It is reported that when Frederick Douglas, the great orator and freedom fighter, was a small boy suffering under the yoke of slavery; he would trade his meager rations of food to white boys in exchange for tutorship in reading and writing. Apparently his desire for knowledge and education was even stronger than his desire to eat.
Frederick Douglas understood, even at this young edge, that life was much more than the food we use to sustain it, and that one must have the desire along with the tools to gain knowledge if one is to truly have a vital and enriched life.
In the mid-1860's when millions of American blacks were emancipated from bondage and some of the most thorough aspects of mind control, they hungered for the knowledge that was withheld from them under severe penalty to life and limb for generations. And in a relatively short period of time and in a hostile environment, they excelled in virtually every field of human endeavor. They became engineers, educators, expert craftsmen, scientists and inventors.
Beginning in the 19th century there was a push to establish public school systems across America, and although many black families (especially in the South) pulled their children out of school after the sixth grade because of harsh economic realities, there still remained in black Americans a desire and a deep respect for academic excellence and accomplishment.
Within the last 30 years, there has been a negative shift in the tradition of the pursuit of education among many black Americans. In virtually every large urban area across the nation, black students have (on the whole )fallen short of expectations.
Statistics indicate a staggering high school drop out rate in many large cities, some as high as 40 percent. And even the quest for knowledge is itself often ridiculed by peers and fellow students in school who accuse those black students who are serious about their studies of acting white, as if academic excellence or the pursuit of knowledge is the exclusive domain of whites, Asians or others.
To complicate matters, those blacks that do acquire a level of success academically and go on to pursue careers in politics, business, technology, education or the arts tend to forget about those blacks left behind who could benefit from their skills and expertise.
The causes of lack of performance by many black students as well as the inability or unwillingness for those blacks that are educated to reach back and benefit the communities from which they came, is due to a fractured education system and fragmented communities that are ill equipped to provide the support and resources that our students so desperately need. It is even debatable whether we have black communities in the real meaning of the word, for if a community is defined as a social group that shares government, or a group of men and women living a common life according to rules, then we would have to admit that we are not experiencing community life. And what we pretend are communities are in reality only neighborhoods were we eat and sleep and engage in entertainment.
Once we establish dynamic communities, and empower these communities to have a greater impact and control of the curriculums and the education process, we will also be in a position to build stronger schools and better students.
Steven Malik Shelton is a journalist and human rights advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Mar 2009 By Afromerica || [TOP]
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