With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:
Anthony Brown and Louis Harrison are two professors at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. They recently launched The Black Male Education Research Collection, a new website featuring a collection of resources pertaining to black males and education.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Edu: What is The Black Male Education Research Collection and how did it come about?
Anthony Brown: Well, it initially started as a conversation. Both Dr. Harrison and I have had countless conversations about the misreading of black males’ educational experiences. We knew that there had been several centers that had provided reports. We thought it was, of course, very useful, but one of the things that we hadn’t seen to date was a repository of educational scholars that deals specifically with education issues.
So we thought, why not provide a space where there can be a collection of articles under different categories that can serve as a primer? This website gives you a baseline of articles and ideas and also gives you a sense of who the leading scholars in these particular areas are.
We hope the site itself is going to serve as a utility for a variety of education stakeholders, including researchers, graduate students, teachers, principals and nonprofit organizations. We hope it becomes useful for all those who have pertinent questions about black males’ education experience.
Trib+Edu: How does your research relate to some of the work that’s done on the website?
Harrison: My work deals with how African-American males and sport intersect, and some of the difficulties that revolve around that. We know that there’s an overrepresentation of African-American players in the revenue producing sports, but sometimes those same individuals don’t have an opportunity to take advantage of the educational opportunities at some of the large universities where they practice their craft.
A lot of people like to talk about those players that go on to the professional ranks, but I’m more interested in those that don’t get to go that far and what happens in terms of their education.
Brown: My research looks at long-term historical discourses that have been said about black males as early as the 1920s. What I argue in my own work is that there’s been the typical tropes and stories told about black males that’ve been revisited so much since the ‘40s and ‘50s all the way up the present, that we can’t think of educational problems outside of those ways of thinking about them. In complexifying their experience, that’s what my work has tried to do.
Trib+Edu: What are some of the barriers black males experience in education?
Harrison: With regard to sport, the biggest barrier is very similar to what [Brown] was saying, in terms of people just looking at athletes as simply athletes, rather than complex human beings and people who are able to learn something other than how to catch and throw a ball.
I’m also trying to help people to realize that these young men are learning very complex and intricate strategies for their sport and if they can learn that, of course they can learn other things in the classroom. Many times, they’re still stuck in that “dumb athlete” stereotype that a lot of people think of when they look at African-American male athletes.
Brown: The point Dr. Harrison has made is supported throughout the whole site. If you were to scale it down, black males are misunderstood. We don’t think the site will solve the problem, but it gives a multitude of voices and ideas, both empirical research and conceptual research, around the problem rather than these flat tropes that define black males in the public discourse.
Trib+Edu: Is there anything the state can do to help black men and prevent these obstacles?
Brown: I think one of the things that has to happen is that ideas have to have currency to policymakers. We can have this kind of scholarship, but if people aren’t paying attention to it, then we’re just going to rely on the same old stories.
Much of what black males need is support. I think the first task of any educational setting serving the needs of black males is to have a whole and complete understanding of who they are and, as simple as that seems, people misunderstand that.
We want to make sure that, systematically, we can at least get people to come up with a template to understand problems in more complex ways rather than relying on what they already think they know about black boys.
Trib+Edu: What do you hope people can learn from the website?
Harrison: Personally, I just want people to be able to look at black males from a multitude of perspectives. As Brown just talked about, black males are not one-dimensional individuals, and a lot of research and researchers on there look at black males from a lot of different perspectives.
If individuals can go on there and actually look at this work on the site and see the complexity of black males, that’s the goal I want to see.