We must nurture intellectual curiosity in our young men and boys.
This is my fifth recommendation as a part of my MANifest series for helping Black boys succeed in school (recommendations 1 and 2 are here and 3 and 4 are here) The return of the school year often marks a rite of passage filled with excitement and anticipation, but the thrill of that moment tends to wane over time. That is why it is essential to place your son within a nurturing intellectual environment. No, this doesn’t mean that you have to have a room lined with books that you call a study in your home. It simply means engaging your child and providing stimulus to help him think outside of the classroom as inside.
For a number of reasons, school and academic achievement are often perceived as feminine. However, this does not have to be the case. The world you construct for your child can be equally influential, if not more influential than many of the messages that children are flooded with daily. While our children have television, video games and the internet, all the media formats in the world can never replicate the dynamic relationship to your child. You have the power listen, love, and direct.
As a child, I learned lessons about the importance of education and the adults in my life were the first people who taught me the value of education. As a small child, my parents took time to read to me and helped me learn to read. In that process I learned the joys and struggles of education (I cried daily and told my parents, “I can’t learn to read” as they pushed to teach me). In addition to learning how to read, I also learned they cared about education. After we finish reading to our children, it’s important that we read in front of your children. It sends the subtle yet important message that learning does not stop, whether it’s the school bell sounding or graduating from college.
Encourage a creative engagement of the world in a safe space. Make sure your child has a dedicated homework space that is free of distractions (yes, that mean no TV, no Playstation 3, and move the cell phone out of reach). Also, find creative ways to deepen discussions. Have a movie night, but watch a documentary that covers a subject of interest like sports but takes a deeper look that may inspire your son to think critically.
Our community’s greatest thought leaders have raised important questions, such as W.E.B. Du Bois who asked Black men, “How does it feel to be a problem?” and made powerful statements like James Baldwin who astutely observed, “The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” Intellectual engagement is not limited to school. Education is about more than simply passing tests, it’s the basis for how we understand who we are in the world and the basis from which we begin to the change the world. To ensure the achievement of our boys, we must push them to think critically.
Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York- CUNY. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on Twitter at @dumilewis or visit his official website.