Shawn Hardnett and Statesman College Preparatory School for Boys by Dr. Vermelle Greene
Shawn Hardnett, the founder and executive director of the Statesman College Preparatory Academy for Boys in Washington, DC, was recently interviewed by Erika Sanzi at Project Forever Free. Participants in the Facebook live interview had the opportunity to hear firsthand from someone working on the front lines to improve the achievement of his predominantly black and brown student body. His dedication to changing the trajectory of their lives was clearly evident.
Shawn is originally from Rochester, NY, and grew up in a neighborhood that was not unlike most of his students from southeast DC. As a sociology student in college, he began to consider how the majority of young men with whom he had grown up were either in jail or deceased. Very few had finished high school, and Shawn was the only college graduate. It was this level of concern that he brought with him when he relocated to the District.
Shawn's approach to this crisis involves challenging the mindset of society and, more specifically, the opinions of many educators. Boys attending the same schools as girls, having the same teachers and the same books, are doing more poorly. There must be a whole new way of thinking and a change of pedagogy for boys to receive the instructional program they need to succeed.
With the push for equity in academia, in so far as boys are concerned, Shawn says that "feelings eat facts for lunch." Rather than face the glaring statistics that indicate our boys are failing, there are policymakers, women's advocates, and educators who feel that attempts to rectify the plight of boys would negate the advances made by our girls. The current debate revolves around poverty, racial, and economic inequalities, but those who want to look at issues involving boys receive opposition. Shawn points out that both girls and boys can be winners. It is a fallacy to believe that equity is a non-renewable resource in limited supply: to give more to boys would somehow deprive girls of their fair share.
Until society accepts the evidence that our boys are in trouble, too many will continue to push the "toxic masculinity" narrative that our boys are broken and bad because this is who they are. On the contrary, Shawn issued a call to reclaim the adage "boys will be boys" not to excuse inappropriate behavior but to celebrate the energy, playful exuberance, and impulsiveness, which make our boys the unique beings they have been created to be.
Shawn reminds us that our boys are not inherently criminals just waiting to perpetrate evil deeds upon their communities and be locked up. Instead, there must be frank conversations about incarceration not being a result of boys' supposed propensity to commit crimes and hurt others. We must examine the issue of imprisonment as a result of boys continual disenfranchisement.
It is reassuring to know that, in our nation's capitol, there is a "fix" in action at Shawn Hardnett's Statesman College Preparatory Academy for Boys; where young men are understood, accommodated, and encouraged to be the best they can be.