Home / Blog / Article


April 18 2017

Black Degrees Matter

by Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day:

“I invite anyone who doubts what this does for our students to come to a graduation and watch 100 black boys sharply dressed in caps and gowns and proudly reciting their school pledge in Latin,” says the school’s chief executive officer, David Hardy. “Not only is this an unexpected sight, it defies the low expectations society puts on young black men.”

--Bill McGurn in "Black Men Speaking Latin" in today's Wall Street Journal

Latin used to be the cornerstone of an education, and it still is at Boys Latin, a West Philly school for African American boys.  The results of the National Latin Exam, administered to Latin takers around the world, were excellent--two Boys Latin scholars had perfect scores, while 60 percent received recognition for achievement, twenty percent for outstanding achievement.

In a world in which speakers on TV don't understand that subjects are different from objects, Latin is a remedy. It famously teaches logic, demands discipline and of course half the words in our English vocabulary have Latin roots. Latin quite possibly is the antidote to the fake education that prevails in too many schools today.

David Hardy, CEO of Boys Latin, buys all these traditional reasons, according to Bill McGurn's must-read profile of this outstanding school. But he offers additional reasons:

Now, any columnist who notes the racial disparities in education, especially when coupled with a call for the parents of poor minority children to have more options when it comes to schools, invariably receives mail that begins like this: “I have been an educator in the public schools for more than 20 years, and you are badly underestimating the reason [bad families, poverty, IQ, whatever] these kids aren’t learning.”

Translation: Black children, or at least inner-city black children, are ineducable. Needless to say, Mr. Hardy and his merry band at Boys’ Latin hold a contrary view. In February they helped launch a campaign called #blackdegreesmatter to highlight why college, and the higher lifetime earnings it generally brings, is so vital for young black men.

It’s true Boys’ Latin is filled with all the challenges that come with West Philadelphia: neighborhood drug dealers, gangs, struggling single moms. You name it, Mr. Hardy says, Boys’ Latin has got it. The difference is the school refuses to accept it as an excuse for not achieving.

Why Latin? Partly it’s that the language immediately raises expectations all around. You can’t fake Latin, either. When these boys learn it, they taste the satisfaction that comes from achievement.

Partly it’s the school’s thing. Even if students hate Latin, says Mr. Hardy—maybe especially if they hate it—it’s something everyone at Boys’ Latin goes through, what boot camp at Parris Island is for Marines. It builds identity and esprit de corps.

Philadelphia School Partnership, whose donors have taken as a mission getting more Philadelphia kids into good colleges, saw the emphasis on Latin as a plus and have given the school a strong measure of support. Boys Latin sends more African American boys to college than any other school in Philadelphia and has a long waiting list.

McGurn concludes:

Boys’ Latin is not without its critics, who point to so-so scores on state tests. Mr. Hardy argues that the scores, which have been rising, are still better than the alternatives for most young men in West Philly. For him the most important measure is that his students are getting their college degrees.

Young black males, Mr. Hardy says, get plenty of messages that they are not good enough, that excellence is beyond their reach and that college is for other people. The beauty of Boys’ Latin is that every day its students see examples of young black men challenging the reigning tropes of underachievement.

“Nobody expects black boys to do Latin, because it’s hard,” says Mr. Hardy. “And that’s exactly why we do it.”

Begin your day by reading this wonderful story--and then demand that your kids take Latin!

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
Follow us