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New book explores how schools fail Black boys and how to fix the system

Image of book cover includes a teacher and student looking over a piece of paper with pens in hand.

A new book by a Miami University professor examines how the American educational system marginalizes and leaves Black boys behind. It also outlines effective strategies Black male teachers use to support those students and help them achieve.

Nathaniel Bryan, Ph.D., Ed.D., an assistant professor of early childhood education at Miami University, spent a year in the classrooms of three Black male teachers working with Black boys.

"I found that these boys were so motivated by their teachers, and the teachers spent an enormous amount of time first building the relationships with the boys so that they (could) cater curriculum to support their academic and social needs," Bryan explains.

His just-released book is titled "Toward a BlackBoyCrit Pedagogy: Black Boys, Male Teachers, and Early Childhood Classroom Practices."

Bryan notes the absence of positive representations of Black boys and men in media, news, and entertainment. That extends into the classroom, too, making it hard for kids to see themselves in their lessons, the curriculum, and their school materials and books. Often if they do see themselves in those materials, it's in a negative manner.

"I see this book as a celebration of Black boy genius and Black male teacher effectiveness in early childhood classrooms," he says. "We need to begin to shift away from deficit narratives about Black men and boys."

Part of that is identifying and understanding what interests Black boys, and also understanding male masculinity. Doing so, Bryan notes, will help teachers support their students. Again, strong relationships between teachers and students is key, along with tailoring the curriculum and teaching methods to be more inclusive and relevant.

"Curriculum is built on the experiences of white children, [and] schools are culturally relevant and responsive to the academic and social needs of white children. And the ways in which teachers teach are often informed by white cultural ways of knowing and being,” Bryan says. “For that reason, it's important that teachers are prepared to teach in culturally relevant and responsive and sustaining ways to better support the academic outcomes of Black boys.”

For example, Bryan points out, students are often encouraged to read books, but Black boys rarely are provided materials that show children that look like them; and if they are, those representations tend to be negative. He says simply infusing books with positive representation and that are of interest to Black boys is imperative.

"If we're not meeting children where they are ... we are doing what I call pedagogical malfeasance," he concludes. "We have to ensure - if we're truly about the business of educating all children - that we're meeting Black boys where they are and we're giving them the academic and social tools they need to successfully navigate school and society at large."

Miami University is a financial supporter of Cincinnati Public Radio.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.