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Matthew Lynch

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Race & Intelligence: Disputing the Bell Curve”
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15 Reasons Why Black Students Continue to Underachieve
by Matthew Lynch   
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Last edited: Saturday, June 17, 2006
Posted: Saturday, June 17, 2006

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Although the civil rights movement fought for equal treatment under the law and equal educational opportunities, African American Children as a whole are still under- achieving academically. The question of the hour seems to be why? In my humbled opinion, in order to fix the problems of Black Student under-achievement, we must first identify the many factors that can influence the behavior and hinder the academic success of African American Children. I have identified 15 stumbling blocks (factors) that can stop African American children from realizing their full potential and they are as follows:

Although the civil rights movement fought for equal treatment under the law and equal educational opportunities, African American Children as a whole are still under- achieving academically. The question of the hour seems to be why? In my humbled opinion, in order to fix the problems of Black Student under-achievement, we must first identify the many factors that can influence the behavior and hinder the academic success of African American Children. I have identified 15 stumbling blocks (factors) that can stop African American children from realizing their full potential and they are as follows:

Institutional Racism

A. W. Boykin theorized that intellectual subjugation stemming from oppression and racism is a major problem in American schools. Boykin states that White and Black school authorities manifest this cycle of racism and oppression through their actions and demeanor toward Black students. When American values are juxtaposed against African American values, American authorities perceive their own as superior.

Self Sabotage

Many African American students believe that the American Dream was not meant for them (and to a certain extent they are right). Black parents tend to teach their children to strive for the American Dream and adhere to social rules of conduct, but they also teach them to be careful and vigilant when dealing with “whites,” “sambos,” and “decent negroes” who serve as puppets for the establishment. This perpetuates cultural dissension and an atmosphere of mistrust.

Family Influences

In the United States today, more than 63 percent of African American children come from single parent homes, most of which have the mother as the primary caregiver. Having no positive male role model, the boys in the home are particularly at risk to fail in school and get into trouble. As the mother’s time is stretched so thinly, the girls in the family are at risk for teenage pregnancy. As a disclaimer, I wholeheartedly believe that a Black woman can successfully raise an African American male on her own, but why should she have to complete such an assiduous task by herself?

Low Socioeconomic Status

African American children, unlike their White counterparts, have a greater probability of coming from a family with an income at or below the poverty level. They tend to live in poorer neighborhoods that provide fewer resources for learning and even fewer role models of educational and economic success. The vast majority of children in such environments are led to believe that no other way of life may be possible for them.

Failing Schools

Unfortunately, failing schools go hand in hand with life in poor neighborhoods. These schools do not have the resources to compete with affluent areas that have more money for books, computers, salaries, etc. As a result, poorer schools have difficulty attracting well-trained teachers and administrators. Students in such situations may be written off, forgotten, or simply passed from grade to grade. Those who do stay around to graduate are generally ill prepared for college or the working world.

Cultural Gaps

The uniqueness of African American culture sets it apart from other cultures and consequently is often viewed as negative. African American hairstyles, dress, music, body language, and verbal communication styles can be disconcerting to a society that is based on conformity. When defining or identifying behavioral problems among a group of children, it is important to consider the influence of culture on the definition and perception of the behaviors.

Crime and Drug Abuse

It is no secret that the majority of those incarcerated in the nation’s prisons are primarily young African Americans males. We may think that law enforcement has a racial bias, but the fact is that the stage is set long before the handcuffs ever go on.
Drug abuse and the commission of crimes are the all-too-frequent outcomes of the inability of young people to overcome the risk factors of single-parent homes, poverty, failing schools, and cultural gaps. As vulnerable young people begin to feel confused and alienated by the world around them, they seek physical and emotional control in the only ways they believe are available to them—through drug use and crime.

Lack of African American Teachers

When school systems were officially segregated, Black children attended schools that were run mostly by experienced Black educators. These teachers and administrators were actually better qualified and more experienced than their White counterparts (Southern Education Reporting Service, 1959). African American teachers are vital in the lives of Black children because they often play the role of missing parental figures by acting as disciplinarians, counselors, and role models.

Lack of Parental Involvement

Parental involvement is actually the best predictor of a student’s educational achievement. Parent involvement demonstrates to the student the importance of school, resulting in improved student attitudes, morals, and academic achievement. Parents’ active interest also results in increased attendance, lower dropout rates, fewer discipline problems, and higher aspirations in life. In contrast, children of parents who are not involved in their lives are more likely to struggle academically and experience behavior problems

Resistance to Middle-Class School Norms

Instead of surrendering to the typical standards of a school environment which many African American students view as cruel and oppressive, some students end up rejecting European American speech patterns and devaluing high academic achievement, therefore unintentionally limiting themselves (King, 1993; Gobo, 1990). On the other hand, there are African American students who respond in the opposite way. These high-achieving students cite their awareness of racism and prejudice as a motivation to do extremely well, thus preparing themselves to fight these evils (King, 1993). I applaud the fact that many of our African American males refuse to assimilate into the dominant culture, but sometimes it may be better to play the game. This does not mean becoming a sellout or the “Decent Negro” that Nas talks about on his latest album, Streets Disciple; it means that you are a very sagacious individual.

Lack of Priorities

Let’s do a little role playing. Pretend you are a 15-year-old African American teenager and you have one of two choices: watch BET (Black Entertainment Television) or do your homework. The typical African American will probably decide to watch television and do homework later, but it never seems to get done, does it? If you have your priorities in order, you will probably do your homework first and watch TV later. Then your homework is complete and you get a chance to watch 106 & Park.
Unfortunately, many African American children do not realize that school should be their first priority.

Low Teacher Expectations

African American children are especially susceptible to teacher expectations. Teacher expectations, even when based on erroneous information, can influence the academic performance of children. In today’s society, according to Janice Hale-Benson, when African American children exhibit poor reading skills, psychologists say it is because the children have inferior cognitive capabilities or do not value education. When White middle-class children exhibit poor reading skills, it is seldom suggested that they are unable to learn or that they are deficient in any way. Psychologists generally say that the problem is in the method of instruction or inappropriate matches between curriculum and the child’s level of development.

Low Effort Syndrome

This phrase was coined by Jonathon Ogbu in his monumental book, Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb. It simply means that some African American pupils are not adequately engaged in their academic endeavors. The time that most African American children spend actively engaged in learning, studying, and enrichment is not conducive to the acquisition of intellective competence and perpetuates the myth of African American intellectual inferiority. In layman’s terms, most African American students do not work hard in school.


. Traditionally, African Americans have been labeled as intellectually inferior to other races. As a result, our culture began to collectively doubt their intellectual ability and began to associate scholarly achievement with “acting white.” This leads many African Americans to behave as though “school” and “black” are incongruous This belief has effectively permeated the culture and cognitively debilitated its members. These truths are at the root of anti-intellectualism. What is most troubling is the fact that black student achievement is a problem among all classes of African Americans. In my opinion, anti-intellectualism is one of the most pernicious factors that contribute to the achievement gap.

Social Services

In order to effectively assist African American students, the majority of social services should be placed within the school system. This would provide schools with the resources needed to alleviate a broad spectrum of problems. It also would provide valuable resources for African American children and their parents, and provide a support system capable of addressing their problems and creating solutions that have long-term viability.

Tag Line

Matthew Lynch is the owner of Lynch Consulting Group, LLC, an educator in JPS, and the author of Closing the Racial Academic Achievement Gap, which can be pre-ordered directly from,, or toll free at 1-800-552-1991.

About the Author

Mr. Lynch has experience as a professional educator, grant reviewer, grant writer, and author. He is currently employed as an Exceptional Education Teacher at Sykes Elementary School and is the CEO of Lynch Consulting Group, LLC. Lynch Consulting Group, LLC, is a comprehensive consulting firm that provides innovative educational & business consulting solutions to K-12 & Higher Education institutions, nonprofit organizations, various levels of government, as well as members of the business sector.

He is also a Doctoral Candidate at Jackson State University majoring in Early Childhood Education, with a cognate in Educational Administration. He is also the author of Closing the Racial Academic Achievement Gap, and an upcoming children’s book, entitled Matthew and the Money Tree. Closing the Racial Academic Achievement Gap has a publication date of April 28, 2006.

Web Site: 15 Reasons Why Black Students Underachieve

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Reviewed by Zhana Books 4/25/2008
Do you really think Social Services can do something positive for Black children in the educational system?

I agree with what you have said about "Low Effort Syndrome", "Anti-Intellectualism" and "Low Teacher Expectations". I think you have a good analysis. The question is, what can be done to bring about positive change?


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