"No matter how you reform schools, it's not going to solve the problem," he said in an interview. "There are two parts of the problem, society and schools on one hand and the black community on the other hand."
Professor Ogbu's latest conclusions are highlighted in a study of blacks in Shaker Heights, Ohio, an affluent Cleveland suburb whose school district is equally divided between blacks and whites. As in many racially integrated school districts, the black students have lagged behind whites in grade-point averages, test scores and placement in high-level classes. Professor Ogbu was invited by black parents in 1997 to examine the district's 5,000 students to figure out why.
"What amazed me is that these kids who come from homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents; they don't know how their parents made it," Professor Ogbu said in an interview. "They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models, they are looking at entertainers. The parents work two jobs, three jobs, to give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children."
For example, he said that middle-class black parents in general spent no more time on homework or tracking their children's schooling than poor white parents. And he said that while black students talked in detail about what efforts were needed to get an A and about their desire to achieve, too many nonetheless failed to put forth that effort.
Those kinds of attitudes reflect a long history of adapting to oppression and stymied opportunities, said Professor Ogbu, a Nigerian immigrant who has written that involuntary black immigrants behave like low-status minorities in other societies.
Not surprisingly, he said, the parents were disappointed when he turned the spotlight on them as well as the schools. Peggy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Shaker Heights City School District, said that minority families cared deeply about their children's academic achievement and the district was working with education experts to reduce the racial achievement gap. She noted that while Professor Ogbu called most of the black families in the district middle class, 10 to 12 percent live in poverty.
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