We Must Defeat “The Crisis in Black Education”

Posted on February 13, 2017 by


by Bro. Mxolisi T. Sowell

“The Crisis in Black Education” is the theme developed by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) for 2017 Black History Month celebrations and reflections. Under this theme, the aim is to focus on the crucial role of education in the African American quest for justice and equality in this nation, and the ongoing need for unrelenting diligence in addressing the policies and practices that serve to impede further progress.

While certain aspects of the crisis may seem to have been eliminated or reduced, ASALH’s executive summary relative to the theme cites its continuation, saying, “Throughout the last quarter of the twentieth century and continuing today, the crisis in black education has grown significantly in urban neighborhoods where public schools lack resources, endure overcrowding, exhibit a racial achievement gap, and confront policies that fail to deliver substantive opportunities. The touted benefits of education remain elusive to many blacks of all ages. Tragically, some poorly performing schools serve as pipelines to prison for youths.”

There are numerous reports outlining various elements of the crisis, said to be more severe in urban localities than rural ones, including:

  • Fewer certified teachers having degrees in the subjects they teach in schools with majority Black student body;
  • Black students three times more likely than White students to be require to repeat a grade;
  • Black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of White students;
  • Significant numbers of teachers hold negative expectations relative to Black students learning abilities;
  • School leaders and teachers not sufficiently trained for issues to be encountered with diverse student enrollments;
  • More African American male teachers/administrators needed to counter the negative impacts that society’s presentation of Black males has on many students.

On the other side of the coin, so to speak, are concerns that need to be addressed by parents and guardians, including:

  • Lower reading skills of Black preschoolers and kindergarteners due to lack of reading experiences at home;
  • Monitoring of homework and other academic pursuits;
  • Creating a constant and positive dialogue with the teachers and school officials;
  • Limiting nonproductive and destructive activities (such as television, radio, and video games).

A common concern of these reports is the need for sufficient financial resources to carry out the instructional programs. Given the political and budgetary wrangling going on at local, state and federal levels, it behooves us all to contact our representatives and aggressively encourage them to not exacerbate the crisis by giving a low priority to school funding, and give our whole-hearted support to fund raising projects as well.

The Need to Teach Ourselves

As important as good schools, teachers and administrators are for our children’s education, these words from Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of what has become Black carter-g-woodson-2History Month, ring out from his book, “The Mis-Education of the Negro”: “Philosophers have long conceded, however, that every man has two educators: that which is given to him, and the other which he gives himself. Of the two kinds the latter is by far the more desirable. Indeed all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself. It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.”  

Dr. Woodson’s life and history is a radiant and inspiring example of what those words communicate. Born in New Canton, VA, December 19, 1875, he was the son of a sharecropping father and mother, one of nine children. He was not able to attend formal school until he was 20 years of age, but was fortunate to have two uncles who offered educational activities in the community, which he attended when his work schedule allowed. With the desire for education having been instilled in him by his parents and uncles, young Carter furthered his reading skills using the Bible and his father’s newspapers, and the writings of Roman philosopher Cicero and Roman poet Virgil — when his work schedule allowed.

The Woodson family moved to Fayette County, WV in the late 1880’s where Carter worked in coal mines until 1895 when he was able to enter Frederick Douglass High School. The skills he had developed through his own diligence enabled Carter to complete the 4-year course work in two years. After graduation, he taught at the school for two years before becoming its principle. But that “something within” that was nourishing his mind led him to move on to college, as well as a multi-grade teaching assignment in the Philippines from 1903-1907.

Upon returning to the U.S., Woodson continued his educational pursuits, teaching and taking courses at the University of Chicago, before winding up at Harvard University on a full scholarship, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1912. From that point, the “something within” led Dr. Woodson on the mission of making the history of African Americans visible and respected, countering the opinions of mainstream historians that “the Negro had no history”.

In 1926 that “something within” led to the launching of Negro History Week, which would become Black History Month in 1970, with the energies of the United Black Students organization at Kent State University leading the way. Additionally, it has become an annual event in the U.K. (October, 1987) as well as Canada (February, 1997). The month-long celebration was officially recognized in the U.S. as part of the United States Bicentennial celebration, with President Gerald Ford urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Before departing this life April 3, 1950, Dr. Woodson left us with the following profound perspective, among others: “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” With honor for these words from Dr. Woodson flowing in our hearts, we all must pledge to do all we can, in every way we can, to see that the “crisis” shall not crush the educational needs, aspirations and potentials of our students — neither in the schools they attend nor in the homes or communities in which they live ! !

(The following article and its links  contain more information and perspectives on the challenges: https://hcvoice.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/education-does-the-achievement-gap-rest-in-our-laps-does-it-begin-in-our-homes/)

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