Ain’t Nobody Gon’ Save Us, But Us!

By Barney Blakeney

I had been thinking of writing about education for some time. I had a rare Facebook discourse recently in which I said quality education might positively impact crime in Black communities. One guy responded that what happens in our schools won’t change the dynamics that plague Black communities. I agree. But education ain’t just readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic.

I’m convinced that a quality holistic education would go a long way toward reducing crime in Black communities. The problem is Black folks have come to think public schools are responsible for the holistic education of Black children. That’s never been the case. Public schools don’t even teach our kids readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmaric!

The South Carolina Legislature in 1834 enacted a law that said anyone who taught a slave to read or write could be fined, imprisoned or beaten. The same punishment could be imposed for teaching any free person of color to read or write. Not much has changed since 1834.

I’ve got something written on my wall as a reminder – Learn from the past; Plan for the future; Live in the present. In the past Black folks couldn’t depend on the community at-large to educate their children so they developed mechanisms within their community to accomplish that task.

What we consider a ‘formal’ education was denied Black children. Still Black folks provided their children with education. Most Black children received their educations at their mothers’ knees. I looked up the meaning of the word. Education is defined as “the imparting and acquiring of knowledge through teaching and learning”. Some of the most brilliant Black people I’ve ever known had very little ‘formal’ education.

Crime and violence, sure signs of a lack of education, always have been part of the Black experience. Sometimes I think our communities today are no more violent than those of the past. Switchblades, box cutters, pig stickers, zip guns and Saturday night specials always have been part of our culture. But the prevalence and proliferation of the violence that occurs in Black communities today is unprecedented.

I believe that’s because we fail to educate our children –schools are not failing our children, the Black community is failing its children. Remember, schools never have educated Black children. In the past pretty much any adult could tell a kid to “straighten up and fly right” – even Joe Joe, the wino could pull a kid’s coattail! No matter how bad a kid was, he’d straighten up a fly right in the presence of certain adults – because he had ‘home training’.

Last week I got a police report about a 13-year-old kid at a Charleston middle school caught with a 9mm handgun in his book bag. Classmates said the kid threatened to shoot other kids. Hell, that kid had a bigger gun than mine! I asked myself, where the heck did that kid learn that stuff? The question is rhetorical, ya’ll. He learned it in his community – TV, movies, music and life! He sure as heck didn’t learn it in school! Schools aren’t teaching our kids squat.

I pulled up a 2018 article about at the Reagan Foundation’s first summit on education held in Washington, D.C. April 12 of that year which brought together leaders from government, K-12 and higher education to discuss the state of education. According to the article published by Deep Dive, then Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said the role of American public education is “to teach reading, writing, arithmetic and what it means to be an American citizen”.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted saying, “We can’t have any more third graders who can’t read, we can’t have any more 18 or 19 year olds who go to college and come out without any skills, and [there] can’t be any more 35 year olds who can’t be re-trained by any of our 37 federal re-tooling programs we have, none of which seem to work very well.”

The United States spends some $1.3 trillion annually for public education. Wikipedia says The United States spends more per student on education than any other country. Yet, the test scores of students attending U.S. public schools are lower than student scores in schools of other developed countries, in the areas of reading, math, and science.

Out of 21 industrialized countries U.S., 12th graders ranked 19th in math, 16th in science, and last in advanced physics. African-American and Hispanic students are more likely to receive lower grades, score lower on standardized tests, dropout of high school, and are less likely to enter and complete college, Wikipedia added.

Is it the schools’ job to educate our children? Hell yeah. Should we demand they do so? Again, hell yeah! But it appears clear to me that Black folks haven’t been able to depend on the larger community to educate its children in the past and can’t have that dependence now.

A plan for the future? I think Black folks should look to the past for some indication of what to do. The learning centers established in the past, but abandoned today, hold tremendous potential for educating Black children. Churches, social organizations – and yeah, even Joe Joe must pick up the slack.

Our forefathers realized that who we are and who we are to become couldn’t rest on what Black children got from public schools. They realized that our success depended on what we got from each other. I think that still holds true. Ain’t nobody gon’ save us, but us.

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