By Beverly Gadson-Birch
I recall writing an article about a decade ago entitled “Are We Coming Or Going?” and it got me thinking about the state of education in Charleston County. The more meetings I attend the more things remain the same. I find myself questioning whether we are coming or going because after 50 years we find ourselves still on the bottom of the educational ladder. We can’t seem to get higher than the first rung. Regrettably, we live in a state where a “minimally adequate education” is good enough for its future workers and leaders. Why aren’t children being taught to “reach for the sky?” We are where we are today because of archaic laws, derisory funding and dual educational system—a system that refuses to educate all children equitably.
Are we moving forward or are we moving backwards? When we compare test scores of black and brown students with white students are we coming or going? When we compare the number of black educators in the classroom with white educators are we coming or going? When we compare the number of black students going to college with the number of white students we are behind? When we had less we strived for more. When we didn’t have a car we caught a bus or taxi to PTA meetings. When we didn’t have books and computers at home we did research at the library. Now we don’t read anything. When our children stepped out of line we put them in check. Black teachers and principals took over where parents left off and to that we said, “help yourself.”
When we didn’t have big fine homes we spent quality time with our families. When we didn’t have good paying jobs we worked a second job. When we didn’t have nice clothes we learned how to sew. When we didn’t have an advocate for civil rights we supported and attended SCLC, PUSH and NAACP meetings. When we couldn’t afford to eat in restaurants we ate at home. How have things changed? We don’t get involved. Why are we acting like we are comatose?
Even when the playing field was not leveled black families made it. When all black children had were hand-me-down books and no electricity they learned how to read and write by candlelight. When you are denied you learn how to survive and when you are knocked down you learn how to get back up. If all you know is down you will never learn to stand up. If you win every fight you will never know how it feels to lose.
The educational system in the South needs to be completely revamped. While it may not be an overnight fix we cannot wait another 20 years to turn things around. Our educational system is in a state-of-emergency. If we are to move South Carolina forward we must focus on educational inequities, changing laws and changing attitudes. Are y’all listening?