Whitmire’s Swan Song

by Robert Pondiscio
January 6th, 2009

One of the real good guys education journalism is saying farewell, for now at least, from ink-stained wretchdom.  Richard Whitmire, USA Today editorial writer and Why Boys Fail edublogger, has taken a buyout and bows out with a piece in today’s paper “How to turn Obama’s success into gains for black boys.”

There’s no question Obama was elected by Americans of all races and ethnicities to be president of all America. But many hope that his presidency will have a profound impact on one group most in need, African-American boys.

Whitmire notes that the American Dream “remains a more distant hope for black boys than it does for any other group.”  And while there’s potency in the symbolic value of an Obama presidency, that’s not enough. 

What matters today is determining how to leverage Obama’s historic achievement into a fresh beginning for black boys. Confidence is important, but it’s not sufficient. As Obama often says, success begins with parents willing to take responsibility, set limits and turn off the TV. But successful education reforms have shown that the right academic atmosphere can help overcome dysfunctional family situations.

He specifically touts a focus on literacy, modeling the practices of successful schools like Washington’s Key Academy, and creating college mentoring programs for young black males.  ”These are all reforms worthy of support,” Whitmire concludes.  “Obama’s symbolism is undeniably powerful, but it will take more than symbolism to go beyond yes-we-can sloganeering.”

Quo vadis, Whitmire?


  1. Eye-balling Whitmire’s graphic two unsurprising patterns emerge. The lowest graduation rates for Black males is in the South, but the largest gap in the rates between Black and White males is in the “Rust Belt.” The gap gets us back to the wisdom of William Julius Wilson about skin deep characteristics that aren’t a problem in the rough and tumble blue collar world, but don’t fit with the “soft skills” of the post-industrial world.

    Secondly he’s right about literacy in elementary and middle school. I’d add, however, as we teach secondary teachers to teach reading that we remember elementary efforts to decode may not be teaching comprehension, and it takes different teaching approaches for older kids. Bell rang. Gotta go

    Comment by john thompson — January 6, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  2. Robert,

    A very insightful article – it’s clear that across an incredibly broad population, African Americans lag far behind. One hope of ours is that Obama will support educational programs such as Citizen Schools, which has provided strong educational programs to underserved populations after school hours.

    If you’d like, please help us bring this program – and other mentoring programs – to his attention by voting for us in a Change competition: http://www.citizenschools.org/change/

    Many thanks, and thanks for bringing up this topic,

    Comment by Dave — January 7, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

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