THE BLOG
11/10/2014 07:55 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

It Isn't the Athletes; It's the Educators

Low reading-proficiency rates among black men is an issue that rests at our nation's underbelly -- and, recently, it has found itself at the center of discussions surrounding the University of North Carolina's now-infamous Wainstein report.

Mary Carey penned an op-ed for the News and Observer, a newspaper based in Raleigh, North Carolina, stating this reality as the scandal's "true" fundamental dilemma.

Why couldn't these athletes maintain eligibility through standard classes? The answer: because we as a state and as a nation don't teach young black males how to read.

She has a point: African-American men definitely function at lower reading levels than their peers -- male or female. And it is because the education system doesn't teach them how to read.

But, ironically, Carey's logic omitted the systemic factors that explain why these students don't perform as well as their peers. The real question is why our nation doesn't teach them how to read.

Insinuations that these student-athletes need remediation because they aren't as intelligent as everyone else -- a sentiment that is ludicrous at best -- has resulted in a failure to address the educational inequities that produce black men with lower reading-comprehension capabilities before they reach the university level.

And you can't treat the problem without acknowledging its origins.

Too many teachers fail to see the purpose in educating black children. Black boys are viewed as more malicious, dangerous and older than their peers starting as early as 10 years old, based on a study published by the American Psychological Association. The age of black boys is overestimated by an average of 4.5 years, and they are more likely to be associated with culpable crimes than their white peers.

Seen as criminals from childhood, black boys have the unfortunate damnation of existing in a society that sees no purpose in educating perceived felons. Little boys with black skin are then funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline because of these skewed perceptions.

American schools are becoming increasingly reliant on suspensions, expulsions, and legal repercussions when students misbehave. Traditional methods of dealing with poor conduct -- detention, counseling or just talking and identifying overarching issues -- are no longer being employed on a large scale. Students, particularly those of color, are being arrested or removed from schools due to atrocious "zero-tolerance policies" and channeled into the juvenile-detention system.

When you combine these factors with the strong misperceptions placed upon black students, the result is a disproportionate amount of black men who can't read as well as their peers, since they are isolated from stable, productive learning environments.

How can students learn if they're being arrested or expelled? Also, it isn't taken into consideration that these "bad kids" may have an undiagnosed learning disability or a history of neglect or abuse causing them to act out.

Black students are more likely to come from underperforming schools -- institutions that almost innately apply the pipeline as a tactic for controlling student behavior.

Black men and women are three times more likely than students of other races to attend schools where 60 percent of teachers fail to meet state licensure or certification requirements, according to a report released by the Washington Post this year. And schools whose student base is over 25-percent black and Latino are also less likely to offer integral college-prep courses such as chemistry and algebra II.

High-school teachers tend to hold lower expectations for students of color and students from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to a recent report from the Center for American Progress. These educators theorized that 47 percent of African-American students were less likely to graduate from college than their peers and proceeded to treat them as such.

A substantial amount of student-athletes hail from the backgrounds that feed these erroneous suppositions.

Instead of giving student-athletes who are struggling academically tangible skills to aid them in succeeding at UNC, Carolina perpetuated the idea that black men are only economically useful and used fake classes as an apparatus for continued, and historic, capitalistic gain for the university.

For UNC, and most other NCAA Division I colleges, the goal was not to provide educational support but academic ease for students who probably just needed help with time management and some coaching on how to study more effectively. It is insulting to suggest that these students could not maintain eligibility based on their own academic merit.

So let's not talk about these athletes' intellectual capabilities or the perceived lack thereof. We should address the true crimes and point fingers at the right individuals.

Instead of just remediating black men like they're stupid (they aren't), how about we restructure how our educators view and treat them, start asking the right questions and push for a change?