Perspectives on why black youth shy away from Computer Science

11Feb09

I am reading a great book called Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing by Dr. Jane Margolis from UCLA. The book is an investigation of three Los Angeles high schools: an overcrowded urban high school, a math and science magnet school, and a well-funded school in an affluent neighborhood. What the research reveals is a “virtual segregation” that maintains inequality and keeps African American and Latino students from pursuing a degree or career in computer science and technology.

In this post I want to share with you different perspectives from two African American students named Jontille and Nia from a Los Angeles public high school as to why African American and Latinos shy away from computer science. Here is what Jontille had to say:

The minorities—Hispanics, African American kids, they’re not really interested in it. But I think that’s only because they haven’t been really shown how to work with computers. So, therefore, their interest lies elsewhere. But I noticed that a lot of the Caucasian students, they’re into technology, and a lot of the Asian students [too]. . . . But I think that if they [African American and Hispanics] knew that they had more access to it, that they would do it, you know?

Her friend Nia had this to say:

I think minorities are. . . are scared, you know, to jump into the future because what it looks like is only Caucasians should be in that industry.

Wow! Are you as shocked and astounded as I am? Keep in mind this book was published last year before Barack Obama became president, so hopefully our young people think different about what opportunities are open to them. However, I believe that we still have young black and brown children who are afraid of technology and see computer science as a field only open to whites, asians and indians. 

This issue is really more complicated than just changing our young people’s self-confidence and self-image about where they fit, in terms of technology and the world in general. I think a good start in changing our young people’s paradigm is educating them about our history and contribution to computer science. Perhaps this means during black history month focusing time on IT trailblazers like John Thompson and Dr. Mark Dean coupled with the usuals like Dr. King, Malcolm X, etc. Any thoughts?

Mikey Digital

Source: Stuck in the Shallow End (2008), pp. 2-3

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