This past Wednesday I attended a discussion entitled, “What is problematic about the project of African-American Education?” The Keynote speaker, Adam Green (Associate Professor of American History at the University of Chicago), raised important points surrounding how we discuss, practice, and envision African-American education. The talk was effective in illuminating the fact that we still have a distance to travel before we can say that African-American students are receiving the equal education Brown v. Board of Education sought after.
One point I’ve been pondering since the talk is his charge for us to be honest. This honesty unfolds into acknowledging the hyper segregated community, unstable home life, and stresses that young children may deal with before they enter a school building each day. Being aware and honest about the framing of young people’s minds by their environments is pivotal when trying to understand their experiences and aspirations. Green explicitly warned against being sensational in this attempt to be honest. The acknowledgment of hardship should at no point become a focal point or reinforced as an impossibility for young African-American students.
This charge to be honest is an important one in a society that borders on the omission or the sensationalism of issues attributed to the African-American community. My question is how do we as mentors, allies, and educators of young children strike a healthy balance between validating their experiences without dwelling on those ills they encounter outside the classroom? How can the spaces in which we interact with children serve as a safe haven for them to envision possibilities that exceed their realities?
In my personal experience, I remember going home with books and staying in my room for hours reading because it gave me opportunity to travel, to imagine, to meet welcoming people. Likewise, school became that place for me to build up a new view of the world by getting involved in sports, arts, literature. In short, spaces like school, summer camp, community centers became as much a sanctuary as church on Sunday.
Therefore, I question the importance of a specific kind of honesty that puts children’s problems at the forefront of discussion as a means to process. It could be problematic to keep negative thoughts, actions, and current realities circulating in spaces that aim to encourage a higher quality of life. What better way to inspire change than to focus on the realm of possibilities as opposed to the impossibility they perceive elsewhere.
Green pointed out that sharing our stories of triumph and how we succeeded could prove the most inspiring. I agree that testimony is a powerful tool that serves to disempower the circumstances that try to inhibit people and elevate the view of what is truly attainable. I believe that our children need not be educated on what they can already perceive. Rather it should be our charge to be honest to goodness and reveal to them the truth of how we all continue to overcome.