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‘Instructional Love’ Offers an Educational Model for Black Boys Grounded in Love

May 6, 2021

By Jennifer Friedlin, Director of Communications

When 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by a police officer, the officer said he thought Rice was about 20. The officer’s over-estimation of Rice’s age is not uncommon. In fact, a study by the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that “dehumanization bias” is common among white police officers. And white female college students in the same study also showed a similar bias, perceiving black children as being “significantly less innocent” than their white peers.

The dehumanization bias is considered one of a number factors undermining the success of Black male students. In addition, young black males are often viewed as objects of suspicion, in need of being controlled. As a result of these biases, black adolescence are disproportionately isolated, ignored, and disciplined within academic settings.

To counter these perceptions, experts at ExpandED Schools are now working to advance a model that embraces the humanity of Black boys and recognizes their need for love and respect.

In a workshop entitled “The Instructional Love Approach,” Jacques Noisette (pictured top), ExpandED’s director of Social Emotional Learning, and Kody Melancon, ExpandED’s director of the Pathways Fellowship for aspiring teachers of color, offered a different approach to educating Black males.

“Love is not an option, it’s a standard, an expectation that we should all have when we work with our students,” Noisette said. “Young Black boys deserve and desire love.”

Known as targeted universalism, the love-centered approach is derived from the groundbreaking work of Christopher Chatmon, executive director of African-American Male Achievement, an initiative of the Oakland Unified School District. Founded in 2010, the project seeks to break the processes and patterns that lead to poor performance for Black males by targeting the needs of those who struggle the most and shifting the attitude towards them to one that sees them as individuals with stories, hopes, and boundless potential.

“Under this model, instructors look for opportunities to build on what’s happening with students” and to draw out their experiences, Melancon explained. Instructors in the OUSD program are typically Black male youth development workers who come from the same or similar background as the students.

Using the AAMA blend of high expectations, unconditional love, and patience, Melancon said that teachers and afterschool educators alike can help young Black males to be emotional and to take care of one another and themselves. The model also pushes teachers to think about constructive alternatives to disciplinary procedures, which tend to over-punish Black males and reduce them to behavior problems.

“We need pedagogy that will willfully undo the cultural biases and low expectations affecting Black males,” said Melancon.

Melancon said that by offering aspiring educators the opportunity to learn the AAMA model through the Pathways Fellowship, he hopes to not only affect Black male student outcomes but to increase the number of Black male teachers. Currently, just 2% of teachers nationwide are Black males.

To learn more, check out “We Dare Say Love,” a book co-edited by Chatmon, Na’ilah Suad Nasir, and Jarvis R. Givens.