Robert Hendricks
Final Paper
EDL 785
The Creation of the Achievement Gap
“I have a full proof method for controlling your black slaves…for at least 300
years.” On the bank of the James River in 1712, British slave owner Willie Lynch
travelled from the West Indies to help the distraught slave owners in the colonies.
During his infamous “The Making of a Slave” speech, he went on to describe how
simple it is for slaves to remain at the bottom of the totem pole. In fact, he said the
basic formula was to make “…your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love,
respect, and trust only us…If used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will
remain perpetually distrustful.” It is obvious that the new Americans followed his
suggestions and even more obvious that he was correct. Although the chains came
off their ankles, and their backs are no longer slashed, African Americans have
developed into mental slaves, which plagues Black schools everywhere. Coming
from a culture where it is frowned upon (and has been for years) it is difficult for a
Black person to stay true to his or her roots while also excelling in the Eurocentric
school system, thus failing in Eurocentric America. This is not to say that Blacks
cannot be successful in their own right, it just means they can’t “be Black” while
doing so. The shackles have been relocated to the thinking of the entire race, which
is more detrimental than physical containment could ever be. Not only has the
culture been demonized, but also the White culture has been idolized. When one
doesn’t succumb to the dominant culture, it’s fair to see why they then become
afraid and share this sense of fear with their children. This cyclical mentality is
spreading from home, to school, and to the general economy. There is no easy
solution to this, although many different Black people and groups tried to solve the
issue. In his book entitled “The Mis-Education of the Negro” Carter G. Woodson
summed it up best. Echoing Lynch, he said that When you control a man’s thinking
you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand
here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it” (p. 21).
During the early days of the country, and even years before, enslaved
Africans were stripped of their heritage. That is they no longer had ways to
communicate, comprehend, teach, learn, or frame information for each other. They
were to do as they are told and to ingratiate themselves with the white superiors.
The long-term issue is that communication, comprehension, teaching, learning, and
framing are all essential aspects of an effective education. So even in the years of
slavery, Blacks were being set up to be unsuccessful in the United States. Even the
post-Emancipation period, they were not groomed to be active, contributing citizens
of the country…at least not by the people who controlled the country. Some Black
people did go to school and work in prestigious fields such as business and politics,
but it was the White version. They were taught “…the psychology and economics of
Wall Street…” and to despise the jobs that their own people had (p.5). Whether
these individuals decided to stay in their fields or go back to their respective
neighborhoods, eventually, their children would be sucked up into White culture via
the public school system.
“…Negros are taught to admire the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin and the
Teuton and to despise the African.” (p. 1). Carter G. Woodson blatantly made this
statement in the first chapter of his book “The Mis-Education of the Negro.” This
proclamation alone lends one to infer that the African diaspora is or will be depleted
in the coming years, with the assumption that schools will operate in the same way
that they did in 1933 when the book was written. The genocide of a culture
seemingly has no ties to the educational attainment of that people, while the truth is,
there is a direct link between the two. A major part of culture is education. As time
progressed, Black students learned more and more of the White version of history
and education and less of their own. In fact, “No thought was given to the history of
Africa except so far as it had been a field of exploitation for the Caucasian” (p. 21).
Africa, the those who descended from Africa, became dehumanized if not in any
other way, at least by intelligence.
Most Black Americans, especially those below the Mason-Dixon line
combated this misleading education system by confiding in what is often referred to
as “the preacher and the teacher.” They began opening up their own schools and
churches and they were the driving forces of education. Unfortunately, they didn’t
have full support from the entire Black community. Some Black elites thought that
the race was not yet capable of self-sustaining and talked down upon those who
tried to do so. The lack of support and advancement led these people to stick to
what they know and as recent slaves, that knowledge revolved around agriculture,
not school. Even today, it is difficult to get any student to find an interest in a subject
that is irrelevant to that student. It was no different then. Not seeing a connection
between school and home life, Black students became disengaged early on and it
was perpetuated with time. As if self-destruction isn’t enough, White media also
exaggerated the blotches in Black business so much so that even “Negroes expect
the Negro business man to fail…” (p. 42). Seeing so much failure within the race,
students became more discouraged to even try and further believed that they were
Fast forward to desegregation in the mid 1950’s. The Supreme Court ruled it
unconstitutional to have separate but equal schools which led to the desegregation
of the school system. This desegregation however was only true for the naked eye.
Culture was not desegregated. Language was not desegregated. History was not
desegregated. The only thing that was desegregated was the color of the students’
skin. The Brown v. Board decision ultimately said that Black Americans can attend
White schools, but must abide by the White lifestyle. At this moment in time, pride
and knowledge of the Black culture went on a steep decline. The disconnect
between home and school grew and this was the beginning of the end of Black
heritage which demolished students in the classroom. From this point on, Blacks
were forced to learn a story that they were unfamiliar with. Without this personal or
ancestral association, they start off school from behind. The only way to truly get
caught up is to conform to the new culture.
Conformity to the dominant culture, however, is the root of much of the
divide within the Black race. African-American, and many other subordinate ethnic
groups refer to this conformity as “acting White.” These groups associate success
within the school system as a White thing and they associate being White as being
“them” or “the Other” or better yet, the “enemy.” Its almost as if since they can’t
learn their own history in school, all they can do is not learn the White on either.
The same holds true for teaching methods and learning styles. When you have one
race of people where some act more like the dominant culture and others act like
the exact opposite, the opposing side tends to look works. That, coupled with what
is already shown in the media drives a stake between the African-American race. We
now have a case of extremes. There are the savage hoodlums that are seen on
television and there are successful African-Americans who seem to have no
connection to their ancestral roots. Obviously, there is a spectrum, but this seems to
be the majority.
The racial dichotomy is a direct effect of Willie Lynch’s theory. He found
every possible difference in slaves and perpetuated them so that they can turn
against each other. Everything from age to skin color to attitude was exaggerated
and made into a competition. It is no wonder as to why the African-American race
finds it difficult to support one another. Both of the above described groups (the
successful Blacks and the unsuccessful Blacks) find it necessary to appease the
group they are most like as opposed to appealing to each other. The upper echelon
group must show Whites that they are not like the other Blacks—that they are
intelligent and sophisticated. The other group of Blacks is showing each other and
other ethnic groups that they are not Uncle Toms—they are true to their culture and
act like the Black person they were born to be. Unfortunately, the best way that our
kids display their side of the line is through their effort in school. Even when one of
the Blacks that don’t want to be seen as acting White gets good grades, he may hide
it or even worse, he may stop trying. They work so hard to stay within the confines
of the group that they feel like they should belong to. At this point, these children
need to be reconditioned on what it means to be Black, or any other race for that
The Re-Education of the Negro (or African-American in today’s terms) is
what I call it. Woodson did a great job in outlining some of the issues that Blacks
were going up against 80 years ago, but nobody did anything about it. Now is time.
First and foremost, the Black race needs to look within. They are their own worst
enemy. Once they stop focusing on the differences between each other then they can
acknowledge the fact that they have a shared history and have a united front. It is
only then when they can learn how to live (as an ENTIRE race) within Eurocentric
America while maintaining their heritage. After the race has a collective sense of
self, then they can properly learn the sense of the Other and build meaningful
relationships with all groups. They will be able to safely cross ethnic borders in a
process called critical multiculturalism (Sleeter & Grant, 1987). When this ideal is
applied to students in schools, we would see a dramatic shift in the success of
students of the Black race. No one is holding this race of students under the national
graduation rate but themselves. No one is keeping their test scores down but
themselves. Even when pitted against the misconceptions of the media, with a little
education and redirection, the Black race is still capable of freeing itself from itself.