The media is full of reports on discrepancies in performance among students from different ethnic backgrounds. These reports have had mixed results. On one hand, the groups affected by low performance have seen the need to put more effort while those that are at the top of the class have gotten inspired to work even harder to maintain good performance. On the other hand, people with a penchant for stereotypes have found a reason to fabricate fallacies and lies about the inability of some ethnic groups to perform well in academic or intellectual pursuits. This essay will act as an advocacy piece for African American students who have registered varying performances in mathematics within the Los Angeles School Department. The main argument or thesis of the essay is that the potential for high results in mathematics among African Americans is present. All that is required is around the approach to the problem. All the relevant angles that touch on academic performance will be discussed in support of this position.
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To begin with, in the 2008- 2009 LAUSD report card, the figures are given show that 45% of African American students were able to perform well in elementary math (Banks 1). This is a huge percent that cannot be classified as an isolated incident of an accidental performance. It is indicative of potential and ability. This is a pointer to the fact that if the conditions that are availed to the 45% are availed to the larger group in equal measure, then good results can be registered by the entire group. What does this mean to the stereotypes that African American students cannot perform well in mathematics? The implied meaning in this scenario is that if such a huge percentage of African Americans can perform well in elementary mathematics, then the argument of ethnic inability to deal with mathematics among African Americans is not only baseless but fallacious and misleading.
Peter Shepard provides another reason for us to dismiss the argument that minority students in general and African American students, in particular, may be unable to deliver good results in mathematics. Shepard makes it clear that nothing substantial has been done to uplift the school standards of most schools where African Americans take their education. This is especially true from the angle of facilities. But the irony in this is that African American students in these poorly equipped schools have turned out to be good performers in mathematics (Shepard 1). Programs such as no school left behind have not made any big difference and Shepard makes this clear in his article. The relationship between this case and the mathematics performance of African Americans in the Los Angeles United School Department is that there is no difference between the African American students who are doing well in mathematics in poorly equipped schools and the African Americans whose performance is below standard. The expectation is that with improved facilities in terms of schools, African American students should be able to do as well as other students not just in mathematics but also in other subjects. But why is this not always the case?
A possible explanation as to why African American students may not be performing well in mathematics is the element of stereotypes. The psychological functioning of humans is in such a way that, if a young person is given messages with a certain kind of inclination, it will take time to make them shed that inclination if they ever try to. Kenneth Tyler calls to discuss this conditioning under the stereotype threat (Tyler para.1). Aronson has argued that emphasizing negative or positive stereotypes about a person or a group of people ends up being internalized by this person or group of persons. In this way, it becomes part of their identity (Aronson 279-282). The fact that there seems to be an obsession with slicing and dicing the results of education tests based on racial or ethnic lines instead of something like economic standing of the family or activity of the student has led to the imparting of the mentality of ability or inability to some groups of students. There are numerous ways in which results can be analyzed by educationists so that the elements of race that reinforce negative and unfounded stereotypes are eliminated. But the effort towards this end is too little. There seems to be a close resemblance between the slicing and dicing that takes place in politics with the analysis of the electorate along ethnic lines even when it does not count at all.
In light of the above stereotypical influence on performance, there is a need for a remedy to ensure that the concerned groups in general and African American students, in particular, are assisted to cope with these negative stereotypes and move past them to register good results. Psychologists have referred to this process as psychological disengagement (Major, Spencer, Schmader, Wolfe & Crocker 34-38). But this is something that can only be done by educators who have been re-educated on the basics of intellectual achievement in the light of available statistics as opposed to preformed opinions and fallacious assumptions whose base lies deep in the ages of segregation and racism.
The educator who can be able to assist an African American or Latino or Asian or white student to understand that he or she can get better results if he or she works for the same is the one who can easily understand that if three African American or Latino children can do well in a class, then the other seven can also do well if given the support that all the other children are given. African families who have made economic progress have done so at a very high speed because slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation 1864, which is quite recent (Oakes 21). It is a logical fallacy to expect people who have been free for the whole time they have been in American to have the same economic ability as the people freed in 1864. The difference in economic ability created by this historical evil called slavery is also to blame for the problems afflicting most African Americans students. Therefore economic empowerment of African Americans is vital to raising the educational ability of African Americans.
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- The problem being addressed is the low mathematics performance.
- The group that is under discussion in this essay is African Americans.
- The common misconception is that African American students have a lower potential for high scores in mathematics. The fact that a good percentage of African American students can perform well in mathematics is a sign that the people claiming that there is low potential among this group are just using a conditional case to perpetuate baseless and fallacious stereotypes that only serve to worsen the situation.
- The available data is evidence that African Americans can do well in mathematics. As already indicated elsewhere in this paper, 45% of elementary-level African Americans in LAUSD performed well (Banks 1). This is an indication of potential. What are the advocacy steps that can assist in remedying the situation?
- To remedy this, the steps to be taken include the sensitization of everyone through the usage of available data. This sensitization should be aimed at showing educators that African American students can generally do well in mathematics as shown by the 45% good performance in LAUSD (Banks 1). The second step should be to make it clear to the students from this ethnic community that they have the potential. This can only be done by avoiding too much emphasis on racial or ethnic disparities in education or intellectual achievement. The results have shown that it is not about race. The third and last step is to involve those concerned with economic empowerment so that the African American population can be given more opportunities. As already noted elsewhere in this essay, it is illogical and shallow to expect people who have been free for as long as American has been independent to be equal to people freed in 1864.
Aronson, Joshua. Stereotype Threat: Contending And Coping With Unnerving Expectation. In J. Aronson (Ed.), Improving Academic Achievement: Impact Of Psychological Factors On Education. New York: Academic Press, 2002.Print.
Banks, Amber. LAUSD 2008-2009 district report card summary: Minority majority struggles to succeed in the district. 2010. Web.
Major, Brenda, Spencer, Steven, Schmader, Toni, Wolfe, Connie, & Crocker, Jennifer. “Coping With Negative Stereotypes About Intellectual Performance. The Role Of Psychological Disengagement.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 24 (1998): 34–50.
Oakes, James. The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics. New York.W.W.Norton.1st Ed, 2007.Print.
Shepard, Peter. Successful African-American mathematics students in academically unacceptable high schools. 2006. Web.
Steele, Claude. “A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance.” American Psychologist 52 (1997): 613–629.