Without a doubt one of my favorite Malcolm X quotes is “only a fool would let his enemy teach his children.” The power of this quote is found in its relative simplicity, yet the truth it conveys is simultaneously multi-layered and reverberates across time. Anyone who has ever heard Brother Malcolm knows very well that he had a way of forcing us to look at the ridiculousness of our everyday behavior and decisions from a relatively non-traditional view, especially when it came to nation building and racial uplift.
It is difficult to understand why Black folk commonly by-pass education issues when discussing nation building. They behave as if educational matters are either givens or not as essential to liberation plans as political matters or economic strategies. It is my belief that those race leaders who think that educational matters take a backseat to any variable when it comes to uplifiting the race are in grievous error as everything pivots off of education.
As social beings, we each entered into this world knowing practically nothing. Everything that we know, or think that we know, was learned through observation or instruction, two of the building blocs of education. Education is the primary difference between an individual who aimlessly wanders through life trying to find life’s purpose or one that by-pass foolishly pursuing a meaningless job from a hostile white community and courageously embraces being an entrepreneur to service and employ their own people. Put simply, the relevance of education is the lynchpin between an individual who spends their life aimlessly searching for where they fit in and a politicized individual who understands his indispensability to developing the politics and economics that his people’s interests rest upon.
If we were to reverse engineer Malcolm X’s aforementioned assertion that “only a fool would allow his enemy to educate his children”, it would read, a wise man teaches his own children. So I must say that I was more than pleased when I heard that my comrades were making significant strides toward creating educational institutions aimed at liberating the African-American community. As an educator, I recognize the utility of a relevant education. It provides its possessor with the ability to generate solidarity and like-mindedness among people who share interests for myriad reasons. For instance, it is not accidental that the vast majority of students who emerge from Notre Dame are pro-life. Nor is it accidental that the foremost issue on the agenda of white Jews is Israel.
The leaders of the aforementioned groups made a conscious decision to ‘manufacture consent’ via educational and religious institutions. They consciously decided that the benefits of indoctrination, or education, of their people far outweighed the negatives. Although many may disagree with “the manufacturing of consent” via educational institutions, the truth is that there is no more efficient means of generating collectivism than controlling what is taught in educational institutions. Considering this truth, the reverse holds true, meaning that there is no more efficient means of guaranteeing a socially fractured, politically disorganized, and non-collectivist economic people than by indoctrinating them with a curriculum that opposes each and every principle that could lead them towards liberation.
The painful truth is that the aforementioned process of ‘dumbing down’ a people via an irrelevant educational curriculum has been the process that the descendants of stolen Africans have experienced on the North American continent since their liberation from the institution of chattel slavery. My criticism is not aimed at teachers, they are little more than frontline soldiers who take their orders from higher-ups. I am addressing the entire educational system has failed the African-American community and must be taken to task for much of the disarray that we witness within it. Put simply, traditional curriculums do not now, nor have they ever, served the interest of African-Americans; an interest that must include the mobilization of politico economic collectivism for the ultimate goal of “the liberation and salvation of the black nation.”
Hence, the movement towards “freedom schools” that teach a relevant curriculum to African-American children must be applauded. Just as every other group has taken ownership of the educational institutions within their community, it is time that African-Americans take similar steps and develop curriculum’s that not only inform them of their last place status in every social, health, economic, and political indicator, but also points educated African-Americans toward their individual responsibility to address these myriad maladies on behalf of the collective.
The great Panther Party leader Fred Hampton once remarked that “War is nothing but politics with bloodshed and politics is nothing but war without bloodshed.” It is time that African-Americans realized that we are actually at war for both our continued existence on the planet Earth and the future place of our children. Now that message would be a great one to be taught at a “Freedom School.” I hope that we can embrace this recent surge to educate our own and stop being the fools that Malcolm told us we would be if we continue to allow our enemy to infiltrate our children’s minds. There is no doubt whatsoever that it is our children which is our most valued and precious resource; a resource that must be protected ‘by any means necessary.’
James Thomas Jones III, Ph.D., M.A., M.A., M.A.