One day I was standing in front of a group of black children and was curious to find out how much they knew about their history (I will use the term black because not all of them are African American, some were of Caribbean heritage.) I asked them how many of them knew that blacks had been slaves in this country and in the West Indies. Eighteen sets of wide, curious brown eyes stared back at me, confusion misting over their small faces. Two students confidently raised their hands while the rest glanced around in shame for not knowing. At this point they must have felt my disappointment. I wasn’t disappointed in them, however I was disappointed in the school systems, disappointed in myself for not discovering this fact earlier and even more disappointed in their parents. Sigh.
Let me begin by giving you some background: I am a teacher. Yes I am an actress, a part time model but most importantly I consider myself an ACTIVIST. I have worked in many different schools and have progressively watched the divide get wider and wider. What divide? The divide in seperate but equal, the divide in rich vs. poor, the divide between the achievement of black students vs white students. I earned my Masters Degree in Education from the University of Pittsburgh at the age of 22 and have ONLY stayed in the field of teaching because of my passion to at least change a few lives along the way. NOTHING, besides being a mother has been as fullfilling throughout my life as teaching. However, sometimes as a teacher I wonder if I am more of a part of the problem than the solution.
I work in the public school system in a lower socioeconomic area where I am convinced that we are educating future workers instead of leaders. I am restricted. I must only teach what is on the curriculum (or lose my job) and because our school dropped in “letter grade” (meaning the state govt has flagged us as underacheieving based on standardized tests and the No Child Left Behind Act) I can only teach what will be on the test. In fourth grade that means we teach reading, writing and math… ALL DAY. What about music you ask? Each student in that school will only experience music class every other day for 9 weeks TOTAL out of the school year. Art? No art in our school. Physical Education? Same rotation as music, nine weeks total. Environmental Science? Nope. Regular science? Dont think so, its not on the 4th grade test. How about social studies you ask? Sorry. Not on the test. I mean, how do we EXPECT our children to catch up to other schools/children when we continue to shortchange them in areas that are PROVEN to ENHANCE education? I had a student tell me that Jamaica was the neighboring state to Florida!! Why isn’t anyone saying anything? Didn’t we all go to school to make a difference in the lives of children? How can we sit idly by and watch them test, test, test, test their way out of creativity? I can’t. Money is running everything. Teachers barely make what they deserve so they cant afford to lose their jobs! Principals have their hands tied by their bosses and their bosses (area superintedents) are being run by district superintendents who are being run by school boards (most of whom have NEVER even been educators.) Oh. I guess we are back to politicians and their bought and paid for positions. Sound kind of similar to my blog on private prisons? People are being bought and our students are the ones who are suffering. This leaves education up to the parents.
Parent, Parents, Parents! You are your child’s FIRST teacher. Please dont be so naive to think that the day they enter kindergarten that your job is done. No, No, No! Today is Dr. King Day and I really woke up with a lot on my heart. Parents, we have to teach our babies where we have been as a people to know where we are going. Where is our sense of pride? What happened to oral history? Why, why, why, do our babies know more about popular culture than their own culture? They know Lil Wayne lyrics but certainly don’t know the words to the “I Have a Dream” speech. What is wrong with this picture? Other cultures have pride! I see Cuban children that can tell me all about their heritage and culture. I meet Haitian children that can give you a complete run down on their countries past. Why are African American children falling so far behind the curve? Why do so many of them in these schools NOT CARE? I have many questions and I know the answers are deep. I know that the system was created for us to fail. I KNOW that blacks in America have had an uphill battle. I even know of many well to do black communities being broken up, kicked out of homes and not given any money from their stolen losses or property to move forward (a great example is the Hill District in Pittsburgh, PA.) From Jim Crow Laws to the privatization of prisons (second coming of slavery in the United States) blacks in America have had to FIGHT!
Why don’t many of our children know about this fight? Why aren’t they being taught about the struggle to vote, to even buy clothes or shoes, eat in restaurants or attend schools? Why don’t they know about segregation? Why don’t they know that the melanated world was thriving when Europeans were still crawling around in caves? WHY AREN’T PARENTS DOING THEIR JOBS????
Maybe if students could feel pride in their ancestors achievement they wouldnt base their success and pride off their material possessions. Maybe instead of lining up for HOURS to buy Jordans they will line up for HOURS to register to vote! Why are we CHOOSING in this day and age to ignore the rights that our ancestors fought so hard to acheive? Would Dr. King be proud? Has his dream really been fulfilled? I could type for days…. It’s up to us whether or not we overcome. We have a lot of work to do. Are you with me?