The Black Male Research Agenda
Scholars say research studying Black males is lagging in analysis, proposed solutions
If a wide-ranging research enterprise can be said to exist around defining and proposing solutions for the social dilemmas of African American males, a number of prominent Black scholars and academic administrators can take credit for getting it off the ground. Experts say the study of Black males has attracted a critical mass of scholars and academic administrators who are getting some attention and support to examine Black male issues.Nonetheless, the efforts toward studying Black males are believed to be lagging in analysis and proposed solutions. “We need more research,” says Dr. Lee Jones, associate dean of academic affairs and instruction at Florida State University.One advocate of Black male research is a widely known senior statesman in the academy. As one of the founders and the first research director of the Head Start program, Dr. Edmund Gordon has long recognized the need for a research agenda tobe developed around African American males. At a time when most scholars would have already enjoyed retirement for at least a decade, Gordon, 79, remains heavily engaged in developmental psychology work. This past academic year, the senior scholar whose academic career spans six decades, has had to balance research with administrative duties as the interim dean of Columbia University’s Teachers College. Yet despite dean duties cutting into his research time, Gordon has stayed focused on work that broadly examines the intellectual development of minority children. The plight of African American males inspires the most fervent energy and sense of urgency in Gordon given that he has been urging scholars and government officials to devote resources to the subject for more than a decade. Gordon is not satisfied that enough research is getting past the mere documentation of social problems affecting Black males. “Most of (the research) is descriptive and not analytical of the causes (of social problems),” Gordon says. Gordon has taken the lead in rallying scholars around a research agenda that focuses broadly on African American males.Establishing and building support for academic conferences and symposiums on Black males resulted largely in the 1990s due to the advocacy of individuals such as Gordon.Last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement sponsored a symposium that examined African American males and education. Gordon, who sat on an education department research advisory committee, says he and a colleague had urged the department to facilitate the conference partly to send a signal to the American academic community that African American males are worthy of serious attention.“I think to be able to get (Black males) on the government’s agenda made the conference an important event,” Gordon says.
An administrator’s view The study of Black males has also engaged the ranks of working academic administrators. As a former Howard University provost, Dr. Antoine Garibaldi had been looking hard at issues around Black male college attendance. Garibaldi, also a former administrator at Xavier University in New Orleans, had long seen Black males lagging behind Black women in college attendance. “I began to see the gap growing larger and larger,” says Garibaldi, noting that he’s been researching and publishing over the last 15 years while holding senior administrative posts at Howard and Xavier. Now a senior fellow at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., Garibaldi says having conducted a groundbreaking study of Black boys in the New Orleans public school system has kept him keenly attuned to the research work around African American males. “It’s important to me personally and as a societal issue to study these issues,” Garibaldi says. For some time, education researchers, psychologists, criminologists, sociologists and economists have tried keeping the study of Black males segmented within distinctive academic disciplines. But some scholars caution that it’s virtually impossible to isolate and study one phenomena, such as Black male academic achievement in elementary school, without considering the fact that Black males are experiencing difficulties in all aspects of society.It would be extraordinary if Black boys were doing well in school given the fact that the most important quality of life indicators suggest that African American males are in deep trouble, says Dr. Pedro A. Noguera, a professor at the Harvard University School of Education. In two recent conferences that covered African American male educational performance, Edmund Gordon faulted scholarly papers that had failed to incorporate research on incarceration trends as a variable to explain why Black male college attendance has been stagnant. Gordon contends that for the research on Black males to move ahead there needs to be more analyses that incorporate political and cultural investigation of topics such as the impact cultural identity formation has on Black males.“We have to study the issues more deeply,” Gordon says.
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