They (Don't) Care About Education: A Counternarrative on Black Male Students' Responses to Inequitable Schooling

by Charles H. F. Davis, III; Shaun R. Harper

Jan 1, 2012

Focus group interviews and systematic content analysis of 304 essays written by black male undergraduates refute the dominant message that black men do not care about education. On the contrary, these students aspire to earn doctoral degrees in education despite acute understanding that the education system is stacked against them. The analysis asks what compels that dedication.
  • Oppositional culture theory contends that minorities develop a resistant stance to dominant cultural spaces in which they are routinely subordinated. This has been used to argue that black students do poorly in school because they are resisting academic success in an effort to protect a collective cultural identity.
  • Application essays in which black male undergraduates speak to their intellectual interests and stance on educational problems provide a counternarrative, a way of critiquing the master narrative of oppositional culture theory.
  • Study participants showed awareness of how American education policy, distribution of resources, and discrimination by teachers, counselors, and peers contribute to racial inequity.
  • Most men in the study expressed a belief in the power of education as the great equalizer. Some mentioned how education provided a way to career options and out of hardships at home, while others thought about it in terms of the national fight for equality.
  • Inspiring and helping others in their families and communities was identified as an important reason for pursuing education.