“Too Important to Fail” examines one of the most disturbing aspects of the education crisis facing America today — the increased dropout rate among teenagers, specifically among Black teenage males. In the fifth installment of Tavis Smiley Reports, Tavis investigates the root causes of this calamity, as well as what can be done and is being done to reverse this. Behind every catch phrase and every statistic is a young person whose future will be lost if something is not done immediately to change this reality.
In many states, fewer than 50% of young Black males graduate from high school. Low graduation rates combined with high rates of placement in special education classes and disproportionate use of suspension and expulsion add up to a crisis point for young Black males on the brink of adulthood.
“As we saw recently in the U.K., an entire society suffers when one part of a population is ignored,” Tavis says. “A new focus on our Black boys is a renewed focus on America.”
Many experts point to generational poverty, the pressure on single parent households, continued unemployment, the lack of positive male role models in schools, crime, drugs, gangs and the condition of many urban schools that aid in this alarming dropout rate. Research also supports that in too many traditional classrooms, particularly where teachers are asked to handle large classes, active boys are seen as disciplinary problems and treated accordingly. And teacher expectations are often lower for boys who seem less focused. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that boys will fail when teachers expect them to do so.
In “Too Important to Fail,” Tavis travels across the country, speaking to education experts, as well as to the boys themselves about the challenges they face and how education can be redirected to address their needs. He profiles individuals who are making a difference in the lives of young Black males and looks at the schools that are best serving them.
For example, Tavis talks with Dr. Alfred Tatum who heads up a literacy program in Chicago and is one of many educators grappling with how to reverse the alarming dropout rate. He also sits down with noted author and educational consultant Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu who shares how the country’s response would be more immediate had this been a crisis involving white boys.
“…if 53% was the dropout for white males, it would be unacceptable; if 41% of their children were being placed in special education, that would be a major crisis,” says Dr. Kunjufu. “If only 20% of their boys were proficient in reading in eighth grade, that would be a crisis. If only 2.5% of white males ever earned a college degree, that would be a major crisis in America.”