Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Recovering from Education Part III

Reading Miseducation of the Negro enabled me to analyze my thoughts about education and in particular educating Black children. As a child, I was held to a higher standard, expected to work harder and be smarter than white children. I think that was/is pretty standard in black families. But, what's the point of duplicating the thoughts and ideas from hundreds of years ago? Even in the 1930's Woodson recognized no one wanted imitators. Standard education doesn't have all the answers for society. We need to embrace new ways of thinking and learning. It definitely won't look like what many of us experienced.

It's been hard letting go of the expectations I have for my children. I battle constantly with the idea of high grades, being exceptional, and giftedness. It embarrasses me when my children don't know what other children their age know. To think my children are average offends that school part of me that was tracked from 7th-12th grade. The strain of looking for the learning has turned me too much into an observer and not a participant.

 I loved school. I loved seeing A's on paper. I loved being recognized for my academic strengths, even if in some of my school years I felt alone, as if I had to represent all Black people. I felt glee when I broke the curve the teacher set. I felt honored when a teacher had me write the exam for the other students in a college class. I became defined by my academic achievements. If I couldn't be the pretty or the athletic one I could be the smart one. My love of learning is real, but the need to constantly prove myself is unnatural.

I look at my children and see all the weaknesses I tried to rid myself of. I remember every failure and embarrassment from the time I started middle school to college graduation day. Every incident that reinforced I wasn't good enough. I want them to be everything I'm not. I want every one of my weaknesses to not show up in them. I understand the need to accept myself. If I can accept myself, then I can accept them. Academics made up for all the deficiencies I felt growing up as a child. I keep reminding myself to focus build on strengths and not weaknesses.

A psychologist would probably say this is a result of a child of divorce. The whole if I'm good enough and perform well enough routine. As the oldest, I set certain standards for myself and determined I'd never cause my mom trouble when she already had enough to take care of working, going back to school, and caring for my siblings. College, career, and then family, which didn't exactly follow that plan longterm. Staying at home was never on the radar, and homeschooling came even further out of left field. Academics and constantly working justified my existence somehow. Even now, I have a problem with being a stay at home mom, because I feel guilty putting the financial burden on my husband regardless of his support.

Let's be real for a minute. School at home made me look good. It insured the kids met prerequisites for their ages/grades. It provided expectations and goals. It justified forgoing the public school system. It legitimatized our decision to homeschool. It gave me something to do with all those educational theories. I work so hard at home, never relaxing, to justify the decision to stay home. It never really took my children into consideration. I wanted to create geniuses. Deschooling is dismantling all the thoughts keeping me from living in this moment. I don't even know how to live life without overthinking and analyzing situations to death. If I can just think enough about a situation I'll have security.  I've chosen to be bystander in my own life.

There's this big disconnect keeping me from mindfulness, clarity, and peace. So, I can't invite my children into my life when I'm living this kind of half life. Pema Chödrön, in How to Meditate, teaches a type of meditation "about awakening fully to our lives" and "opening the heart and mind to the difficulties and joys of life-just as it is" (p. 6). I want guarantees in my marriage, childrearing, and life in general. Too bad there isn't a manual I can follow. I don't even know what to do on a day by day basis without a planner and curriculum. So, the next step is learning how to manifest a life that draws my children and reflects all the curiosity and love I have inside of me. How does mindfulness, clarity, and peace affect your ability to live and learn?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Recovering from Education Part II

Building upon the need to question, let's look at the college-vocational dichotomy. Even when I was younger in the 1980's and 1990's, black children were advised to enter careers or earn degrees where you could earn a living. Certain majors like Art, Music, and Drama were frowned upon unless it included a teaching certificate. Solid career paths like engineering, nursing, and education were seen as certainties. You tracked in high school and propelled along one of these paths.

In high school, most of the black students were in the vocational or non-college track. Few black students were on the college prep track when I attended. My husband, who was on the college prep track, remembers wanting to take auto body his senior year of high school and being told he couldn't.  Now, did it conflict with his schedule, I don't know? There's always that possibility.  He finished classes at noon and definitely had a free afternoon.

There's so much tied up in our fostering of classism and socioeconomic status. What about the student who wanted to attend college, but wasn't able to adequately prepare? Why is college seen as a secret club for the select few? Why build barriers between students with so-called blue collar and white collar jobs? Who does this benefit, and why do we feed into it? There was a perception that some skills/knowledge were unavailable if you were on a certain track.

The debate on whether  classical (meaning college) or vocational (or what Woodson calls industrial) education presented opportunities to earn a living was a major issue in Woodson's day. Think along the lines of Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Woodson criticizes both the industrial and classical schools of his day. The industrial schools for providing poor training and classical education for not being useful due to the lack of opportunities to practice advanced education. He feels the purpose of education is to create thinkers, but he believed the classical education created discontent without a corresponding increase in possibilities.

Although some might feel as if we're eschewing college and choosing to become less educated that's not the case. I've noticed an upturn in the number of black parents encouraging their children into vocational careers. They're looking at their communities and seeing the needs that exist. There's been a decrease in people entering these fields. We've been told a bill of goods that college is the ticket to wealth, success, and the American dream. It is one way, not the only way. Woodson describes it as being "educated away from the fruit stand" (p. 41).

But, he doesn't say choose vocational or classical education. The question becomes how do we earn a living? Woodson complains that the vocational schools of his day were teaching skills that could not be applied to life, thus presenting no opportunity to make a living. He advises looking at our communities and finding a new way to do a task. Stop imitating and duplicating what others are doing. This applies to the professional arena as well. In professional fields, he encourages knowing the people you're serving, obtain the necessary training, and gain all the knowledge you need to successfully practice your field. Step up and become leaders and pioneers. If you enter a field that has not been explored fully by African-American (my substitution for Negro), don't limit yourself to what society says, but expand your horizons. Take it abroad if necessary. Many artistic types did just that during Woodson's time period, going to Europe to reach more accepting audiences. He encourages the artist to become "world reformers" (p. 180). Seize the opportunity to change how the world thinks. Reach new heights and add to the current body of knowledge in whatever field of study.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Recovering from Education Part I

"The mere imparting of information is not education. Above all things, the effort
must result in a making a man think and do for himself just as the Jews have done in spite of universal persecution." Carter G. Woodson,
The Mis-Education of the Negro, p. xvi
In honor of Black History month, I joined a book club to read *The Mis-Eduction of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. It's been years since I've read the book, and I don't remember ever finishing it. This time, the importance of it to homeschooling/unschooling really hit me. Many African-Americans are beginning to homeschool because of overt and covert racism in the classroom. It's just one less obstacle to learning. Whether consciously or unconsciously, to use Woodson's own words, "the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and almost every book he studies" (p. 2). It is both sad and amazing that a book published in 1933 speaks so eloquently of the educational and social dynamics in 2016. How do we recover from the education we've received? First, recognize lies have been told.

Homeschooling/unschooling offers a unique opportunity to really see our children and educate them according to who they are instead of who we'd like them to be. This is an important idea to remember as we discuss this book. Woodson describes a system filled with "propaganda and cant" (p. 4). All attempts to misdirect the African-American (my term) student. According to Woodson, the only person who escapes this promulgation of inferiority is the student who leaves school early. This person might have a chance to be of some use the African-American community. Otherwise, she is taught to hate herself and her race. The more highly educated you are in such a system the more Woodson considers you a detriment to the race. He considers "successful Negroes" (p. 2) as those who are less educated. Now, many would make the case that all students are deliberately filled with propaganda and made useless. The names John Gatto and John Holt kept popping into mind when reading this book. 

Who determines what is learned? Are we passing along to our children what "the traducers of the race would like to have [them] learn (p. 2)? Or are we looking at our children, families, communities, etc and building an educational foundation on what is needed and important to them. Now, history is being rewritten. The word "workers" replaces "slaves" in modern textbooks. Apparently, Africans boarded ships to America to seek better opportunities. The truth is erased in a feeble attempt to remove racial barriers and ease guilt. But, truth is what will set us free from the mistakes of the past and put us on a path to respecting differences. Yes, slave owners and segregationists used differences to justify slavery and segregation, but differences in and of themselves don't indicate superiority or inferiority (p. 8). Acknowledge the pain of my ancestors while realizing I understand you didn't enslave them. Acknowledge the psychological effects of slavery, segregation, and oppression. Acknowledge our wonderful similarities and differences and how our histories intertwined to build a nation. Our education and degrees in the current system assist us very little in doing these things. All we do is attempt to imitate the system that imprisons us. We never reach the point where our gifts are freely shared. Woodson says this, 
"They hope to make the Negro conform quickly to the standard of the whites and thus remove the pretext for the barriers between the races. They do not realize, however, that even if the Negroes do successfully imitate the whites, nothing new has thereby been accomplished. You simply have a larger number of persons doing what others have been doing (p.7)."
"They" refers to the educated African-American (my term as opposed to Negro). Nothing new has been added when we downplay our differences. It's the differences that enrich our interactions. Equality doesn't mean erase who I am. 

We often bring the same school mentality into our homeschools, thus creating school-at-home. I constantly share with people my bachelor's in Psychology, with an emphasis in education, hinders more than helps my home. It fills my head with theories and ideas that sometimes limits instead of frees. The "educated" Negro learns his place very well in society and maintains the status quo. But, I don't want to do things the way they've always been done. I don't want my children to do things the way they've always been done. 

It seems simple. The second step to recovering from education is questioning. Question everything you've been taught about yourself, education, parenting, children, religion, the world etc. Why do we hold certain beliefs? Who benefits when we hold certain beliefs? Most of our knowledge comes from places outside of ourselves, and we never question why we're told certain things. We're stuck in a system that we can't change or often get out of. I think Woodson would ask:  Who does this serve? Who are the agents that uphold the system? Look deep and hard.

Homeschooling in general speaks of families wanting to do things differently and on their own terms. So, do charter and free schools. This is why unschooling speaks to me. It moves beyond simply homeschooling to an area that pushes you to reexamine everything you've learned. 

How did you recover from your education?

*All quotes taken from 2000 edition with profile, introduction, and study questions by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu.