“Education is the key to success” is a common mantra on which schools base their goals and daily operations as well as the reason why most teachers enjoy job security. The majority of school personnel project two beliefs: (a) College is the appropriate next step after graduating from high school, and (b) white-collar occupations, such as professional, management, and supervisory positions, are desired career choices. However, after interacting with and observing the behavior of students in my classroom, I wonder how many young people agree with educators' thoughts on college and careers. Many Black males, in particular, do not enroll in college upon graduating from high school and often work in jobs that require less education (Joint Center Data Bank, 2003; Mincy, Lewis, & Han, 2006).
Herr (1996) believed people operate within an ecological context that included “the combination of physical, social, political, and economic environments that persons occupy and combine to create the circumstances in which each person negotiates his or her identity, belief systems, and life course” (p. 6–7). Within this context, individuals developed values that are personal and important. These values may or may not be aligned to values that are prevalent in society. As such, it was worth conducting a qualitative study of how middle-class Black males perceived the role of education in success as well as their career plans. Any misalignment of thoughts between some middle-class Black males and school personnel could inform our understanding of why middle-class Black males, as a subgroup, academically perform lower than other similar subgroups.
Research questions included (1) How do middle-class Black males in a predominantly Black high school perceive the role of education in success as well the career aspirations of Black males? (2) What self-identified factors influenced their perceptions of education, success, and careers? Through interviews and focus groups, I gained insight on the academic and career perspectives of 13 middle-class Black males. Constant comparison methods (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and organizational displays (Miles & Huberman, 1994) guided data analysis. The findings reveal that, although all participants plan to attend college, most respondents believe additional routes, besides a higher education, lead to career and life achievement.