CHICAGO - Joshua, a Black boy from a low-income community, rushes to his first day of kindergarten. He's eager to show off his new backpack and lighted gym shoes, listen to stories, and play with new friends. Years later, Joshua has no memory of that early excitement. Now in the ninth grade, he is reading and doing math at a fifth grade level. He's constantly in the principal's office for inappropriate classroom behavior. He desperately wants to drop out of school.
Joshua's story is all too common in public schools across America. More than any other racial group, African American boys are struggling academically. African American children are only 17 percent of the total school population in America, yet they represent more than 41 percent of students in special education, of which 80 percent are Black males. Eighty percent of all students referred to special education are below grade level in reading and writing. In contrast, Black students are only six percent of gifted classes.
Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, national education consultant and bestselling author of the newly released Understanding Black Male Learning Styles, believes that today's classroom is no place for a growing African American boy. Schools have virtually ignored the fact that boys and girls learn differently and that they mature at different rates. African American male students suffer the most from this neglect.
Kunjufu asks, "Have we designed a female classroom for male students? Are we expecting boys to learn in the same manner as girls?" Since 1985, Kunjufu has advocated for single-gender classrooms and schools to meet the learning, social, cultural, and emotional needs of Black boys.
Eighty-three percent of elementary school teachers in America are White females; fewer than one percent are African American males. Kunjufu wonders if this racial disparity accounts for the disproportionate placements of Black boys into special education programs and the failure of schools to provide more right-brain learning activities for boys.
"Schools fail boys in many ways," says Kunjufu. "Not only are they resistant to change, many programs that are perfect for high-energy, right-brain learners, such as physical education and the arts, have been virtually eliminated in schools. Even though girls mature academically at a faster pace than boys, boys are expected to read and master fine motor movements before they are ready. Boys are excellent at doing complicated NBA math, NFL math, rap math, and drug math, yet they are failing basic math and algebra in school."
If as a nation we fail to address these issues and their root causes, the future will be bleak for yet another generation of Black boys.
The Kunjufu Learning Styles Model
The prevailing wisdom in education today states that unless a student comes from a middle to upper-income two-parent home, he will fail in school. Kunjufu has spent his 30-year career seeking to disprove this belief, and he has found classrooms and schools in low-income urban and rural school districts performing at or above state and national averages.
This includes high performing, engaged Black boys. The secret, says Kunjufu, is understanding how they learn. "If teachers teach to students' learning styles, if they create stimulating, culturally relevant learning environments, our boys will excel in school," he says.
According to the late researcher Dr. Rita Dunn, learning styles are more than 80 percent biologically imposed. The Kunjufu Learning Styles Model is based on this biological propensity for learning. His model, which is explained in depth in his book, is designed to help educators better understand how their students learn.
There are three basic categories of learners:
1. Visual Learners
2. Oral/Auditory Learners
3. Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners
Kunjufu estimates that as many as two-thirds of students and an even larger percentage of African American males are visual-picture, oral/auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic learners (right-brain). However, most of the learning activities are oriented toward visual-print learners (left-brain). According to Kunjufu, this conflict between pedagogy and Black male learning styles has created a disastrous learning environment for right-brain students, and it must be resolved if Black boys are to improve their classroom performance.
African American male students are in a state of academic emergency because generally, teachers have not adjusted their pedagogy to meet their learning needs. "You don't teach the way you want to teach," says Kunjufu. "You teach the way your children learn. You must adjust your pedagogy."
Understanding Black Male Learning Styles is a research-based master work written by a leading advocate of African American boys. The research, strategies, and best practices explained in the book will challenge educators, school leaders, policy makers, and parents to significantly rethink their approaches to teaching and raising Black boys.
About the Author
National bestselling author of more than 30 books and consultant to most urban school districts, Dr. Kunjufu has been a guest twice on Oprah and a frequent guest on the Michael Baisden and Rev. Al Sharpton radio programs.