National Writing Project

Helping African American Males Reach Their Academic Potential

By: Marlene Carter
Date: May 2008

Summary: Marlene Carter, associate director of the UCLA Writing Project, conducted a two-year study of African American males in her AP English class. The study helped her understand that these students underperform for different reasons and allowed her to focus on the real problems affecting their achievement.



I believe that there are teachers who are not culturally sensitive to African American males. These teachers often lack experience with males from this culture and base their beliefs on images from books and the media. There are teachers who misinterpret the language or body language of Black boys, who misread their facial expressions. This was not a factor in my classroom. After leaving my Period 1 AP English class, students typically went to Trigonometry or AP Calculus, AP Government, and Physics or AP Chemistry. By coincidence, all these classes were taught by African American teachers who had a reputation for being both challenging and caring. As an African American woman, I am definitely in tune with the culture. I live in the community. I am the mother of three African American sons who attended schools nearby. At no time did students ever complain of cultural insensitivity. (They did complain about other things, mainly the amount of homework they were expected to do.)

Although I believe that cultural sensitivity is a factor that explains lack of achievement in some school situations, I did not feel it was a factor for my students.

Copyright © 2005. Reprinted by permission of Teachers College Press.
Carter, Marlene. 2005. "Helping African American Males Reach Their Academic Potential." In Going Public with Our Teaching: An Anthology of Practice, edited by Thomas Hatch, Dilruba Ahmed, Ann Lieberman, Deborah Faigenbaum, Melissa Eiler White, and Desiree H. Pointer Mace. New York: Teachers College Press (Teachers College, Columbia University).

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