The idea for Nicole McGowan Madu’s doctoral dissertation developed out of her experience as a kindergarten teacher in Detroit, when her gut told her something wasn’t right systemically. “I was disappointed with the ways we were encouraged to manage Black children [with harsh discipline], especially boys. I knew I needed to look into how to make schooling a better experience for them,” Madu says.
Madu, now a professor in the Early Childhood Education department at Southern Connecticut State University, moved to the East Coast determined to study how Black boys experience school, more specifically, how their experiences are affected and shaped by Black male teachers. Madu knew her gut instinct — that Black boys lack positive male role models — was right when “it took me a year and a half [just] to find Black male teachers for the purpose of my study.”
While attending graduate school in New York City, Madu completed months of classroom interviews and observation of school children between ages five and eight. Her dissertation, which she completed May 2021, examines the ways in which Black youth and schools would benefit from promoting more positive learning environments for Black boys, as well as the importance of recruiting teachers who view their teacher identities as being connected to role modeling and the empowerment of Black boys.
“The biggest thing I took away was the importance of showcasing affection [like hugs, high-fives and positive, encouraging messages] and letting children make mistakes in the classroom,” Madu says. “We push Black boys into manhood earlier. They aren’t given the chance to make mistakes. They need that freedom to try harder. Black boys need to be able to be themselves and still feel valued.”
Madu and her research were recently featured in an article in the New Haven Register, “SCSU prof: Black boys need male Black teachers who share positive messages” by Pam McLoughlin.