Statistics show that black males are disproportionately getting in trouble and being suspended from the nation's school
systems. Based on three years of participant observation research at an elementary school, Bad Boys offers a richly
textured account of daily interactions between teachers and students to understand this serious problem. Ann Arnett
Ferguson demonstrates how a group of eleven- and twelve-year-old males are identified by school personnel as "bound for
jail" and how the youth construct a sense of self under such adverse circumstances. The author focuses on the
perspective and voices of pre-adolescent African American boys. How does it feel to be labeled "unsalvageable" by your
teacher? How does one endure school when the educators predict one's future as "a jail cell with your name on it?"
Through interviews and participation with these youth in classrooms, playgrounds, movie theaters, and video arcades, the
author explores what "getting into trouble" means for the boys themselves. She argues that rather than simply
internalizing these labels, the boys look critically at schooling as they dispute and evaluate the meaning and
motivation behind the labels that have been attached to them. Supplementing the perspectives of the boys with interviews
with teachers, principals, truant officers, and relatives of the students, the author constructs a disturbing picture of
how educators' beliefs in a "natural difference" of black children and the "criminal inclination" of black males shapes
decisions that disproportionately single out black males as being "at risk" for failure and punishment.
Bad Boys is a powerful challenge to prevailing views on the problem of black males in our schools today. It will be of
interest to educators, parents, and youth, and to all professionals and students in the fields of African-American
studies, childhood studies, gender studies, juvenile studies, social work, and sociology, as well as anyone who is
concerned about the way our schools are shaping the next generation of African American boys.
Anne Arnett Ferguson is Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies and Women's Studies, Smith College.