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“Same Old Stories”: The Black Male in Social Science and Educational Literature, 1930s to the Present


by Anthony L. Brown — 2011

Background/Context: Over the last three decades, considerable attention has been given to the social and educational conditions of Black males. Such observations have led to the accusation that Black males are “in crisis.” Although such pronouncements call national attention to the needs of Black males, these discourses have helped to normalize and fasten in place an unchanging and reworked narrative for discussing or addressing the conditions of Black males. The intent of this article is to show how, for numerous decades, both the findings and theories used to make sense of Black males within the social science and education literature have helped to produce a common-sense narrative about all Black males.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this article is to trouble historical and contemporary beliefs about Black males and to help prompt new theories, research, and interventions that account for the complex needs of Black males’ lives. This article historically documents the social science and educational literature about Black males from the 1930s to the present. Two interrelated questions guided this analysis: (1) What are the common and recycled discourses employed within and across historical periods to make sense of the social and educational conditions of Black males? (2) To what extent and in what ways have these discourses closed off the kinds of questions one can ask in the present to address the social and educational conditions of Black males? This article concludes with a discussion of how researchers and educators can begin to ask new questions about Black males that explore the complexities of Black males’ lives, while also challenging the same old stories that pervade educational discourse.

Research Design: Historicizing of knowledge was the method used in this project. Historicizing of knowledge as a method of analysis examines how trajectories of the past help to shape how "ideas and events of the present are constructed," in the words of Thomas Popkewitz. Employing this historical approach, this study focused on the visibility and presentation of theories and explanations about Black males, both adults and youth, in social science and educational literature over subsequent decades—(a) 1930s–1940s, (b) 1950s–1960s, (c) 1970s-1980s and (d)1990s to the present—to assess their durability and how they were changed (i.e., nuanced), if at all, over time.

Findings/Results: The findings from this analysis illustrate that the populational reasoning of Black males has been framed around four recursive conceptual narratives—absent and wandering, impotent and powerless, soulful and adaptive, and endangered and in crisis—from the 1930s to the present.

Conclusions/Recommendations: What these findings illustrate is the necessity for educational theorists and practitioners to ask new questions beyond the populational reasoning that has consumed educational discourse about Black males. The first step is for researchers and practitioners to take notice of whether typical explanations or narratives of deficit and difference guide their questions about Black male achievement, and for researchers and educators to carefully examine the diversity of Black male experiences beyond the dominant tropes of pathology and difference that have persisted within educational discourse.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 9, 2011, p. 2047-2079
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16182, Date Accessed: 10/26/2014 1:57:26 AM

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About the Author
  • Anthony Brown
    University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    ANTHONY L. BROWN is an assistant professor in the department of Curriculum & Instruction and affiliated faculty at the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS) and Cultural Studies in Education (CSE) at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests focus on the educational experiences of African American males and the historical representations and depictions of African Americans in the K–12 official and hidden curriculum. Anthony’s work has been recently published in The Urban Review and Race Ethnicity and Education.
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