Getting Black Boys to Read


There is a definite, though debated and not widely recognized literacy gap in the United States between males and females.  You will probably not be surprised to know that this gap widens even further when we consider African American Boys.

How We Are Failing Black Boys

Read this excerpt from the article Are schools failing black boys?by Celeste Fremon & Stephaine Renfrow Hamilton:

A 1990 study of more than 105,000 students in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, where African Americans made up about 65 percent of the enrollment, showed that black male pupils performed comparably to boys and girls of all races on first- and second-grade standardized math and reading test. But by fourth grade, African American boys experienced a sharp decline in their scores. More recent national studies have shown similar findings: In 1994, fourth-grade reading scores of African American boys lagged behind those of all other groups at the same grade level, according to the NationalCenter for Education Statistics.

It’s sobering to think that any group of kids as young as eight or nine years old can lose interest in school. But a number of experts have been making this observation about black boys for more than two decades. (Although the performance of black girls also declines around the same age, the dip isn’t nearly as pronounced and is often recouped in later years, researchers say.)

Black boys have several things working against them: schools that cater to female learning styles, the continuing effects of racism in schools (stereotyping black boys as “aggressive” or “dumb”), and a culture where male role models are seriously lacking.

In 2002, 66% of boys lived in a home absent of their biological father.

Can Things Change?

If things are ever to change, now is the time. The United States has a black president who acknowledges the fact that black children need male role models. On Father’s Day, President Obama gave a speech about the role of fathers to a predominantly black crowd. Here is a brief excerpt:

We need to set limits and expectations. We need to replace that video game with a book and make sure that homework gets done. We need to say to our daughters, Don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for your goals. We need to tell our sons, Those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in our house, we find glory in achievement, self-respect, and hard work.

President Obama, whether you agree with his politics or not, is an important and significant role model for African American boys. If he continues to promote the value of reading and of education in general, educators, parents, and students will listen.

What Can Parents and Educators Do to Encourage Black Boys to Read?


  • Provide their sons and students with positive black male role models. Enroll their children in mentoring programs, hire black male teachers, give boys examples of positive black male role models, bring in adult black male readers to read to classrooms.
  • Provide black males with a male-centered learningenvironment.
  • Make sure libraries and classrooms are stocked with books and magazines that cater to African American culture. It can get frustrating for black kids to continuously read about white protagonists. Check out, a site committed to African-American Children’s Books, Multicultural Children’s Books and Workshops. 
  • Be sensitive about stereotyping ANY student of a different race or gender. Have a zero-racism policy in your classroom/ library/ home.
  • Be encouraging. If your son or student whines that he “can’t,” remind him that “can’t” is a lot different than “won’t.” Black boys are JUST as capable as anyone else. They just have more obstacles in their way sometimes.
  • Make sure their basics needs are being met. It is hard to concentrate on reading, or school work in general, if one is hungry, cold, or living in an abusive environment. Be sensitive to what’s going on at home or even in school when you are not there.
  • On the other side, hold ALL boys, regardless of race, accountable for their behavior. Don’t allow their homework to slide or their attitude to be less than respectful based upon their race or gender. 
  • Parent-teacher contact is important and vital to student’s educational growth. 

For more information about providing black male students educational support, read this recent article from entitled Supporting African American Boys in School by the Wisconsin Center for Education.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh, the importance of role models cannot be overstated. That’s so important! I know that so much of what I decided to do or not do had to do with role models, whether real life or fictional, and my role models were male, because I was a tom boy. If those I admired didn’t care for school or books, I wouldn’t have had the same passion for either of those…


  2. Also, male teachers would help boys in education in general, I think. Many women are amazing teachers, but kids need interaction with both sexes, I think. 😊


    1. AJ Harper says:

      Thank you Mercy for your spot on comments. The truth is boys learn from watching men. Boys that watch men read, will read. So we must encourage our male adults to talk about their reading material, be it tall tales,sports or comic books with their sons, nephews cousins and friends the benefits will be enormous.


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