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Gifted, Colored, And Droped Out

Despite assertions of education as a means of social mobility, many students of color experience a different reality. According to Saras Chung writer for NPO, Nonprofit Quarterly (et al March, 2012); in March of this year, America’s Promise Alliance released a study stating that through 2001 to 2009 the national graduation rate increased from 72 % to 75.5 %. Collectively including both whites and minorities more than one million U.S. students drop out per year.  Thus, over one million students within the U.S. do not experience education as a means of social mobility.

What may be so striking is that despite the emphasis upon minority dropout rates, we are consistently feed statistics that cause minorities to be overrepresented among dropout as opposed to actual numbers.  This lack in pinpointing actual numbers in terms of minority dropout rates may cause a perpetuation of “Deficit Thinking” amongst educators that are not part of minority or low income groups. Deficit thinking is distinct from other forms of thinking concerning student academic development because it places blame for those personal and socioeconomic traits necessary for academic success upon the student; while failing to pay attention to those traits that make them unique or successful.

This may be especially true for gifted minority students who are often accused of trying to act white by their peers, yet uppity by biased educators that fall prey to stereotypical views of minorities; thus adding to their frustration and need for peer approval, a situation which may lead to problems associated with various forms of maladaptive behavior found amongst inhabitants of America’s urban centers.   Of the nation’s over one million dropouts  “almost 40 percent of black and Hispanic students – fail to graduate high school on time”(et. al October 13, 2012 THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION written by blogger/reporter Maureen Downey).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau “38.9 million people or 13 percent, reported as being black or African American; 42% is composed of youths under the age of 24”; while “50.5 million reported as being either Hispanic or Latino”. Thus; there are 9,750,000 black youths existing within the U.S. of which over 2 million fail to graduate from high school on time. In terms of Latino or Hispanics 48% of their youth is below age 24 of those 10,000,000 Latino or Hispanic youths currently present within the U.S of which over 2.5 million fail to graduate on time. In focusing on youth from the two most dominant minority groups 4.5 million minority youths fail to graduate from high school as planned.  Of those 4.5 million that fail to graduate on time or dropout  between 30,000 – 35,000 of minority students form both African-American and Hispanic or Latino youth that failed to graduate from high school as planned or dropout may have been gifted students.

In a brief issued by the Center For Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (et. al Aug. 2008 Gifted And Talented Students At Risk For Underachievement)  “in 2004 Hispanic students represent 17.8 percent of the total school population yet represented only 3.7 percent of student identified as gifted; while  African American students representing 17. 1 percent of the total school population represented only 3.1 percent of students identified as gifted.”  According to the National Association for Gifted Children in an article written by Authors: Donna Y. Ford and Antoinette Thomas “Underachievement Among Gifted Minority Students: Problems and Promises” (et al., June 1997); “Black, Hispanic American, and Native American students, have been underrepresented in gifted programs by as much as 30% to 70%, with an average of 50%” (Ross et al., 1993).

There are other various reasons why gifted minority students may drop out of high school:  teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and poverty. But another obstacle that may play a significant role in retaining minority students in programs for gifted youth could be institutional racism that leads to ostracization, accepted social exclusion of others based upon faulty information or over exposure to negative stereotypes of various racial or ethnic groups which influence the behavior and thoughts of those in positions of authority.

 Because institutionalized racism can be extremely overwhelming, it can act as an extreme form of peer pressure forcing victims of discrimination to adopt various types of dysfunctional behavior; including those behaviors associated with the negative group specific stereotypes they are constantly confronted with.  In short, like tired salmon, it’s easier to go with the flow of negative group expectations instead of against them. Thus; being that adolescents exert a great deal of influence upon each other’s behavior through peer pressure; certainly pressure exerted by the prominent authority figures within a child’s would exist at an exponential level due to their ability to reward or punish various forms of behavior. According to Donna Rae Clasen and B. Bradford Brown “Perceived pressures toward misconduct increased across grade levels and pressures to conform to peer norms diminished”(et. al., JOURNAL OF YOUTH AND ADOLESCENCE Volume 14, Number 6 (1985), 451-468, DOI: 10.1007/BF02139520).

Adults who unconsciously reject and stigmatize groups that they perceive as “unwanted others” also unconsciously reject and stigmatize children belonging to these groups. According to Schmader, Johns, & Forbes,(et. al.,  An integrated process model of stereotype threat effects on performance. Psychol Rev. 2008 Apr; 115(2):336-56.2008) “Interacting with someone who is prejudiced may affect the judgment of a stigmatized individual about how much effort is needed to suppress automatically activated negative emotional states or concerns about fulfilling negative stereotypes.” 

Taking this fact into consideration; it’s not pressure of academic achievement that cause gifted minorities to drop out of educationally challenging programs, but the pressure of attempting to consistently battle against negative stereotypes without experiencing greater levels of bio-psychosocial duress that would lead to a holistic breakdown of the stigmatized individual. Or in the words of Grand Master Flash, “Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge, I'm trying not to lose my head. Daddy, I don't wanna go to school cause the teacher's a jerk, he must think I'm a fool.”

If education is intended to be a means of social mobility, it should be recognized that just as there are problematic students: there are also problematic teachers as well as problematic parents! At the heart of this triangle is the “Deficit Thinking” philosophy embodied by academic institutions that possess a staff majority that possesses either limited or negative contact with minority/low income groups existing within their student body.

To eliminate this type of thinking within these institutions, it may be necessary to stress intensive hiring of qualified individuals that represent minority/low income groups through innate membership or life experience with these groups into positions of authority that would be able to challenge or alter the preexisting “Deficit Thinking” present within the institution.  However; these individuals would have to be hired in large enough numbers capable of doing so, only then would these institutions be capable of truly serving their minority/low income populations and prevent or drastically decrease the rate of dropout that currently exist amongst these populations; thus retaining both regular and gifted student youth belonging to these populations.


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