Black men still underrepresented as teachers

Professors, students believe better role models will help break ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

· February 16, 2011, 4:31 am   ·  Updated February 16, 2011, 12:00 am

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A new initiative set in motion by the United States Department of Education is seeking to incentivize more males of color to become teachers.

In Philadelphia, black male teachers account for just under 6 percent of all educators. Nationally, the statistic drops to 2 percent.

Both Walter Palmer, a lecturer in the School of Social Policy and Practice, and Chad Lassiter, the president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc., feel the University is not fully cognizant of the severity of Philadelphia’s educational plight.

“We are at a pivotal moment,” Lassiter, a 2001 SP2 graduate and lecturer, said. “We have a looming crisis and a dropout rate that impacts black and Latino males at a higher rate than ever before.”

Both scholars shared the concern that the movement will not be effective if teachers are not fully prepared to meet the challenges facing young males in urban environments.

As a teacher, Palmer said, you must learn the “impediments” of students who live in areas of high drop-out rates, poverty and illiteracy in order to serve as an effective role model.

If this new initiative recruits teachers based on merely skin color, he said, it will be nothing more than a “quick fix.”

GSE, he added, could do more to prepare new teachers to meet these challenges on the local level.

Independent tutor and GSE graduate student Daniel Chinburg disagreed that GSE isn’t preparing future teachers for urban areas.

Chinburg, however, did agree with Palmer on the point that the initiative would be a waste of time, and perhaps even detrimental, if the movement merely recruited teachers based on skin color.

It would be much more advantageous to spend government money on the best instructional methods, he said, “rather than spend money on promoting a specific race.”

Lassiter also shared concern in this regard but was more optimistic about the movement’s potential to help break the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a pattern that many young male black students are caught in.

Teachers, he said, need to be “black in authenticity,” not just skin color.

They must encourage students living in poor urban environments not to “buy into the their victimization,” he said.

Lassiter also expressed that he’d like to see the Penn community step outside of the “ivory tower” attitude and engage these issues in education more on the local level.

“I don’t think all students grasp it,” he said. “I don’t see students coming together with regard to social change in mass numbers.”

Palmer agreed, but said he finds more fault with administrators than students.

Unfortunately, he explained, on campuses like Penn, there’s usually only a small “cadre of students at the bottom trying to drive initiatives.”

There needs to be movement from the top administrators as well as student organizations in order to create real impact, he said.

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