by David L. Horne, Ph.D.
NNPA News Service
On Thursday, July 27, in one of the very few programs the Obama administration has specifically targeted and titled for black Americans, President Obama issued an executive order creating the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, which will be housed in the secretary of education's office.
It creates a new executive director of black education, a new President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and an interagency collaboration of staff from different departments.
Together, that new entity is supposed to identify the preventable causes of the continuing educational challenges faced by African-American students, from the "cradle to career," as the president proclaimed, and to identify fact-based solutions to those challenges and the necessary resources to get them handled.
President Obama said, in signing the executive order, "In the less than 60 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision put America on a path towards equal educational opportunity, America's educational system has undergone a remarkable transformation. However, substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity still remain in America's educational system. African Americans lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools, and challenging college preparatory classes, and they disproportionally experience school discipline and referrals to special education."
The new initiative is aimed at providing one substantive remedy to that set of circumstances and its negative impact on the thorough education of African-American youth towards contributory citizenship.
Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, the dynamic, young president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was named as the chair of the advisory commission. The heads of the NAACP, the Urban League, and Al Sharpton's National Black Network, all praised the president's executive order and predicted that it would have a major positive impact.
Predictably, the right wing hurled brickbats at it, some claiming it was racist by targeting black students specifically (although not exclusively), and others claiming that it would do no good anyway since it would not tackle what conservatives see as the fundamental black American problem – too many births from unwed mothers and an epidemic of dysfunctional black families.
To some other commentators, this initiative was simply political pandering during an election year. In reality, none of those criticisms matter. The only real issue is whether the approach works to stop the educational bleeding of the black community, in part or in whole.
President Obama is fond of quoting Frederick Douglass' comment that to black Americans education is freedom. He had also re-used that phrase in his 2010 re-affirmation of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which promised more than $850 million dollars to the HBCUs. The funds are to be distributed within the next 10 years, which will substantially relieve the pressure on many of them caused by severe cuts in state funding and support.
His 2010 executive order also re-affirmed the importance of HBCUs in the 21st century and countered the argument of some in the political and academic communities that HBCUs had outlived their usefulness and value.
To a White House gathering of HBCU presidents, Obama had pledged, "In me, you have a partner in the White House." He has since been a man of his word, holding a White House celebration on HBCU Day, and providing other tangible support.
For some hard-to-please black critics, the Initiative on Black Educational Excellence appears to be more fluff, than substance, sort of like former President Bill Clinton's Advisory Commission on Race in America, chaired by renowned historian Dr. John Hope Franklin. That body issued excellent reports, but got no real change accomplished within the educational system. They see President Obama's initiative as another shallow stab at something that will take long-term focus and substantial resources.
Interestingly enough, none of these critics seem to be applying to be members of the president's new commission. There, perhaps, they could help make some real, successful change in the paradigm they complain about.
Clearly, it is much easier to throw stones at a worthy attempt than to try and help it succeed.
More things that make us go, hmmmm...when asking why certain people do and say what they do.
I say, good show, Mr. President. Good show!
(Special to the NNPA by Our Weekly)
(Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute.)