In Los Angeles Unified School District, only 48% of African American and Latino students who enter high school in the 9th grade, complete 12th grade four years later (CRP, 2004). The nationwide public educational system as we know it currently operates using an outdated framework (BMGF, 2007) and has failed to properly engage and prepare minority youth (CRP, 2005), specifically Black male youth, to further their academic goals, develop as morally responsible citizens and to successfully transition, socially and economically, into the community and the workforce of the 21st Century. Institutional racism, the normalization of failure (Gregory, Nygreen & Moran, 2006), disproportionate placement in special education, misdiagnoses, incompetent faculty, disparities in district spending efforts and statewide funding cuts are all key issues stifling our public school system. They also contribute to the rising dropout rate and are creating a regional and national critical need for school reform (Noguera, 2008; Noguera, 2006; NUL, 2007; Gregory, et. al, 2006; Cummins, 2006; 21stCF, 2008; Moore, Heinfield & Owen, 2008). Additionally, as our society adapts to a new global economy and as we transform into a media-driven culture (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison & Weigel, 2008), at-risk youth with limited educational resources are becoming highly susceptible to the dangers of media influence (Boles, 2007).
D. Pink describes our global economic transformation as advancing from the “Information Age (Knowledge workers)” to the “Conceptual Age (Creators and Empathizers)” (2005, pg. 49), and that we are shifting from a left-brained rule in careers to right-brained. The history of African American innovation, spans across the industries of art, science, technology and entrepreneurship. However, if immediate action isn’t taken to break the dropout cycle and close the racial achievement gap in the public school system, higher education and the workforce, Black youth will continue to vanish from societal sight and instead continue to contribute to crime, lost wages and social destruction (Noguera, 2008; NCCD, 2007). Failure has to be acknowledged and reform must be the new priority for public schools, teachers, administrators and the communities that surround them. The high school dropout rate is indeed an epidemic and is saturating our state and city. Black youth, particularly males, are falling by the waste-side, while white youth, usually from more affluent backgrounds, can purchase a higher quality, arts-infused, college and career preparatory education. Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League states:
Empowering black males to reach their full potential is the most serious economic and civil rights challenge we face today. Ensuring the future of the black male is critical, not just for African Americans, but for the prosperity, health and well being of the entire American family (2007, pp. 9).
The African American teenage drop-out and at-risk secondary student of today absorb (most of the time, blindly) messages from the media, society and within public school systems, designed to deflate potential for positive self-esteem, self-images and racial-identity (Hunt, 2005; Noguera, 2008). These messages also exalt routines of consumption, destructive lifestyles, harmful stereotypes and pipe dream careers. The combination of an outdated, dysfunctional public school educational system and the negative influences of the media, are real life, daily experiences for our youth.
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