"If you want to hide something from a Black person, just but it in a book." How many times have you heard that phrase? How many times did you think it was true? The most offensive thing about that phrase is the truth. There are many people, Black and white who take pride in the fact that they don't read, or hate reading. Reading made me the person I am today. Inquisitive, argumentative, intriguing, wordy, you call it. You would be hard pressed to find me going anywhere without a book right through college. Not even riding to church was book-free.
I had my own ideas about reading and education. It probably helped I grew up in a predominately white neighborhood where I was never teased or berated for asking questions in class or preferring a book to playing outside. But who knows. I may have become the person I am no matter where I grew up. And yet there was still the underlying assumption athletes were way cooler than smart people. In elementary school I was in the Chess Club and the Computer club. In high school I was invited to the Honor Society, given the French I, II, and III awards for excellence, captain of the Debate Team, Vice President of the Physics Club, drum major in the band, Sophomore Board, and Junior Board. Nerd right? That's exactly what I said. I hated telling people younger than 25 my activities. I wanted people to think I was cool, too before they got to know me.
I should explain the Physics Club thing. I hated Physics. I had a horrible teacher who was "too smart" to teach anyone who couldn't grasp it through osmosis. That means me. She made the Vice Presidency like a bank. You know how banks have multiple VPs? You give $5 to charity, you could put Physics Club VP on your college application.
Remember the episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where Will hid his books in a pizza box? It was never that serious, but who wants to be that nerd? They want to be celebrated like the athletes. In other countries parents and students alike risk life and limb to educate themselves and their offspring. And even in America, in other cultures, education is far more highly valued. And its not just the affluent who try to give their children that extra push. We need to be doing the same things.
Two of my friends teach in "inner city" schools. One at a middle school in Greensboro, NC, the other at a high school in Baltimore, Md. Both schools have problems with student and parent involvement, extracurricular activities, math, science, and reading. They're both english teachers. Both have children who can barely read. BARELY READ. 11th grade students can't read. In America. In 2006. I asked her if she failed anyone. She said yes. I said, "Well, they can't go to the next grade, can they?" She said, "Technically, no, but they always find a way around it." Hmm... so social promotion is still alive and well? Oh yeah says my other friend who talks about all the hoops you have to jump through to fail a child. This is after the study sessions, letters to the parent begging for conferences, phone calls home, notes about lack of school work, any other way you can think of to try to drive home the importance of the child's education.
And how one student who has been in the 6th grade three times will just be promoted because he's getting too old to be around children that young. And what will we do when he has to just drop out because he doesn't understand it. And he has to sell drugs to make any decent money because he has no desire to work at McDonald's for $6 an hour for the rest of his life. And no one's ever told him he needs his education to avoid that life. And that better things are possible no matter where you come from or who your parents are. What about all the juniors in that Baltimore high school who don't believe they can go to college? Even the smart ones who work hard? Or what about the fact that the honors class includes students who have a C average or better? Or the fact there are no Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs in these schools and may never be? How long can we continue to not fight for equal education.
Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education started in my home school system in 1971. Its purpose was to enforce busing as a method to integrate schools since separate but equal was anything but. It was passed, helping Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools become one of the best public school systems in the state for all children. But you will still see a marked difference between the predominately black schools and the predominately white ones if for no other reason than they have better teachers they can retain, parental involvement leading to matching corporate funds for activities. About 6 years ago, a white parent complained the Swann ruling discriminated against her child because the child was kept out of some school because she was white. So it was overturned or re-worked to revert back to neighborhood (see segregated) schools. The decline has begun.
History is cyclical. If you don't know your past, you are doomed to repeat it. There are people in positions of power who have never had a Black person in their homes, never been to a Black person's home, would discourage their children from Black friends or dating Black people, and most famously, have used the phrase, "Some of my best friends are Black." And in some cases, they don't even know what they're saying and how their actions speak louder than their diversity words. One visiting professional to Hampton talked to us about how she was often the only Black person and sometimes only woman in boardrooms. She looked at a magazine and saw no Black faces. She asked if they wanted Black people to read the magazine and buy the products? Of course they said yes. She then pointed out there was not a single Black face in the entire magazine. Because they were all white, and all male, they hadn't noticed. It doesn't directly impact their lives so its hard for them to see. That's why we're a necessity. Not only in boardrooms, but in every other decision making arm of our nation that shapes our future. Attorneys, law enforcement, journalists, publishers, accountants, politicians, executives, TEACHERS. Our future is too important to but into someone else's hands. It starts in the classroom.
Previous State of Black America Posts:
Part I: The Athlete
Part II: Katrina
Part III: Hair
Part IV: Rapists and Child Molesters
Part V: Names