“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”
– The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey –
The tallest trees we come across in our respective cities are oftentimes decades old and usually feature roots that span as long as the trees are tall, if not longer. Leaves get shaken off, branches get broken, trees get damaged by car accidents or lightning strikes them, but they go on to live long, healthy lives. As long as the roots are solid, healthy, and provide a rock of a foundation that continuously draws in nutrients, the tree can sustain those hits. However, if the tallest, widest, and strongest tree’s roots are removed or severely damaged, diseased, or distressed, over time, that tree will gradually sicken, wilt, and eventually die. It may appear to be healthy for a period of time. Some leaves may still grow, some branches may remain intact, but inevitably, the manifestations of those missing or damaged roots will present themselves. Causes and effects.
A race’s history and culture are its ROOTS.
I’ve been fortunate, as an educator, to work in three very different school districts in three very different cities/regions. This vantage has allowed me to evolve a perspective that paints an intriguing picture. My career began in 1999 in the city I was raised, Chicago. I taught for 10 years in a high school that was roughly 99.9% Black students. The school featured a very family-like atmosphere and the majority of the teachers and staff reflected the demographic of the students. The school had its days of peace and its days of struggle, no new day was like the previous one. There were warring gangs, there were crew rivalries that exploded, and there was intermittent chaos as a default. As an educator, it was a great start, but definitely not for the faint of heart.
I left Chicago in 2008 to take an Assistant Principal gig in Washington, DC. I was out East for 4 years, all 4 years working within the District of Columbia’s Public School system. Totally different landscape. The school I worked in featured students from all over the world. There were African-Americans, Native Africans, Jamaicans, and many others of the Diaspora. The school also served our distant cousins of that same Diaspora, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, El Salvadorians, Panamanians, and other South and Central Americans. The school also featured a few White and Asian kids. For the most part, all of these groups of kids coexisted harmoniously, generally because most of them had grown up with each other in the same neighborhoods and the schools racial make-up was simply a reflection of the neighborhood’s. Amidst that diversity, the majority of the kids were African-American, and 99% of our in-school or out-of-school suspensions were African-American kids. Ninety-nine percent of our disruptions, disturbances, and fights were Black students.
Why are they so angry?
I returned to a homogenous population of Black students in Chicago in 2012 and then moved to Texas in 2015 where I began as a substitute teacher in a district where there was a healthy mix of Black, Hispanic, and White students. I use the term “healthy” very loosely, as what I’ve witnessed has made me sick. Texas’s schools don’t just set out to create patriotic Americans, they seek to create blindly proud Texans, while ignoring any pertinent cultural or factual links children should know in regards to their respective selves. I subbed at several schools in this particular district, and all of the schools were pretty much 3-flavored ice cream with a spattering of Asians. Again, I witness Black students totally disconnecting from the process and becoming sources of disruption. Again, I wander into in-school rooms kept fully operational by Black boy bodies. I subbed in classrooms where Black boys are coming off out-of-school suspensions. I witnessed two fights where our young women were angrily wrestling and wrangling the weaves from one another’s scalps.
Nine months here in Dallas and I get on with a school in South Dallas where the students somewhat mirror the make-up of the Chicago Public School I spent the most time in, seemingly about 90% Black. The composition of the faculty and staff here is pretty much the same everywhere I’ve worked, some White teachers, some Black teachers, and a few Hispanic teachers. Over the past few years though, I’ve noticed that teaching staffs in inner-city schools are becoming gradually more and more White like the dilution of coffee with dairy. The staffs in urban area schools are more and more not looking like the students. And with that, the impartation of instruction to Black and Brown students is becoming less and less culturally relevant. Contrasting backgrounds, contrasting histories, contrasting cultures, and that disparity with the socio-economic. Culture-shock for the alternatively certified instructor. Things that matter in matters of rapport. Lacking rapport that leads to the negative anecdotal and repeated insubordination reports. Reports that route Ritalin into Black children’s lives. Reports that lead to criminalization and arrests.
The elephant is the classroom.
At my Chicago school, we had students who were well-behaved, we had students who were wayward, and we had a mess of students who were trying to fit in, trying to be like those anointed cool for being fools. There was plenty disjointedness, but many of us managed to positively affect those 150 or so students we were charged with teaching daily. However, many of the teachers in the building simply babysat for teachers’ pay, unable to maintain any semblance of an educational atmosphere in their classrooms. Kids disengaged, very little learning occurring. Out in DC, I found that most of the students were fairly well-behaved, except for that one disconnected color, those who know so very little about their culture. In Texas, 1/3 of that 3-flavored Neapolitan that is Black, Brown, and White, isn’t benefitting from what’s occurring in the schools. When I’m warned here in Dallas as a substitute teacher of a class’s unruliness beforehand, it inevitably winds up being a classroom of students who look like me in hue, blackish in face and flavor. Black students not favored by those who’d never have them or their parents as neighbors.
A killer constant.
I’ve worked in no less than a dozen schools in varying capacities in 3 totally separate regions of this country, and I’m always greeted with the same open-handed slap to the face upon entering many school buildings. It’s invariably my distant sons and daughters who are uninterested, unsettled, and uncontrollable in many of these schools. When I venture into the classrooms that have come unhinged, it’s little brown boys and girls. When I take a peak in the in-school suspension room, it’s at least half us, even if we’re only 20% of the student body. It’s us cussin’, runnin’, chasin’, and fightin’. It’s us coming to school with no books and no pens, spending the day bullshitting with friends. For many of ours, school has simply become a structured stroll through a mall, featuring stores managed by workers who pass them for stopping through, window shopping, looking at the covers of books, rarely flipping through the pages. There are many issues, facets, and fronts that color the societal picture we see, but education is probably the most important. There are a plethora of other societal ills that lend to the Black child who comes to school unprepared mentally, physically, and spiritually to cope with being in a classroom. The media, especially the music our kids are targeted with, provides perpetually looping soundtracks that provide the perfect backdrop for the behaviors encouraged by it, toxic tunes as teleprompters telling our children who to be. The same society provides for the same school that hinders that same Black child from becoming more than a harped on statistic, a statistic “weaponized” as blanket commentary regarding the disenfranchised.
Only a fool would attribute this disconnect to Black genetics.
These schools aren’t broken. They are operating perfectly as well-oiled societal machinery tasked with keeping Blacks in last. It’s not that Black kids don’t like to learn, they just grow weary of learning about others, learning about White heroes and Black zeroes, losses . . learning what doesn’t enrich, empower them, or relate to their lives. You can’t feed a plant meat gravy and expect it to blossom. The teaching of the subjects of Math, English, Science, and Sociology were all initiated by ancients who looked like the kids who hate the same subjects now, simply because they are taught from a point of view that renders the Black child blind, liquid papers the mind. Our children lose sight of themselves while being assimilated to become someone else, everything else. Think about it. The most exceptional Black student, in most cases, goes on to graduate from high school, attend college, and then get a good job working for the dominant culture under socialization orders in order to spend his/her compensation enriching others, those dominant others. Our talented take their currency and gravitate towards residency among others while neglecting the ‘hood that birthed them, no owned grocery stores, few owned banks, no Afro-centered schools, no new opportunities. Nominally affluent lives condescending and pointing at bootstraps, while giving the legions left behind a bad rap. “It’s their fault they didn’t succeed as I did…what’s wrong with THEM?” This talented among us know just enough to hold down a job, a house, and a car, but not quite enough to own their existence. The illusion of progression, deluded introspection, self-destructive spending discretion, all buoyed by an installed American dream. The more access we get to Massa’s house, the freer we think we are, meanwhile the leash is getting shorter and that noose is getting tighter. When the affluent and elite among Black people are forbidden from expressing pro-Black sentiment, unless that sentiment sells CDs or concert tickets. That’s another subject though, but you get it.
Any education that does not empower is just indoctrination.
An example of an education that does not empower is one that certifies and trains children for jobs, while never revealing their innate creativity to craft one. An impotent education allows a group of people to continuously be the vanquished victims of gentrification at the whims of another. An impotent education is one in which whole neighborhoods of people who possess the darkish hue suffer home devaluations because the stores, banks, and industrial investment in the neighborhood belong to others who remove these essentials when they flee. An impotent education is one that features Africans lining up at machines every election cycle to choose which leaders will hand them that last place trophy at the end of their respective terms. An education that doesn’t enrich is one that sees a people allowing their neighborhoods to be saturated with houses of worship and not places that house employment opportunities. An education that is dictated by others is one in which vocational programming and arts is heavy-handedly stripped from the schools of Black children to make way for the not so covertly capitalistic college-readiness agendas and send offs that see some kids get sent to college and many others sent to San Quentin. Last I heard, even the “exceptional” Black parents in Black communities were waiting anxiously on letters from select-enrollment schools to see if their child was going to be welcomed to attend a “quality” school or have their child-student subjected to the ubiquitously subpar. Literally a lottery to decide who wins and who loses. Racist under- and overtones. Some get jail, some get college, none get knowledge. . .of themselves.
It’s not our kids fault.
Disconnected and disengaged students in schools become wayward and disenchanted students who “graduate” to become inmates who populate prisons owned by the exact same folks who donate graciously to college-readiness corporatization. It’s not quite consolation that poor White children are affected by the same agendas because just like poor White children aren’t being shot by cops, poor White children aren’t being tracked and railroaded into jails either, us being 13% of the U.S. population, but around 35% of the U.S. prison population. Options consisting of maybe college, probably incarceration, or quite possibly a casket, but we don’t understand our children’s detachment, their depression.
When will we listen and heed?
Malcolm told us before he was silenced that we’d be fools to allow our known enemies to educate our children, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re not providing spaces for the African child to be properly nourished and cultivated. We’re allowing them to be programmed and assimilated. We’re not imparting to our children a glorious and empowering history, yet among us, their hatred of themselves remains a mystery. We’re not giving them the reigns to access the innate genius that lies within them from birth, but we’ve allowed Euro-centered and ill-conceived tests to determine their self-worth. Our students are simply data to be assessed, who convinced us this was best . . .practice? Practice for a life of less than, abbreviated life spans.
Experiments in behavior modification.
Musical instruments and vocational training stripped away curbing children’s natural inclination towards creation and the communication between themselves and this world, alternative modes of expression. Our children are MUCH more than what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing as educators, community advocates, or spectators. We simply need to provide them with relevant, resonating, applicable, and emPOWERing instruction that speaks to who they are as Black human BEings, facilitate it as well-tooled educators, and allow our students to access the genius lying dormant within them. It’s really that simple. Again, the schools are not broken, they are working exactly as they were ill-designed, underfunded, and under-resourced to, and fully achieving the desired results.
“Do For Self!” – Mr. Garvey . . .
The following video sums it all up beautifully . .
‘Disrupting the Miseducation of African-American Youth’ – Kwame Shaka Opare
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