Lecturer: MTV, rap distract black youths
By ERIN LaRUFFA
In 1988, MTV first aired a show featuring hip-hop music.
Around the same time, the increase in the test scores of African-American students that began in 1980 started to drop off.
"Hip-hop hit really big in 1988," said Robert Ferguson, an economist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Ferguson spoke about trends in academic test scores as they relate to youth culture during a conference Saturday at McKenna Hall.
The conference, sponsored by Notre Dame's Institute for Educational Initiative, was entitled "The Black-White Achievement Gap." It brought social scientists from around the country together to discuss the discrepancy in achievement between minorities and their white and Asian counterparts.
Ferguson said that black youth began imitating what they saw in rap artists, who in turn imitated trends they saw among youth.
"It's not proof of anything," Ferguson said of the correlation between the explosion of hip-hop and the leveling of gains made by black students. However, he said that researchers are searching for more evidence.
"There's some evidence … that youth culture may be a part of [the decline in academic gains]," he said.
The percentage of black students who read for enjoyment in their free time declined between 1988 and 1992, while the percentage among whites has remained relatively constant, Ferguson added.
Nationally, black youth watch twice as much television daily than do whites, he explained.
Ferguson said that in addition to schoolwork, blacks also have to do "social homework" by watching sitcoms and music videos to fit in during lunch-time discussions with their peers.
"A lot of the black kids are trying to figure out what it means to be black," said Ferguson. He also said that some black students become "honorary whites," and are thus accepted by their white peers.
Another problem facing black students is their self-perception.
"Black kids are more self-conscious [than whites]," said Ferguson, who currently is working on a study which initially suggests that blacks tend to question their intelligence more than whites do.
Many black students spend more time wondering if they can do their math homework than actually working on the problems, Ferguson said.
Ferguson also discussed the topic of teacher expectations.
"Teachers appeared to matter more to black kids than white kids," Ferguson said, referring to one study of sixth grade students in Michigan.
Other studies suggest that black students try to please their teachers more than they try to please their parents. White students tended to do the opposite.
Ferguson also acknowledged the socioeconomic difference between many blacks and whites. White parents are more likely to have college degrees than black parents, he said.
Jennifer Warlick, a Notre Dame professor of economics, followed Ferguson's presentation by leading a discussion session.
A similar conference was held on Sunday for Notre Dame faculty and graduate students.
All News Stories for Monday, November 8, 1999