Back To School
By N Oji Mzilikazi
September 6, 2012
(Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 17)
Children go to school and learn well
Otherwise later on in life you go ketch real hell
Without an education in your head
Your whole life will be pure misery
You better off dead.
— The Mighty Sparrow
While it’s easy to identify the socio-economic devastation of centuries of racism and discrimination, their greatest damage has been in the mental/intellectual arena. And that crippling is at the heart of the evils and culture of self-sabotage that plague people of African descent.
Though everyone is born with intelligence; intelligence must be developed and directed. When intelligence is not, its owners are severely disadvantaged.
They are relegated to acting childish, being instinctual, highly emotional, hard-headed, brutish, aggressive, incapable of autonomy, and pursuing economic and political empowerment. Thus positioned to be exploited, oppressed, and governed by strict rules and harsh disciplinary measures.
Ignorance enslaves. Ignorance keeps one enslaved.
It cannot be over-emphasized that denying enslaved Africans and their progeny access to education was always a tool of white oppression and Black disenfranchisement.
To deny Black Americans the right to vote, Southern States enacted the “Grandfather Clause.” Namely, only Black males with high literacy and property qualifications or those whose fathers and grandfathers had been qualified to vote on January 1, 1867, could vote. In 1915 the law was ruled unconstitutional.
In spite of concerted and deliberate efforts to eradicate in the enslaved and their descendants the innate intelligence humans are born with, and in spite of legislative and institutional stumbling blocks to prevent learning; education, knowledge and learning were held in high esteem by enslaved Africans and their descendants.
Education was always priority number one. Education was the true certificate of freedom and embodiment of Emancipation. Education was the Black Statue of Liberty.
As many in our community could attest, on account of the cultural enthronement of education, and the freedom and social mobility it engenders, parents who never had a chance at an education, or had to forgo education for a multitude of reasons, sacrificed, and pushed their children to be its owner.
“Patches,” Clarence Carter’s monstrous hit song, exemplifies and memorializes parental push for education. Consider the lyrics:
“My papa was a great old man
Education he never had….
Two days later papa passed away
And I became a man that day
So I told mama I was gonna quit school
but she said that was daddy’s strictest rule
So every morning ‘fore I went to school
I fed the chickens and I chopped wood too”
Parental desire for children to be successful, and to have a better life than theirs, saw the ‘fatted calf” slaughtered for the first child that completed High School. It was accomplishment in spite of… Going off to college was akin to a family winning the lottery.
Is it any wonder that the first legal action of the American Civil Rights movement was to challenge the education status quo?
May 17, 1954, was a joyous occasion for Black America – a second Emancipation. On that day, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, that the doctrine of separate but equal in the field of education is unconscionable.
Segregation in education was thus against the law. The anvil that was used for centuries to disenfranchise and ensure Blacks stay the footstool of others was broken.
Against that backdrop, it is both frustrating and frightening that people of African descent, especially Black males are devaluing education and backtracking from it.
In its October 1999 report, the American College Board stated that “people of color from kindergarten to graduate school have proved themselves chronic underachievers.”
In the April 29, 2009, New York Times, Sam Dillon pointed out that “The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind Law.”
In November 2010, the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group released the report, “A Call for Change.”
Its findings showed that in high school, “African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower. In college, black men represented just 5 percent of students in 2008.”
The February 2012, U.S. Census report on the nation’s college degree rates revealed, “Asians remain the best educated group of Americans, with 50.3 percent having bachelor’s degrees,” and Blacks and Latinos not only continue to trail far behind whites, but the gap has also widened in the last decade.
The same Black underperformance is occurring here in Canada. The cultural affirmations that once guided West Indian immigrants and their children to pursue higher education, vocational and technical skills no longer hold sway.
Comfortable living, the cult of consumerism, and culture of youthfulness have blinded today’s parents from the zealousness towards educational attainment their progenitors had, and quite possibly they benefited from.
Failures to reproduce an intellectual culture, transmit values and social etiquette, and equip their child with a moral compass, have children stepping forth into the world without an anchor, a sense of self, sense of purpose and direction, and primed to be seduced.
Given the toll Globalisation has taken in regards to employment availability, uneducated and unemployed youths portend dire social consequences. All the more reason for parents to invest in their child’s education – future.
Furthermore, since discrimination comes with being Black, and Black youths are permanently on the law and order/public security watch list, it makes sense to equip them to navigate the maze of obstacles skin colour and ethnicity engender. And this is where education, including “racial groundings/the politics of identity” comes in handy.
Though repeated studies show that university-educated Blacks in Quebec are on par with a white person without a degree, and that white person has a better chance at employment than the Black graduate, educational attainment is still currency – money in the bank.
Education is the one thing no one can take away from a person. One can lose their spouse or lover to another. One can lose their beauty/looks, wealth, money, house, car, and dog. Barring losing one’s mind or Alzheimer’s, education remains the property of its owner. Educational attainment is not transferable.
Studies have repeatedly confirmed that the environment plays a major part in adding or subtracting from intelligence.
Granted, there is a generation of youths already lost to parental influence and molding, but we don’t have to let the next follow their footsteps. It is never too late to build an intellectual life in the home.
Don’t let television be a baby sitter, a tool to keep children quiet, and to parent. Invest in books. Read to your children. Let them see you reading as well.
Encourage self-confidence and assertiveness by allowing them to read to you. Have storytelling nights. It will boost their confidence, diction, and contribute to their development of oratorical skills. Make reading and learning fun. When possible, watch television with them. And I’m not talking about just educational programs, but cartoons as well.
Ask questions to gage their processing. Interrupt the child deeply engrossed in television to the exclusion of all else. Break their concentrative energy, mental link to the screen, and the seductive power of the medium. Uninterrupted television viewing rewires children minds.
Now that summer vacation is over, put a lock on BET and other music-based entertainment channels. They distract and unleash innumerable harm.
The never-ending assaults of sexuality, pop culture, and social media, and from every conceivable angle, along with the lure of the street, demand super-human resistance. Keep your children busy, engaged, and with eyes on the prize – personal success and racial elevation.
Get your child involved in extra-curricular activities; even learn to play a musical instrument. Studies show that children who study music perform much better scholastically than those who do not. Music is strongly connected to mathematics, as can be ascertained by an Internet search.
Given the times, parents cannot abrogate their responsibility, treat school like extended daycare, and leave their child’s education to its teachers.
Inspirational teachers and teachers willing to go that extra mile are not as common as before. Also, there are teachers who hold racial bias, have low expectations of Blacks, and don’t care if a pupil learns.
Parents must be an active participant in the academic life of their child. That means attending parent teachers meetings, overseeing assignments and homework, and pushing or nagging their child to learn/study. Often, children do not, and cannot see the big picture.
Disabuse your child of any notion they might have about styling and profiling. School is not a house of fashion, but a citadel of learning designed to prepare one to succeed in life. Plus, “style and profile” does not transform into employment qualifications, and its pursuers rarely perform well academically.
For all the brands, styles and fashion Blacks profile, people of African descent are not their owners or sellers. Their purchase does not enrich “skin” folks or kin folks, only build the fortunes of other folks.
As The Mighty Sparrow so aptly stated, “To earn tomorrow, you have to learn today.” Let us put education back on the front burner, and enrich the community and society.