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Monique W. Morris: Is the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence Poised to Ignore Black Girls?

Substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity still remain in America’s educational system…Over a third of African American students do not graduate from high school on time with a regular high school diploma, and only four percent of African American high school graduates interested in college are college-ready across a range of subjects.”

-Excerpt from The White House Executive Order


President Obama recently issued an Executive Order launching the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The document outlines both the rationale for the Initiative and the key steps that will be taken to develop an agenda to improve the achievement of African American students. Citing the continued barriers to full and equal access to quality education, the Initiative establishes an important and symbolic—one could argue long overdue—gesture toward elevating national concern about persistent underperformance and stunted access to quality education among Black students.

The only problem is that the language in the Initiative appears to be driven by the dominant narrative prioritizing males above females in the discourse on equity and excellence in education. The Executive Order speaks specifically to some of the conditions affecting the marginalization of Black students, and in particular, those affecting Black males.

It reads, “An even greater number of African American males do not graduate with a regular high school diploma, and African American males also experience disparate rates of incarceration.”

Whether done intentionally or not, by referring only to male statistics to signify the urgency for the Initiative, the White House has participated in the same zero-sum politics that have marginalized Black females in the racial justice movement for the past decade—females who share schools, communities, resources, homes and families with Black males.

Are Black girls not disproportionately represented among those who are graduating late or leaving school with a document other than a traditional high school diploma?

Are Black girls not disproportionately detained and incarcerated?

Unfortunately, Black girls experience all of the above—and more. The problem is that their conditions are too often ignored or rendered secondary to that of their male counterparts–a condition that can only exist when people are willing to accept that patriarchy has a place in the movement toward racial justice.

The disturbing trend of underperformance and academic marginalization among girls should be viewed as equally important to the conditions of males. Females are heading many of the homes in our communities, and these mothers have long been positively associated with academic achievement. In other words, the more education a female has, the more educated our communities are; and so the repercussions are great when they are educationally marginalized or rendered invisible in the public discourse on educational excellence.

The Initiative calls for the creation of a Commission that will address the structural barriers associated with academic underperformance (e.g., access to highly qualified teachers, well-resourced schools, etc.), as well as the establishment of an Interagency Working Group and a President’s Advisory Commission.  At best, there should be a strong agenda for this Initiative that explores the multiple ways in which Black students—both male and female—are affected by old and new manifestations of segregated opportunity. At the very least, I hope that there will be individuals on the Commission with an expertise on the educational conditions affecting the performance of Black girls, such that their needs do not remain invisible or forgotten altogether.

MONIQUE W. MORRIS is a 2012 Soros Justice Fellow working on the education-system pathways to confinement for African American girls. She is the CEO of the MWM Consulting Group, LLC and a Lecturer at St. Mary’s College of California. She is also the author of Too Beautiful For Words (10th Anniversary Edition) and dozens of articles and other publications on social justice issues. For more information, visit www.moniquewmorris.com

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10 Responses to Monique W. Morris: Is the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence Poised to Ignore Black Girls?

  1. Elizabeth Reply

    August 3, 2012 at 6:48 pm




  2. PB Short Reply

    August 3, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Elizabeth, I agree 98% with you…you forgot one aspect and/or element that is the most important…

    In order for our race to succedd with the most basic education of a lifetime, all parents, single or double parent households must, and I mean must, make sure that their children do their homework before engaging in any other activity after school…

    For the last 30 years, I have heard to many mothers and fathers say “a child should enjoy their life after school, and should be stuck in the house doing homework after being in school all day”…

    Well, there’s the problem right there…if you do not do your home work after school, and read the next four chapters of each book before attending class, then you will not know or understand what the teacher is talking about…

    Education starts in the home, and I do not mean gossip, partying, dancing, drugs and alcohol…

    Education means that the parents enforce that their child come home, do all homework before playing video games, before going outside, before talking or texting on the phone…

    Until this happens, little Johnny and little Debbie will always be a dummy…

    You must make sure that you child is prepared for the next lesson being taught in school before the next day…

    It is not the teachers jobs to sit with your child one-on-one and teach him and her, it is your job…these classrooms has over 30 kids in them…

    I challenge all parents to make their child do their homework…that means, if the teacher did not assigned any home work for that or for the weekend, it is your job to make sure your job is doing their homework…by any means necessary…

    Now, that is what I call a parent…I do not want to hear that you are a single mother, or a single father, or a poor family…

    If you can teach your child how to dance and rap, then surely you can make them do their homework…YEAR-ROUND…until they graduate…because life is much harder and difficult than reading a few books…

    I will challenge anyone to this argument…including the Arthur MONIQUE W. MORRIS…

    I am a man who CARES about his children (the human (Black) race)…

    • Becky Reply

      August 7, 2012 at 10:45 pm

      Truth! My son, brilliant, beautiful, sweet and a all-around nice kid, is 20-years-old and has been working on his GED for 2 years. He scored exceptionally high in all of the subjects covered EXCEPT math. He has taken this test 3 times and has yet to pass. As a single mother, I tried to teach him all that I knew (math not being one of the subjects I knew). He would have graduated with a regular High School Diploma… but teachers and administrators treated him so badly and dummed him down from the 8th grade on (I performed several “suprise” drop-ins to his schools and have witnessed it first hand). It is shameful how badly and poorly African American boys are treated at schools by teachers and administrators. They didn’t treat me like that. These boys need all the help we can give them.

  3. Karen Adams Anderson Reply

    August 4, 2012 at 7:02 am

    What can we do to help this initiative ? There are many seniors who are concerned.

  4. Angry Black Male Reply

    August 4, 2012 at 8:04 am

    You are so right, my sistah! Good for you for making this point; I applaud you. The only consolation to you is that the president’s announcement was useless for little black boys too.

    The biggest issue with the Executive Order is that it took our first black president 3 years and 8 months to order the federal government to focus on quality education for black people, and the order did not come with any funding to ensure anything actually happened. The fact of the matter is this was a total political ploy to motivate black people to come out and vote for a guy who hasn’t done much for the community in reality.

  5. Soul Sista Reply

    August 4, 2012 at 9:00 am

    PB Short:

    You are so right…the parents want their children to have fun after school, because often times it takes more effort to oversee academic progress, it is fun and easy to say “hold the ball right, kick it this way, run, run, run” However at the end of the day these are not skills required to own and operate a business, read medical charts, represent a client, teach history, etc. You don’t wait until a child is 21 to teach good character, but how do some people think that they will wait until the child is 21 plus to teach them to settle down and obtain job skills.

  6. legallychisis Reply

    August 4, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Let the plan be put into action DAMN! Has the author seen the statics of African American women with degrees vs the men. Have you reviewed the latest Schott Report. “Out of all the African Americans with a Master’s degree, 72% of them are women, only 28% are Black males” “Out of all the African Americans with a Bachelor’s degree, 66% are Black women, only 34% are Black males” So you tell me who needs the most help. First everyone was whining and complaining about how Obama has done nothing for “black people”. Now it’s “Is the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence Poised to Ignore Black Girls?” REALLY!!

    • nicholas ogbuehi Reply

      August 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm

      you put my thoughts into words

  7. sann Reply

    August 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Legallychisis, we cannot afford to loose ANY of our children. ONE IS TOO MANY! While you provided stats for higher education, you obviously haven’t looked at the stats at the primary and secondary level.

  8. Markus Reply

    August 6, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    You know… you do some GOOD and someone gets offended. You can not please everyone applaud the effort and keep it moving. Or you run for president, congress etc.. and make the policies.

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