Reframing the problem
Photo by Evan Krape March 11, 2019
Prof. Roderick L. Carey talks about the educational challenges facing Black and Latino boys
The challenges facing Black and Latino boys as they move through the education system are daunting, said Roderick Carey, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS) at the University of Delaware. It’s not just the lack of material resources that plague many high-needs, low-income urban public schools; although, this is certainly critical to student success. Rather, Carey is interested in the ways in which societal discourse about Black and Latino boys influences their treatment in the public sphere, which in turn shapes their academic future.
Carey has seen firsthand how the education system disproportionately fails Black and Latino boys. Carey, a native Delawarean, studied English and secondary teacher education at Boston College. While student teaching in urban and working-class communities in the Boston area, he became intrigued with the challenges educators encountered meeting the needs of the predominantly Black and Latino student populations.
After earning his master’s in human development and psychology at Harvard University, Carey worked as a high school English teacher in Washington D.C. He saw bright minds that, for a variety of reasons, were unable to make the transition from high school to college. If students did go to college, they would not stay very long. This was especially true for Black and Latino young men, and Carey wanted to see what schools could do to better equip kids. While writing his doctoral dissertation at the University of Maryland, Carey embedded himself for nearly a year in an urban high school to study the influences of factors like family and school culture on how boys understood elements of their postsecondary futures.
Carey’s interdisciplinary research in urban education draws from sociology and developmental psychology to understand how the school experiences and ambitions of Black and Latino adolescent boys and young men in urban contexts are influenced by economic stress and ethnic and racial marginalization. Currently, he is researching the ways that educators and service providers can create schools where Black boys can infer their value, their significance, or simply as Carey describes it – their mattering.
On Thursday, March 14th at 3:30pm, Carey will share his evolving research on the mattering of Black boys and young men in the Race and Culture Series lecture sponsored by HDFS. “Imagining a Comprehensive Mattering Approach for the Social and School Lives of Black Boys and Young Men” will take place in the Gallery Room at Perkins Student Center. UD faculty, students, staff and the community are invited to attend.
In a question-and-answer interview, Carey shared thoughts about his research.
Q: Your research examines the intersection of Black and Latino boys and young men and the education system from pre-K through college. What's the problem?
Carey: When I'm thinking about Black and Latino boys, I’m really specific about reframing problems. The boys are not the problem. The problem is embedded in systems that have been unimaginative in finding solutions to the problems facing them. Educators have been trying to fix the Black boy, the Latino boy. And my question is: fix them for what? Children are not problems. We need to fix our society, and the systems, and schools serving boys, that compels so much failure for them.
Q: What are some of the challenges facing Black and Latino boys?
Carey: For instance, harkening all the way back to slavery, we have narrated the Black boy as a brute, as a thug, as a danger to the public. Latino boys are seen as non-citizens, social threats, yet crucial to the labor force. As a result of that, they have found their educational journeys marked with tremendous peril where educators, even well-meaning educators, have funneled them into sometimes problematic social requirements. At worse, educators have estranged them from their learning and separated them from school through the push-out and drop-out, which lands them in what is colloquially known as the School to Prison Pipeline. Disengaged youth, youth who are not working or not in school, end up landing in street economies or in situations that criminalize them. Even boys who aren't tied up in criminal activities are always tied to criminality. The social imagination has deemed them problematic from the beginning.
Q: You seem to place a special emphasis on the term “boys” as opposed to males. Why is that?
Carey: I use the term boys and young men strategically. Let’s focus on Black boys, for instance. Boys are juveniles under the age of 18. I don't use males mostly because of the weight that the term “Black males” has in schools and society. We need to start reimagining the Black boy, who has been deemed so problematic within schools and society, by saying: these are boys, these are children, these are sentient humans whose futures rely on our present molding and nourishing. They should be afforded certain opportunities, the innocence, the purity, the naivete that is afforded to childhood. Tamir Rice, who was killed by a cop for playing with toy gun, was thought of to be aged 20. He was 12; a pre-teen boy. Would a cop, within 3 seconds, shoot and kill one deemed a boy, and not a “Black male” or a “man?” And so, what I've been trying to do in my work is to talk about the boy and really trying to reclaim space and childhood discourses for the Black boy that extend even into adolescence.
Q: What does this have to do with what you describe as the mattering of Black boys and young men?
Carey: Whether or not an individual feels that they matter (e.g. to themselves, to their family, to their school friends, to society) is foundational to their self-concept. I’ve spent the last three years thinking about how Black boys and young men have and have not mattered robustly, or as I call “comprehensively” in society and schools. Schools must create contexts where Black boys can infer their mattering. We need to create classrooms where Black and Latino boys can infer that they matter, and there are different ways to do that. Teachers can check in with students about life outside of school, or include positive images of Black and Latino boys in the classroom. And we should also ask these boys what they think. Ask them to identify places where they feel they matter the most, or matter the least, and what can be changed so that they do feel like they matter more. I was fortunate to recently receive a grant from UD’s Partnership for Public Education to investigate Black boy mattering with some youth at a local school. I’m going to talk about this more in my lecture.
Q: What role do teachers play in Black and Latino boys’ schooling?
Carey: There is so much to say about this. With curriculum, with care, with equitable treatment, teachers can do so much to excite kids about learning and buffer Black and Latino boys from the harmful things they encounter in the world. Regardless of race or gender, teachers are important influences on children’s experiences in schools, and research supports the need for more teachers of color, particularly men, for not only the benefit of students of color and boys, but for white children and those from other races too.
Q: What roles do Black and Latino families play in preparing their children for academic success?
Carey: Black and Latino families are vital; however, low-income families are often devalued by educators and service providers. They're seen as a barrier, as a problem that educators must overcome. Actually, we’ve lots to learn from them these families. They are incredibly adroit at maneuvering through educational systems and utilizing public services to help their kids get outcomes that they themselves were never able to get. It’s not just the nuclear families either. We talk a lot about parents’ influences on their children, but within families of color, and in my research with boys, their grandparents, godparents and other folks who were treated like blood relation were amazingly important influences on how these boys understood college, career and other domains of post-secondary life.
Q: Why do some Black and Latino young men decide not to go to college? And, what can be done?
Carey: They are many factors to consider, but let’s talk about families. While families are really important college supporters, they also can pose some internal and external dilemmas for boys. As adolescents are trying to find their own unique identities, and doing so through considering post-secondary education, they're trying to figure out how their personal interests mesh, or sometimes work against, the needs of their families. For instance, if I go to college, who is going to contribute to the household? Or who who's going to help my sister get ready in the morning? And who's going to pay for it? So as adolescent boys, they are being socialized to be young men. Many are really trying to move into the space of protecting the family, and protecting the family means not going to college, or not considering it, because even though their families want them to go, they don't know if this is what's best for the family.
I think a lot about this. We need far more precise interventions to help these kids — not only to imagine going to college — but what the experience will mean for themselves and their families. Then we need to help them figure out how to transform those conceptualizations into reality.
Click here to register to attend the Race and Culture Series on March 14, 2019.