How to halt the pre-K to prison trend for African-American youth

Apr 12, 2010

April 12, 2010—A disturbing thirty year trend has resulted in a disproportionate number of incarcerated African-American male youths in U.S. prisons. A new study from the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry shows that the conditions that contribute to this high representation (sixty percent of all incarcerated youth) begin early in life, and is often exacerbated by their experiences in school.

It's projected that by 2029, prisons will house almost 30,000 of the 600,000 four-year olds now living in America. The solution to this problem lies within families, schools and communities. Study author Oscar A. Barbarin, III, Ph.D. identifies specific practices needed in order to turn this situation around. Parents, as a child's first teacher, can do a lot by engaging with them through talking, listening, and offering challenging new experiences.

Schools can begin by acknowledging the unique challenges facing African-American males, developing strong relationships with their families, and by using teaching practices that incorporate motor skills and movement, which comes naturally to young males. Classrooms can be reformed to provide more engaging and accepting environments for boys. Barbarin says, "Communities play a significant role too. Coalitions, churches, and community groups can provide male mentors, especially when the child lacks a significant male presence at home."

Barbarin argues that these measures can add to a feeling of acceptance, connectedness, responsibility and loyalty within their families and communities, and counteract certain traumas and challenges experienced early in life. He shows that evidence of these academic and social challenges is already apparent at the level.

According to Barbarin, African-American males come to school with fewer skills than their Caucasian or female counterparts at this age, who are more inclined to have more developed language, literacy and self-regulation skills. Boys' limitations are often not properly recognized or addressed as they progress though school. This is exacerbated by behavioural issues, as well as racial segregation within schools. Barbarin's findings expose large gaps in the American educational system, and highlight a systemic underachievement level among African-American males.

Barbarin agrees that programs such as Head Start, Boys and Girls Clubs, and state-funded early childhood programs have tried to augment these issues. However, Barbarin recommends that a simple principle of the three Xs, "Expose, Explain, Expand," can go a long way to engaging children, and encourage pride in the child's heritage, as well as a caring, responsible, and ethical philosophy.

Barbarin says, "Once the juveniles enter the justice system, the repeat offender rate is sixty percent. This research calls for optimism in spite of a vicious downward cycle experienced by many young males, which marginalizes them at school, at work, at home and in their communities."

Explore further: Vets' alcohol problems linked to stress on the home front (w/ Video)

More information: "Halting African American Boys' Progression from Pre-K to Prison." Oscar A. Barbarin. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry; Published Online: April 9, 2010. (DOI:10.1111/j.1939-0025.2010.01009.x

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study explores why boys are falling behind girls in school

May 15, 2006

Thirty years ago, boys, not girls, were the high performers in schools. Today, test scores, grades and dropout rates show boys are achieving at levels far below girls, and an international study that includes the University ...

Keep boys and girls together, research suggests

Apr 11, 2008

Boys and girls may learn differently, but American parents should think twice before moving their children to sex-segregated schools. A new Tel Aviv University study has found that girls improve boys’ grades markedly at ...

Study looks at the lives of boys who commit dating violence

Oct 14, 2008

A new study sheds light on the lives of teenage boys who abuse their girlfriends. In their own words, the young men often describe facing challenges such as growing up with troubled family lives, having little or no support ...

Recommended for you

Dyscalculia: Burdened by blunders with numbers

20 hours ago

Between 3 and 6% of schoolchildren suffer from an arithmetic-related learning disability. Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich now show that these children are also more likely to exhibit deficits ...

Free help for expecting and new mums at risk of depression

21 hours ago

With postnatal depression affecting almost one in seven women giving birth in Australia, QUT and the White Cloud Foundation have launched an innovative model of care to provide early access to treatment for expecting and ...

User comments : 0