Ashlei’s Bookshelf: Bad Boys by Ann Arnett Ferguson

Book: Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity (Law, Meaning, & Violence) by Ann Arnett Ferguson

Genre: Research, education

Readability: 5/5

Length: 272 pages

Cost: $17 on Amazon; $30 on Thrift Books

Overall: 5/5


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Ann Arnett Ferguson is currently an Associate Professor Emeritus of Africana Studies at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. During her doctoral studies in the 1990s, she immersed herself in a California elementary school for about 3 1/2 years in order to conduct an ethnographic study on the disproportionate treatment of young Black males in a public school setting. She also sought to observe the ways in which young Black males construct a sense of self under these circumstances.





Some of Ferguson’s significant findings that resonated with me from the reading:

  • Young Black males are disproportionately labeled “unsalvageable” by school administrators and are treated accordingly
    • They don’t get to “be boys” like their White counterparts, but are assumed to be inherently “bad” in their ways
  • African-American (AA) boys made up only 1/2 of the student body, but made up the majority of the students sent to “The Punishing Room” (in-school suspension)
  • 3/4 of students suspended from school were boys
    • 4/5 of these students were AA boys
  • Adults in the school perceived students’ being sent to “The Punishing Room” as a failure or a reflection of mistakes a student made; while students perceived it as an escape from the mundane activities of their classrooms, making a name for themselves, and a social hub/game
    • They could see friends from other classes they typically wouldn’t get to see
    • They could join with other outcasted students and were no longer singled-out or different; they became the norm
  • This treatment of AA boys occurred even in the absence of White or seemingly “racist” administrators
    • A culture of AA boys being treated as unsalvageable and inherently bad permeates public school settings, regardless of the racial makeup of the administration

Wow. This book brought up a lot of emotions for me as I read it. As a Black woman with six Black brothers who all have navigated, or are still navigating, the public school arena, my heart hurts for them and countless others who experience the dismissive and discriminatory nature of adults whom they rely upon for education and guidance.

However, I appreciated that Ferguson anchored the book around the voices of the students she worked with, because “they are the most silenced and most invalidated in discussion about school trouble and punishment”. She included direct quotes from conversations and interviews she had with the boys and their families throughout her study, and she added “field notes” from various aspects of her study at the end of each chapter. She even included various rap song lyrics at the start of each chapter that were recommended to her by one of the boys she worked with.

I also appreciated her honesty throughout the book. She shared that during the study, she shifted her viewpoint from wanting to learn about the Black boys to wanting to learn from them. I found that to be extremely uplifting and empowering.

If you are a Black male who has navigated the public school system I highly encourage you to read this book, because it could provide a sense of validation for you and experiences you may have had. Learning that there is research to prove or back-up a personal experience can feel liberating and empowering. If you are a mother or other close relative of a Black male who is navigating the public school system, I encourage you to read this book as well because it may offer some insight on how to deal with issues that arise in these settings.

Be well.♥

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