Dr. Pedro Noguera is the Peter Agnew Professor of Teaching and Learning at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Dr. Noguera is a nationally recognized expert on the best practices to narrow the achievement gap between African American and Latino students and White and Asian students. He has worked both with high poverty urban schools and integrated suburban schools. In his book, The Trouble With Black Boys: …And Other Reflections on Race, Equity, and the Future of Public Education (2008, Jossey-Bass), Dr. Noguera details how the daunting challenges facing our young men– from low expectations and even suspicion from teachers and other authority figures to negative peer pressure from other Black and Latino boys — can negatively impact their school performance.
GCP recently sat down with Dr. Noguera to gain his insights on how parents can best support our African American and Latino boys. We began with a key GCP concern: How should parents should respond if they see their adolescent boys suddenly putting less effort in their school work or adopting risky or self-destructive behavior? According to Dr. Noguera, parents need “to create a home environment that has consistent and clear messages stressing the importance of education. Dr. Noguera observed that there is an unhealthy tension in many families between an emphasis on sports and an emphasis on education. He cautioned that parents have to work to maintain good relationships with their children as they enter adolescence. “[Parents also need to] give their sons the space to be themselves and to talk about themselves” he noted. They need to move from a model of “control” to one of “influence.” Dr. Noguera cautions parents that it is important to be aware and “try to remember what you were like at that age.” Parents need to “pay attention, stay involved and set limits.”
Our discussion then turned to how parents can help their sons deal with teachers who may judge them unfairly. Dr. Noguera stressed that it is a parent’s responsibility to prepare his or her son for the real world. He noted that while he frequently sees Black parents trying to shelter their children, it is important to be realistic and not try to protect them from experiencing any adversity at all. According to Dr. Noguera, “we have to prepare our sons to deal with teachers, police and others that may judge them unfairly.” Moreover, we need to help our sons develop “strong, positive self images and good judgment”. We also need to recognize that when our sons are one of few people of color in an academic setting they can experience a “heightened sense of difference and heightened scrutiny.” Parents can counteract this by ensuring that our children spend time in all Black or Latino settings. We also need to model behavior by letting our children observe us interacting with people from different ethnic and class backgrounds. Dr. Noguera suggests that we bring our children with us into the workplace on occasion, so that they can see firsthand the “codeswitching” that successful Black and Latino adults engage in during the workday. Most importantly, we have to stay connected to our sons and encourage them to de-brief and share their experiences with us.
Noting that class differences can lead to tensions between middle class Black boys and boys from less privileged backgrounds, GCP asked Dr. Noguera for suggestions of how to mitigate or resolve these differences. Dr. Noguera noted that the recent dust-up between Grant Hill and Jalen Rose constituted a missed opportunity to explore the way class shapes perspectives. Our children need to be aware that despite some obvious and visible successes, many Black Americans suffer from extreme levels of poverty and can harbor resentment of more fortunate Black people. We need to teach our children that character is more important than material wealth and expose them at an early age to all kinds of people. Dr. Noguera noted that sports and church offer natural opportunities to interact with Black people across the class spectrum.
A key point that Dr. Noguera returned to several times during our discussion is the importance of parents protecting the emotional health of our boys. He believes that there is “a global crisis in masculinity” in response to the changing roles of men and women in society. Our outmoded definition of men as strong, emotionless providers can hurt our boys, as this definition ignores the fact that boys and men have complex emotions, and that it is okay to experience and show them. Above all, we need to recognize that our sons are individuals, and we must teach them to be sensitive and caring ones.
In Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Pedro Noguera, we’ll share his perspective on how to find the best educational setting for your son.