FOR SOME time now, Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan has been describing the young black American male as "a species in danger." This alarm is now being echoed in Prince George's County, where a panel of education, business and religious leaders -- the Black Male Achievement Committee -- appointed by School Superintendent John Murphy has released a wide-ranging and forceful report, "From Peril to Promise." It documents a depressingly familiar array of black male achievement indicators: sharply lower grade-point averages, higher school suspension and dropout rates, and undisputed leadership in placements in special education classes and lower-level courses. Its findings range from insufficient funding of schools to a dearth of multicultural instructional materials, library books and curricula, to too few black role models among teachers and administrators. The report concludes with recommendations intended to reverse the downward slide.
It's easy to grab the report, proceed directly to the recommendations and cherry pick the list, selecting those ideas you like and dismissing those you don't, especially the ones with hefty price tags. That would be the wrong way to go about examining the committee's work. This group has produced more than just another blue-ribbon appeal for stepped-up minority hiring and higher school budgets. Without reinforcing harmful and false stereotypes of young black males, it has trained a spotlight on a group of Americans so endangered that their failure could set back a people for generations to come. So county politicians, school bureaucrats and taxpayers cannot simply put on the green eyeshades; they have to don thinking caps too.
While these groups are at it, the black community in Prince George's may wish to focus on the observations that the committee directs its way:
''Public education is a collaborative process; the success of teachers and students depends on the community and schools working cooperatively. Given this reality, the educational and social problems encountered by black males cannot be blamed solely on the schools or factors endemic to the larger society such as racism. African Americans must continue to work to remove barriers found in the larger society, while at the same time ensuring that black children, youth and adults are poised to take maximum advantage of existing opportunities. In the latter regard, the African-American community shares some of the responsibility for the problems facing its youth and must take the lead in finding solutions both within and outside the boundaries of its homes and neighborhoods. The adult community must become aware of its own role in the devaluation of academic achievement. We must examine what we model and reward."