The Public Interest

Explaining black underachievement

Joel Schwartz

Summer 2003

WHY do certain American minorities—in particular, American  blacks—for the most part do so poorly in school? John U. Ogbu, a Nigerian-born anthropologist at the University of California at Berkeley, has spent more than 30 years addressing this question. He obtains his data through educational ethnography, which is to say that he speaks with students, their parents, and their teachers, and then tries to make sense of what his informants have to say.

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