According to Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chinese parents have the lock on ensuring that their kids excel. As Black mothers who graduated from highly selective undergraduate and law schools with two daughters and three sons between us, we too have great expectations that our children will work hard and do well in school, and carry on our family’s legacy of achievement.
While we have these expectations for all of our children, we are particularly focused on our sons, because it is no secret that Black and Hispanic boys are in crisis mode when it comes to finishing high school and college. And the crisis grows greater when you consider the small percentages of boys of color excelling in high school and college. We need to candidly assess the factors that are keeping our boys from excelling — from low teacher expectations and negative social pressure to poor work habits and insufficient parental involvement.
We have had numerous conversations with other parents of color who are similarly concerned, both about the macro plight of Black and Hispanic boys in education, and about how their particular boys are doing in school. But these conversations generally end with more questions and concerns than action plans. It is time to focus on what we as a community can do about it, especially when it comes to parental involvement. Are educated parents doing all that we can to help their children succeed and excel? If being a good student is something parents can have a hand in helping our boys to be, why aren’t we laser focused on how to do this? Black parents who have enjoyed the privilege of receiving a good education have the obligation to do everything they can to ensure that their sons (and daughters) have the same advantage. Why aren’t we talking more about what methods work (and don’t work) for us with our sons? And why aren’t we employing them?
In our conversations about these issues with several well educated and well intentioned Black parents recently, a couple of answers have emerged:
1. We are tired. We work hard, this first generation of professionals, to pay for school tuitions and/or after school programs, and tutors and camps. Where exactly are we supposed to find the time to sit and force our children to go the extra mile? And by the way, aren’t these things we are paying for (tuition, programs, tutors) supposed to be helping? Lord knows we didn’t have all this stuff, and look how far we’ve come.
2. We don’t have a plan. Sorry, Amy Chua, but we are not going to lock our 4 year old children out of the house with no coat in frigid weather until they agree to practice their violin for 3 hours. But what is our game plan? Black and Hispanic children aged 8-18 consume nearly 4 1/2 hours more media daily than their white peers. Yet we may be ok with letting them play 3 hours of video games after getting their homework done in 30 minutes. Do we accept that our children “won’t read” or “can’t do math” as part of their DNA? What can do we do to change their perspectives… and ours?
The Chinese parenting mode may not work for most of us. But it prompts us to look for the parenting modes that do. There are many, many ways that we can help our sons thrive and excel in school, and some of them do not take much more time and energy. Some of them do, and there’s not much to say about this except: Life’s no crystal stair. We’ve got to suck it up and focus on this for our sons before they become an extinct species on college campuses. We need to talk about what works, what doesn’t, share information and resources. Starting now.
Welcome to Ground Control Parenting. Here we will hear from parents and experts on best practices for helping our boys succeed academically. We will also share resources and tips to help you figure out how best to help them. Stay tuned.
Carol Sutton Lewis and Lisa E. Davis