- According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the high school dropout rates for African Americans has been on a continuous decline from the 1970s to present day. There has also been a rise in the enrollment of “degree-granting institutions” and an increase in the amount of Blacks that complete and receive a bachelor’s or higher education degree. However, these improvements in education rates are met with the fact that African Americans continue to surpass Whites in high school drop out rates. Also, statistics have shown that African Americans continue to fall behind Whites in their completion of bachelor’s or higher degrees.
- In the 2009-10 school year, a study shown that African American students in the state of Georgia led in high school drop out rates. “If you look at the graduation rates in Georgia itself, we’re very low. What does it mean to educate; to educate means to liberate, to be free, if you go back to the Latin word,” says Dr. Shirlene Holmes, an educator in Georgia.
- Dr. Shirlene Holmes has been an educator for nearly 40 years. She began her career teaching on the community level, teaching children theatre and teaching teens the technique of writing. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from York College of the City University of New York. She then went on to receive her master’s degree in Theatre and Playwriting and her doctorate in Speech (Performance Studies), from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.
- “I’ve worked across the board for Black people, even senior citizens. I taught senior citizens for about 10 years. I’ve taught in the areas of Public Speaking, African American Studies, Theatre, Women Studies, Biblical Text, I’m an ordained minister as well,” explains Holmes. “I’ve been a teacher most of my career and especially with our people. Teaching for me is part of who I am; I’m very dedicated to it. I have a natural ability I think as a teacher, I come from teachers actually, so teaching was also something that was good and important.”Currently, Dr. Holmes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University. “For the past two decades while at Georgia State University, Holmes has written, performed, and directed solo dramas, plays, and other theatrical forms, which have been staged locally, nationally, and internationally.”
- Holmes gives her thoughts on the history of African Americans and education in the United States. “When I think about educating, education and African Americans, I think first how long the genius of African people have been in the world, and I think about how Dr. Carter G. Woodson wrote, The Mis-Education of the Negro, many years ago to deal with the issue,” says Holmes.
- “One thing I admire about the Jewish community, they make sure that their children come out Jewish, that they hold onto what it means to be a Jewish person. And some how, African Americans feeling that all of that is over and it’s not important, they don’t feel discriminated against,” explains Holmes. “I hear my students talk about, they just don’t feel over issues that once were there for black people and I think that had to be because this generation hasn’t fought for anything. This generation doesn’t really see getting educated, and I can’t speak for all of them, but what I’m sensing is education doesn’t mean the same thing now as it once did.”
Today, the rates for African Americans enrolling in higher education institutions are climbing. In a study with the National Center for Education Statistics, research has shown that since 1970 to 2010, the enrollment of African Americans pursing a bachelor’s degree has increased from 15.5% to 38.4%.
“Learning has always been valued in the past by African American people. I think we will always care about it,” says Holmes. "I would love to see teachers and parents and community leaders and even the government get more serious about education for all the young people now, not just young people, all people.”
- Another study showed that the “percentage of African Americans age 25 and over with completion of a bachelor’s or higher degree,” increased from 36.1% in 2007 to 85.7% in 2012.
- Holmes gives thoughts on the future of African Americans and education. “We will get there. Just like Dr. King said, “I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the promise land”, and I believe in time, what is the history of black people: they lived, they survived, they even thrived and contributed, not just the country they live in, but to the world.”