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African American male college students need to be studied in ethnographic studies to be meaningful

Posted By: Sherman Miller on May 10, 2008
As I read through your article, I wondered if you went on a quest that may not be fruitful because you were using the incorrect measuring scheme. I recall being at a Trottergroup.org (National Black Columnists) annual meeting held at Temple University in fall 2007 listening to an African American Sociology professor from Yale University share how he lived in the hood to study the people. His research was ethnographic in nature and it was believable. I believe he even said he was an ethnographer. I worry that you are using quantitative methods to study a problem that is really qualitative in nature.

I specialize in teaching mathematics to college students coming out of the hood. The first step I must do with these students, especially in basic mathematics or elementary algebra, is an acculturation process where I teach them how to be college students. I must let these students know that my job is not to fail them out but to teach them. I must teach reading a mathematics book and I focus on the students handling word problems as my measure of success for all of my tests are word problems.

I control the classroom as it is a sacred temple and I do not like competitors. There are no eating, drinking, cell phones, and so on. I tell the students, you have to work hard to pass and work hard to fail, but some people work hard enough to fail. I allow no one to put her or himself down in the classroom Ė negative comments are persona non grata. Furthermore, the studentís understand that we will complete the syllabus, all students must sign into class, white board assignments constitute 20 Ė 25 percent of the grade, and excuses for nonperformance are unacceptable.

My dropout rates for all courses and colleges run roughly 10 percent. I tell the students on regular intervals that the secret to graduating from college is taking the right courses once, so they need to work closely with their advisor to stay on track. I believe that keeping my drop out rates low enhances the studentís confidence in her or his ability to complete college.

I developed these teaching principles in the classroom. I have taught at community colleges and universities where I find the concepts work regardless of institution type and studentís race, sex and age. Hence, my experience suggests that there are fundamental teaching principles that transcend college types and studentsí race and ethnicity.

I suggest you need some ethnographic student studies because community college students may live in a commuterís world of isolation and four year students live in a campus family that promotes more interaction. As one that had to work with family responsibility while earning my undergraduate degree, the model of the community college students was more akin to my lifestyle than that you describe for the four year student. Hence, you might want to study nontraditional and commuter students at four year colleges to gain a better appreciation of the differences between community college and four year college students at the freshman and sophomore levels.
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 African American male college students need to be studied in ethnographic studies to be meaningful by Sherman Miller on May 10, 2008
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