Commentary: Black Kids Like Science, Too

At a Silicon Valley science fair for African-American children, Black kids show their scientific expertise.

Posted: 01/29/2013 11:35 AM EST
Commentary: Black Kids Like Science, Too

It’s well known by now that many African-American schoolchildren lag when it comes to science and math education. In an article about the racial achievement gap from late 2010, The New York Times noted, “[O]nly 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.”

Some people think poverty is to blame for the achievement gap, though that’s not necessarily the case, as poor white boys generally perform as well as Black boys who aren’t poor. Others — racists — say that Blacks can’t do as well as whites in the fields of science and math because they’re biologically inferior. But a science fair in Silicon Valley is attempting to show that not only can Black children succeed in math and science, but that they’re wildly excited to show their skills to those requesting to see them.

This year’s Frank S. Greene Scholars Program Science Fair, the only Black science fair in California, was the largest in the fair’s history, with 80 entrants, reports the Mercury News’ Karen de Sá. It was also a huge boon for the self-esteem of a lot of Bay Area Black youths:

"A lot of people consider African-Americans not as smart, and I think showing somebody that, yes, we can do all these things, is important," said Natania Jones Mitchell, hoarse after explaining her absorption of light experiment in both Spanish and English.

But, like other students at the fair, which is in its 11th year, Natania is not letting it get her down.

Asked how she likes attending Keyes Middle School in Palo Alto, where she's the only African-American girl in her grade, the spunky 12-year-old shouted back: "Awesome!"

"Sometimes I get racist jokes, but it's fun to know I'm different from everyone else — but still the same."

Besides just allowing Black kids to feel good about themselves, the science fair helps destroy the notion that Black kids just can’t “get” difficult scientific concepts. This year’s fair included projects about everything from natural buoyancy to gauging what impact temperature may have on DNA extraction. Not too shabby for a bunch of kids, and certainly not what many bigots would expect from a room of African-American students.

Certainly not every Black student in America is currently able to do the kinds of projects seen in the Frank S. Greene show, but it’s important to note that many white children aren’t able to either. The point is that it’s not outside the realm of Black students’ capabilities. All it takes is some effort. To paraphrase Field of Dreams, “If you provide Black children the real skills and opportunity to engage with science, they will come.”

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Getty Images)

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