An exploration of the beliefs, values, and attitudes of black students in Fairfax County

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This study was an investigation of the beliefs, values, and attitudes of black students which guide their behavior. The cultural factors investigated included: student occupational and educational aspirations; student academic strategies; and people and.forces impacting upon student beliefs.

The purpose was to determine if the characteristics of a caste minority, as defined by Ogbu, were exhibited by the black students in a relatively affluent school district. Ethnographic methods were selected for data collection and analysis. Participants in the study were 46 black students attending a small, intermediate school and their teachers, counselors, parents, peers, and significant others.

Findings indicate that the black students seem to be part of a modified caste system. They had high occupational aspirations but perceived a "secondary job ceiling", requiring them to be better qualified than whites competing for the same job. Few students who aspired to professional or celebrity careers were aware of the training, discipline, and good fortune needed to achieve their goals, and few of them selected school strategies to promote academic success. Parents spoke of their belief in education but were frequently unable to translate their belief into active support for students. Teachers exhibited a lack of knowledge of the black student culture and attributed black underachievement to cultural deprivation and lack of parental concern.

Educational planners must be aware of the difficulties faced by black students in selecting goals and strategies and need to develop and reorient programs to assist black students in crossing cultural barriers.