ambassadors dedicated to modernizing and elevating the teaching profession. We need to move beyond the repetitive narrative that Black problems need Black solutions. The lack of Black male educators is not a problem only for Black students, but all students. If more White and affluent students were educated by Black men, many stereotypes about us would fall on deaf ears and more White and affluent Americans would be able to champion our plight. As a Black male educator, some of my favorite interactions with young people include those with non-Black students because they get to experience the love, care and intellect of someone like myself. They can rebuff the swirling stereotypes when they see and know a Black man as a principal. If West Pullman schools on the South Side of Chicago need Black men, then Wilmette schools on the North Shore of Chicagoland need Black male teachers even more.
Photo of Robert Croston and Principal Sykes at TeachStrong event, courtesy of Robert Croston.

Robert Croston

Robert Croston is a Chicago Public Schools principal at Jenner Academy of the Arts and a youth leader at his local church. He started his teaching career as a Teach For America fellow at a Chicago charter school. He graduated  from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and social philosophy, and earned a master’s degree from Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s School Leadership Program. He lives on the South Side of Chicago with his wife, Sheena.  

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