Crisis in Black Education.... it's a multi-layered theme and can take on so many different perspectives. As a black female, who loves education, it pains me to know that I have elders, peers, and children who will come after me who will not have access to a quality education. Elders, peers, and children who will come after me who will not value the importance of a quality education. Elders, peers, and children who will come after me who will not attempt to advance their education. I believe this is a crisis.
But why? Shouldn't a quality education be accessible to everyone? Shouldn't everybody understand the value of a quality education? Shouldn't everyone want to advance their education?
Imagine, if you will, being taught with methods that are not unique to your understanding. Being taught from a perspective that is not familiar to you. From a curriculum that doesn't consider your needs as a student.
Take my daughter for example, when I learned that her teacher was having difficulty teaching her how to spell her name, I became frustrated. What was this teacher doing that prevented my daughter from learning? Or was it, God forbid, my daughter wasn't listening? I shared my dilemma with my friend, an educator. She enlightened me. Not every child learns the same. Wow. What an amazing concept. I later went home and taught my daughter to spell her name. I created a song that she could memorize. Those of you who know about black culture should know that we are musical beings. Imagine if my child's teacher understood this? Imagine if she would have tried a song?
Unfortunately, for the black community there are children who won't have someone to tell them they too are capable of learning, maybe just in a different way. They may not have teachers who will take the time to experiment with different learning techniques. Ones that will go above and beyond to aide children who look like me. What do you think happens to that child? He or she may get frustrated, may lose interest, or in the worst case scenario be disobedient.
An elder once told me, our greatest mistake in the black community was de-segregating our schools. I didn't understand at first because Brown Vs Board of Education is a highly celebrated case. A case which brought the end to segregation in schools. A case which was brought before the supreme court in 1954, just 63 years ago.
After attending an HBCU, I can understand the benefit of a segregated education. During my time at FAMU, I not only gained book knowledge I learned valuable lessons that are still applicable today. It was during this time that my self-identity was discovered, that my confidence and pride were renewed.
I was finally able to be in an environment where I could speak freely and honestly. Where I felt like the people around me understood me. Where I learned about our history, not just the highlights but every aspect from religion, to art, and culture. It was at FAMU where my professors didn't just care about a test score or an assignment but my quality of life on campus.
Unlike my education at my primary schools or UIS, where I felt like one of few brown girls. Where I had to explain things differently because those around me often did not understand, where I had to bite my tongue because the public opinion differed from the opinion of those from my community.
Nora Zeal Hurston said it best, '"I feel the most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background".
So it is these experiences of stark contrasts that made me understand my elder. My education at an HBCU gave me a sense of pride, and confidence, elevated my self-identity. It is these things that I believe are important in education.
If a child can't see his or herself in their teacher or their learning plan, they look elsewhere. Where can a child these days find an image of his or herself? Well if we turn on the tv, and tune into a professional game or a reality tv show we'll see lots of men and women in all shades of brown. Not to discredit these professions, but they don't exactly require an advanced education. We aren’t living in a time when shows like A Different World, or The Cosby’s demonstrate college life for a black student or professional careers. If the child’s ultimate goal is to make money and have nice things, that image of that professional athlete or Reality TV Star accomplishes that goal without an education. So why do they need school?
This crisis in Black Education, is not just a crisis to the black community. You see, I consider the miseducation of White America a crisis as well that will greatly impact the black community. Black history is truncated to a single month out of the year. During which, we highlight the accomplishments of the black heroes. Very rarely is there enough time to understand the Black Americans in their entirety, to include our religious beliefs, our plights, our fears, and our passions. Why does this matter to White Americans? If white boys and girls do not understand their peers, their neighbors, then how do they demonstrate compassion? How do they demonstrate equality? We are supposed to be de-segregated and march hand and hand as equals but until Black history is intertwined with White history then one side of the story seems inferior. We are doing each other a disservice if we do not take the time to understand one another.
Blame it on my day job, but I don’t like to present issues and problems without offering up a few solutions. Today, I’d like to charge each of us with the following to aide in the Crisis in Black Education:
Continue learning. Formally or informally. Commit to being a forever student. When you learn you can teach. If you're a parent, kids tend to do as you do and not as you say.
It may sound cliche but do your part to make Black History 365, and not just 28 days of the year. Personally learn about our heroes and heroines, explore the lows as well as the high points of our story. While you are there learn more about another culture. Diversify your thinking.
Reach back, and it doesn’t have to be as formal as volunteering with an organization. It can be as simple as a neighbor’s child, a niece/nephew, talk to them emphasize the importance of education and explain to them your profession.
Be You… Be the person that God created you to be. By walking proud with your head held high and loving the skin you’re in, those around you will begin to appreciate the light you exude and not fear the darkness to which they are afraid of.
As President Obama said in his farewell speech ‘believe in your ability to bring about change’. You may count all this off as someone else’s problem, or think you are insignificant and can’t possibly make a difference, but you can. You can.
Remember, to know where we are going we have to know where we came from.