In an article for UCteen, high school student, Anthony Turner, discusses how he was “caught” reading by a group of students from his high school. Anthony, who is African-American, notes:

“Recently I was ‘caught’ reading at McDonald’s by a group of kids at my school. I say ‘caught’ because many of my peers consider reading to be a lame activity. They think it’s something that only geeks do.”

Anthony went on to share the encounter with one of the students:

“One girl name Tiffany walked up and said ‘Is that a…’ she rubbed her eyes and acted like she couldn’t believe what I was doing…book?’ she finished in a sarcastic, incredulous way.”

Anthony provides a critique as to why developing high levels of literacy is important and goes on to provide insight into a common cultural construct among urban youth in general and African-American youth in particular:

“Black youth culture prizes guys who play ball, bag girls, dance, and rap. Simply reading a book is considered passive or introverted. Or it’s considered a ‘white thing’—something black kids, especially black boys, shouldn’t be caught doing if they want to be popular.”

In would be enough to applaud Anthony for his brilliant critique on youth culture, however, Anthony provides insight into current research:

“I think some kids hold themselves back academically for those reasons. I know I feel slightly wary in school after hearing my peers say that people who read have no lives.

African-American and Hispanic males have the lowest high school graduation rates in the U.S. We need to step up our performance in order to compete. With the economy the way it is, the chances for black youth to succeed can look pretty slim, and if we don’t like to read, those chances get even slimmer. So, the next time you’re killing time by updating your status on Facebook or watching TV, think about reading a book instead. It helps more than you know.”

Read the entire article and view a video of Anthony…

For those youth, parents, and educators who might consider Anthony a nerd, consider the following questions:

  • How many college scholarship opportunities are there for students who play sports, watch hours of television, play hours of video games, or accumulate hundreds of hours updating their Facebook or other social media pages?
  • How many college scholarship opportunities are there for students based on the high school GPA, course taking, SAT/ACT scores, and AP exam scores?

Despite the national hype and highly publicized athletic scholarships, few students receive such scholarships and the amount of such scholarships pale in comparison to the amount of private scholarships and institutional grants (both merit- and need-based) available to students as a result of their GPA; SAT, ACT, PSAT, and AP exam scores as outlined in my book, “Show Me the Money: A Quick Guide to Scholarships, Financial Aid, and Making the Right College Choice.” However, as you ponder these questions, consider the following research from the U.S. Department of Education’s report, “The Condition of Education: 2012.”

Black students have comparable postsecondary aspirations as students from other racial groups (Figure 35-1):

  • 61 percent of White students have plans to graduate from a 4-year college
  • 59 percent of Black students have plans to graduate from a 4-year college
  • 50 percent of Hispanic students have plans to graduate from a 4-year college

However, despite such aspirations, there is a huge gap in the graduation rates for Black students from 4-year colleges and universities when compared to the graduation rates of other racial groups (Figure 45-2):

  • 62 percent of White students receive their 4-year degree in 6 years
  • 50 percent of Hispanic students receive their 4-year degree in 6 years
  • 39 percent of Black students receive their 4-year degree in 6 years

Clearly, Anthony’s focus on reading and literacy will better prepare him to achieve the aspirations that he shares with 59 percent of his peers. Perhaps, if you are a student who is being accused of being a nerd, you might share these statistics with your peers so that they might consider whether their current attitude toward education and learning is consistent with their future aspirations. Anthony’s classmates might also be interested in knowing that only 10 percent of Black males are proficient in reading by eighth grade suggesting that Anthony’s peers might view him as doing what 9 out of 10 of them should be doing. His peers might also like to know how they compare to other college-bound students who took the ACT in 2012. If the students are not interested then certainly their parents, coaches, teachers, and counselors should be!

Finally, the last table, “Probability of Competing Beyond High School” shows that those students who are developing their, “Athletic SWAG” are likely to have far fewer college/career options and opportunities than those students, like Anthony, who are developing their “Academic SWAG!”