Understanding Black Male Learning Styles

Understanding Black Male Learning Styles

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by Jawanza Kunjufu

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Offering information for use inside and outside of the classroom, this educational resource delineates how black males learn differently from other students and what can be done to most effectively reach them. Outlining the differences as both behavioral (attention span, aggression, maturation, energy level, and pressure from peers) and educational (verbal skills,


Offering information for use inside and outside of the classroom, this educational resource delineates how black males learn differently from other students and what can be done to most effectively reach them. Outlining the differences as both behavioral (attention span, aggression, maturation, energy level, and pressure from peers) and educational (verbal skills, organization, gross and fine motor skills, and reading interests) among others, this proposal provides real-world experiences alongside theories, making this an essential guide for educators, parents, counselors, psychologists, and others involved with black male adolescents. A section on how the majority of teachers, who are nonblack and female, can extend their education to overcome differences within the normal classroom setting, and help to reduce the number of black males in special education, is also provided.

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Understanding Black Male Learning Styles

By Jawanza Kunjufu

African American Images

Copyright © 2011 Jawanza Kunjufu
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-934155-62-2



5,000 children are expelled from preschool annually. 90 percent are male.

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Only 12 percent of African American boys are proficient in reading.

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More than 70 percent of remedial reading students are male.

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70 percent of all D's and F's are earned by males.

* * *

80 percent of African American students in special education are male.

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66 percent of the students suspended are male.

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53 percent of all African American males drop out of high school.

* * *

Some school districts retain almost 20 percent of their kindergarten students, most of whom are male.

The following is a list of 20 African American third grade males, who took the Iowa Reading Test. This chart shows their performance and that of 20 students chosen at random. Overall, the chart shows how well the students performed over the past five years beginning at the third grade.

While these quantitative statistics are enlightening, I believe the most demoralizing problem is qualitative. When I visit schools and see a Black boy in the corner or sitting in the hall while other students are engaged in the lesson, I take it personally, as if the child were my own son or grandson. Later, if I was to ask him, "How was school today?" and he told me that he spent most of the day in the corner or in the hall, I would immediately schedule a meeting with the teacher. This scenario sheds light on how the spirits of our boys are being broken.

When I visit a school to meet with the principal and see Black male students waiting to meet with the disciplinarian, I look at the sullen, listless, and angry expressions of these sons and grandsons with sadness. I already know how school was today. I see the looks in their eyes. Their spirits have been broken.

How many weeks, days, hours, or minutes have Black boys spent in the corner, outside the classroom door, or in the principal's office? How many opportunities to learn have been missed? How many boys' spirits have been broken?

According to Yale University's first nationwide study of expulsion rates in state-supported preschools, the process begins before kindergarten. According to the researchers, "Preschools are expelling youngsters at three times the rate of public schools. ... boys are being thrown out of preschool 4 1/2 times as frequently as girls. African American preschoolers are twice as likely to be expelled as white or Latino children, and five times as likely as Asian Americans."

Despite this alarming trend, I challenge you to visit a kindergarten class. If you want to see Black boys at their best, look at them in kindergarten. They're eager, they're curious, they're on task. They love learning. Unfortunately, by the ninth grade, they're no longer sitting in the front row. They're no longer on task. They're asleep, bored, and probably are about to drop out. Their spirits have been broken. In the next chapter, we will develop the framework for this book.



In this chapter I will raise the issues that will become more fully developed throughout the book. These issues form the framework, driving force, and foundation of my approach to understanding Black male learning styles and what schools must do to address the learning needs of this neglected population.

· Is there a correlation between the high percentage of White female teachers in public schools and the high percentage of African American males in special education?

· Very few left-brain learners have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Very few visual-print learners have ADD.

· In my opinion and those of others in education and psychology, ADD was invented to justify teachers' expectation of students, including boys, to sit still for long periods of time, work by themselves, and work quietly on boring textbooks and ditto sheets.

· Theoretically we know that students learn differently. We simply do not make the adjustments in our pedagogy, curricula, lesson plans, and classroom management.

· If all children can learn, why aren't they?

· Right-brain students who are taught analytically and sequentially become low achievers.

· Based on patterns of placement if there were only female students, there would be little need for special education.

· If your students are not learning the way you teach, then teach the way they learn.

· How you teach is as important as what you teach.

· If you want to train students, then ask most of the questions — and have predetermined answers. If you want to educate students, however, encourage them to ask questions, and make sure the questions are open-ended.

· Teach the way your students enjoy learning.

· Master teachers do not see broken children nor do they believe in the cultural deficit model. They build on the culture the students bring to the classroom.

· Pedagogy is more than instructional style. It's the mindset teachers have for their students.

· Your students will be as enthusiastic as you are about the lesson plan.

· Ninety percent of K-12 instruction comes from textbooks and ditto sheets.

· If your classroom has more than 30 students and desks that don't move, this could be a problem.

· We could reduce special education placements if physical education was offered on a daily basis.

· Pedagogy in low-income schools has not changed much in the past 100 years.

· From kindergarten to 12th grade, students attend school 13,000 hours, yet they only receive two days of individualized attention.

· Are we preparing students to work in factories that no longer exist?

· Asthma, lead paint, bad diet, and being born addicted to crack cocaine do not produce good students.

· "Underachievers" tend to be right-brain learners. So is the problem the way they learn or the way we teach?

· We should encourage students to ask, "Why do we need to learn this?"

· Learning style is 80 percent biologically driven.

· Boys do not have a short attention span if they are involved in something that interests them.

· Low literacy achievement in primary grades often leads to aggressive behavior in upper grades.

· The writing gap between genders exceeds the racial and income gap.

· Learning styles are not like clothes that can be added or removed. It's who we are.

· Instead of tracking, dividing, or categorizing students by test scores, let's organize students according to their learning styles.

· How can teachers say Black boys cannot learn math or science when they can bounce a ball 30 inches in circumference at 20 miles per hour on a court 94 feet in length and jump 10 feet high from the free throw line, which is 15 feet from the basket, and dunk the ball into a basket 62 inches in circumference?

· In most classrooms, students perform only one task at a time. The reality is that 21th century students are multitaskers. How can you say a student cannot learn when he can listen to his iPod, send text messages, and make comments on Facebook and Twitter all while calling a friend and playing a video game?

· In classrooms that are left-brain oriented, students perform only one task at a time. Right-brain learners are multitaskers.

· We could reduce or perhaps even eliminate the ADD label if we allowed students to multitask.

We like to say that children come first, but as the statistics show, that has not been the case in our schools. In fact, I've seen union members with t-shirts and posters that say "Teachers first." Until we mean what we say and truly put children first, all the books that I and other researchers and educators have written will gather dust in the teachers' lounge.

The research has spoken. The models are sound. So why are our boys still lagging behind? I submit that we haven't yet created learning environments that meet the needs of all students, especially African American males.

Presently, the vast majority of our schools are controlled by unions. One reason why parents choose private schools and charter schools is because they do not want their schools controlled by teachers. They want a school environment where they have a say and children come first.

Do you know how difficult it is for a principal to remove an incompetent teacher? On average it will cost a school district $100,000 that they do not have and three to five years to transfer a teacher. Note the word transfer. Because of strong unions, incompetent teachers are allowed to keep their jobs to the detriment of our children. This is the teacher who was found sleeping in class, who missed more than 20 days of school, who was chronically late, whose lesson plans were not fully developed, who did not check homework, whose student scores did not improve, whose students were caught on videotape sleeping, playing cards, and doing whatever they wanted as long as they did not bother the teacher. This is the teacher who tells her students, "I get paid whether you learn or not." This is the teacher who is often transferred to another low achieving school.

It would take three to five years and another $100,000 that a school does not have to fire a low-performing teacher. If school districts could eliminate the bottom 10 percent of their teachers and use that money to pay for Master Teachers, we could compete against the top rated countries in education. The reality is only one out of 2500 teachers will lose their license in contrast to one of 95 lawyers and one of 57 doctors. If you've read any of my books, you know the five types of teachers:

· Custodians

· Referral Agents

· Instructors

· Teachers

· Coaches

Custodians have low expectations of their students, poor time on task, poor classroom management skills, and principals have a very difficult time getting them removed.

Referral Agents are quick to recommend students to special education and the principal's office for disciplinary problems.

Instructors believe they teach subjects, not students. Unfortunately, after the primary grades we have an increase of instructors.

Unfortunately, all types of teachers, including Custodians, Referral Agents, and Instructors are protected by tenure agreements and unions, so they don't have to make any changes in their pedagogy. Principals cannot mandate that teachers understand Black male learning styles. They don't have to develop lesson plans conducive for right-brain learners. In nearly every school district in the U.S., there is absolutely no accountability.

On the other hand, Master Teachers not only understand their subject matter like Instructors, they also understand the importance of developing a pedagogy that is congruent with their children's learning styles. They understand that how you teach is just as important as what you teach. If we had more Master Teachers who understood this truism, we would see an improvement in the academic performance of African American males.

Finally, Coaches not only understand subject matter like Instructors and congruence of pedagogy and learning styles like Master Teachers, they also understand the children's culture.

In the next chapter we will look at the importance of African American male culture.



Please take the following quiz.

1. What is culture?

2. What is the cultural deficit model?

3. Are Black boys culturally deprived if they do not possess your culture?

4. Do you like Black boys?

5. What are their strengths?

6. Are you afraid of tall Black boys?

7. Do you like the way they walk?

8. Do you like the way they talk?

9. Do you like their swagger?

10. Do you know why the pants of some boys sag?

11. What are the Dozens?

12. Do you know why some boys play the Dozens?

13. What are the language arts skills needed to play the Dozens?

14. What is the difference between how Black and White cultures view words?

15. Do you know why some Black boys want to be the class clown?

16. Why do some African American males associate being smart with acting White?

17. Why do some African American males associate being smart with femininity?

18. How many boys in your class have fathers who live with them?

19. Describe a mama's boy.

20. What are the classroom implications of educating a mama's boy?

21. How many adult Black males are in your school?

22. How many are classroom teachers?

23. What do you know about the male ego?

24. Do you believe we should teach Black boys as if they were in the military?

25. What happens to the Black boy's spirit when you send him to the corner, outside the door, or to the principal's office?

26. What are the three most popular careers for Black males?

27. What do you think your Black male students will be doing when they're 30 years of age?

28. What is the showdown?

29. What is cool pose?

30. What is 106 & Park?

31. What are rites of passage?

32. How do your Black male students feel about working together in groups?

33. How do they feel about competition?

34. Why is there a disproportionate number of boys in your school in special education, remedial reading, earning poor grades, suspended, and dropping out?

35. Does sexism exist in your school?

36. What is the worst comment you've heard in the teachers' lounge or cafeteria about Black boys?

In the next section, we will provide answers to some of these questions.

Cultural Deficit Model

The definition of culture is lifestyle. Everyone has a lifestyle, but many Whites and middle-class African Americans believe that if you don't have White middle-class values, you are culturally deprived. Many educators believe that if you do not come from a middle-income home with two parents who are college educated and speak Standard English, then you are culturally deprived. This is the cultural deficit model.

According to the cultural deficit model, the problem is with the student, not with the system or the teachers. So many times schools bring me in to fix the "bad" children. The assumption is that there's nothing wrong with the teachers, curriculum, pedagogy, or administration. The cultural deficit model presumes there is something wrong with Black boys.


If African Americans were inferior, there would be no need for racism. African American students have many strengths that have been overlooked by teachers. Those strengths include their unique, clever, witty, creative, sensitive, and strong auditory skills, oral skills, visual-picture skills, and tactile/kinesthetic skills.

Every teacher needs to focus on the strengths of her students, not their deficiencies.


Saggin' has its roots in the American prison system where inmates are prohibited from wearing belts that they could use to hurt themselves or other inmates. As a result, their pants drop down or sag. Some African American males who have a defiant oppositional view of White mainstream America have continued the look outside of prison, and now it's an unfortunate fashion statement. Ironically, some White fashion designers adopted the look for their menswear lines.

By the way, if you look at the word saggin' backwards, it says something else.

The Dozens

The Dozens (crackin', rankin', signifyin') is a verbal word game. In male culture there's a desire to find out who's the best — or in Ebonics, who's the baddest. Since schools have rules against fighting (rightfully so), African American males created a nonviolent way to blow off steam and determine who's the baddest on the playground. The Dozens is a verbal word game that plays off the most valued persons in the Black community, mothers.

Language arts skills are needed to play the Dozens well: making words rhyme, a constantly expanding vocabulary, quick thinking skills, and a comfort with speaking in public.

In White culture, words are taken literally. In Black culture, words are figures of speech. Let's say a teacher is listening to two boys playing the Dozens. Taking their words literally, she assumes, incorrectly, that the boys are about to fight. Actually the boys are trying to avoid a fight. If they are allowed to continue, she'll find that they'll be the best of friends minutes later. Interestingly, the loser will probably use the winner's lines in his next Dozens match against another student.

The Class Clown

The class clown acts out because he is trying to cover up his academic deficiencies. It is embarrassing being in eighth grade with low level reading and math skills. One of the ways to avoid the embarrassment is to act like the class clown. This student doesn't care about how the teacher feels about his antics, but getting the respect of his peers, even through laughter, means everything to him.

The class clown hopes that the teacher will put him out of the classroom, but this is the last thing teachers should do. Instead, tell the student in no uncertain terms, "I know exactly what you're trying to do. You want me to put you out, but there's nothing you can do that would provoke me to put you out of my class."

Students who clown around are in desperate need of attention. Unfortunately, most teachers and parents will give more attention to negative behavior than positive behavior.


Excerpted from Understanding Black Male Learning Styles by Jawanza Kunjufu. Copyright © 2011 Jawanza Kunjufu. Excerpted by permission of African American Images.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu is an educational consultant and the author of more than 30 books, including Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys, A Culture of Respect, the bestselling Raising Black Boys, and State of Emergency. He lives in Chicago.

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Understanding Black Male Learning Styles 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
AAI More than 1 year ago
This is a very informative and helpful book. I have learned a lot and seriously recommend that everyone read it!