Tag Archives: Black Teachers

Reclaiming a Fading Legacy: Why I Make My Students Read Assata aka Counterbalancing an Irrelevant American Educational System that has Failed Black People

During my initial lecture in my freshman survey course, a course that invariably includes upperclassmen who have avoided addressing mandatory history requirements, I purposely attempt to pique their interest in the subject matter as a preemptive strike against the malaise that the subject matter of history generates in their minds. If nothing else, this introductory moment allows me to gauge their understanding of African-American history.

When I address the volatile identity politic driven 1960s, my area of expertise I might add, I highlight several notable Black Powerites by asking those assembled in front of me if they know anything about Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson, Fred Hampton, or Carl Hampton? Puzzled and bewildered looks appear on the faces of my young charges. Without fail, it is not until I reference the name Assata Shakur that the hands of a few students who are eager to share that they know who this revolutionary sister is confidently raised. For most, this is their moment, the one opportunity to prove to me that they do know something about African-American history; unfortunately, it is a moment that will definitively prove how little they do know. Invariably, some non-descript student eagerly announces to their classmates that “Assata Shakur is Tupac Shakur’s momma.” I just shake my head and sigh as once again, my students have confused their Shakur’s. In one swoop, this particular student has erased the legacies of both Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, and Assata Shakur, our revolutionary sister who remains exiled in Cuba. Experience has taught me that this is a common misstep among my students.

The above mistake occurs so frequently that it has caused me to ponder the following question; what does it mean that the vast majority of my students do not know about Assata Shakur. What does this troubling historical illiteracy say about black educators, the American educational system, and the black community?

One does not need to be a pessimist to reach the conclusion that the fact that African-American children have no real understanding of Black History means that the American educational system has no utility to Black America. Dare I say that sizable portions of this antiquated and non-representative institution have no utility whatsoever when measured against a much-needed effort to liberate Black America socially, politically, culturally, and economically.

I fervently believe that the process of inquiry and intellectual curiosity are critical components of the development of self-identity, politicization, and the generation of priorities for Black America. Such conclusions force me to use Assata Shakur’s story, Assata, in my courses on a repeated basis as it is a succinct articulation of the cost African-American revolutionaries have paid for their commitment to liberate their people around the globe.

I am confident that you understand that as a black educator, I consistently wrestle with matters of education and the development of a relevant education on a consistent basis. I am not ashamed to share that the alluded to moments of reflection engender a slight depression. The alluded to depression is a direct extension of the realization that the irrelevant curriculum that teachers, regardless of race/ethnicity, are forced to teach has created bountiful crops of African-Americans who are not only guided by a pervasive ignorance regarding African-American history, but also are quick to attack anyone that raises issues such as Race, racial inequality, prejudice, discrimination, or racism. Their complicity with their own oppression has been manufactured in American school houses.

In the end, the question of who will teach our people about the heroic struggle persons of African descent have undergone around the globe remains. The only reasonable answer to this query is that enlightened African-Americans must recommit themselves to educating our people “by any means necessary.” In many ways, we have no other choice if we are to survive. Failure to take definitive action in this matter ensures that we will continue our tradition of being economically exploited, socially inappropriate, and politically inept; places that I hope you would agree we have occupied for far too long.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

A Thank You Note to Mrs. Jones: My Sixth-Grade Teacher

I was once asked the following question during a presentation to a group of high school students, “When did you know that you were going to college?

Without even thinking about it, I responded with a quip that I honestly thought was true. I talked about my mother’s influence and the rock of a man that my father has always been.

However, I was recently forced to reconsider that narrative after coming across a John Hopkins and American University study that detailed the stark differences in expectations from Black and white educators toward African-American students.

The alluded to study suggests that there is a cavernous gap found between what Black and white teachers expect from their African-American students. The alluded to study highlights that white school 4teachers are 30% less likely to believe that their African-American students will successfully matriculate from a four-year University; of course, this number grows significantly when discussing African-American males. Truthfully, such data should not be particularly shocking as scholars such as Jawanza Kunjufu and Haki R. Madhubuti have long warned us of the weird dynamics occurring between African-American males and white educators, particularly females.

As mentioned above, this study forced me to reconsider ‘When I first realized that I would be attending college.’

It did not take much reflection for my mind to settle upon the actual moment that collegiate studies were my destiny.

It was during the initial week of 6th grade at Johnny Appleseed Middle School when I was TOLD by Mrs. Jones (no relation), my only African-American teacher, that I was going to be attending college in a most memorable manner; a method, I might add, that she reiterated at every opportunity.

Before I go further into this post, let me explain a few things. First of all, 6th grade was a particularly difficult time for me because it was the moment that I left the comforts of Hedges Elementary School, a school that was not only 95% Black, but also filled with African-American teachers, for the unfamiliar, and often hostile, lily-white environs of Johnny Appleseed Middle School.

To my chagrin, when I arrived at Middle School, I was placed on a college preparatory track of classes, a track that had a robust five African-American students (myself, James Banks, Michael Drayton, school 6Coretta Jones, and Stephanie Martin) in the midst of hundreds of whites. Not only were nearly all of my classmates’ white, all of my teachers, except for Mrs. Jones, were white. And I must admit that there were times when I wished that she weren’t my teacher because she was, from my eleven-year-old perspective, the meanest and most demanding teacher ever created. In time I actually grew to tremble in her presence and secretly hate the ground that she walked on; nothing, and I do mean nothing, pleased her.

Now I must admit that my conflict with Mrs. Jones emanated from what everyone agrees is my horrendous handwriting, I can read it, at least some of the time I can read it; however, it is admittedly indecipherable to most others. It was my poor handwriting that caused Mrs. Jones to single me out by writing following statement, written in red ink nonetheless, on an assignment; “THIS IS NOT COLLEGE LEVEL WORK!!!!!”

Although I would love to say that my handwriting drastically improved, unfortunately it did not. I eventually abandoned writing in cursive and took Mrs. Jones’ advice and began to print everything from notes to assignments; however, as I am certain that you can imagine, there was no pleasing this Lady as she continued to single me out by repeatedly writing in bold letters on my paper “THIS IS NOT COLLEGE LEVEL WORK!!!!!!  DO IT AGAIN!!!!”

I must tell you that I grew to despise Mrs. Jones and what my 6th Grade mind termed her stupid class. I even went so far as to inform my mother and even Mrs. Jones’ brother, Geron Tate, who just happened to be my Sunday School Teacher, about her continual ‘harassment’; and as I am certain you have figured out already, neither one of them interceded.

As my 6th grade year progressed, I received fewer and fewer red ink declarations from Mrs. Jones, in fact, I started to receive messages such as “THIS IS COLLEGE LEVEL WORK!!!! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!!!!” on my papers.

My eleven-year-old mind could not comprehend what Mrs. Jones was actually doing by constantly “picking on me.” And the Lord knows that I would have never believed that Mrs. Jones’ tactics were not only college 2encouraged by mother, I later learned that the two were friends, but also born of a seemingly long lost mantra that was repeatedly stated to Black children of my generation, “You are going to have to work twice as hard (as white folk), to get half as far (as white folk).”

With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious to me that Mrs. Jones’, and later my 7th grade teacher Rick Roberson, were ‘toughening’ me up and preparing me for the rigors of the road that lay ahead.

And it is for that reason that I feel compelled to issue a heartfelt thank you to both Mrs. Jones and Mr. Roberson for the work that they did on me. As an educator myself, I now understand how difficult it was and why they did it.

So there you have it, I learned that I was going to college from Mrs. Jones, my 6th grade teacher; in permanent, irreversible, red ink nonetheless, so I knew that she meant it when she said it because you don’t write anything in red ink unless you really, really, really mean it.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016.

#ManhoodRaceCulture

Pardon The Interruption: Why Black Students Must Be Confronted by Teachers Who Care

Although I can neither tell you where I was nor what periodical I was reading, I do remember that I was somewhere reading a random news story about former President George W. Bush. The article, told from the perspective of those who knew the former President personally, verified much of what I, and the rest of the world, intuitively knew about him. According to those from his past, the scariest thing about old George was that he had no interest in anything. According to his close friends, his intellectual past contained neither a ‘Eureka’ moment nor an epiphany that sparked his interest in any topic or subject matter. Put simply, according to his collegiate counterparts, Bush was intellectually dull, uninspired, a damn imbecile.

I am certain that you are wondering why I am broaching this topic of President Bush’s well documented intellectual feebleness, particularly as my usual intellectual terrain are issues dealing with African-Americans, it is not flowing from a sadistic desire to ‘beat a dead horse’ by reiterating the intellectual inadequacies that under girded everything that the former President thought or said, rather it allows me to address a similar evil that is rearing its head within the Black ferguson3community; the appearance of a significant portion of African-American youth who are consistently exhibiting an intellectual curiosity that would make our former President appear scholarly; put simply, they have no interest in anything beyond some droning popular culture topic, reality show, or niggardly event posted on the internet. I cringe when I think of what the world has in-store for this next generation of African-Americans; I wonder, yet already know the answer to my query, are they preparing themselves to live within a hostile and unforgiving America?

As a historian, I recognize that the current listlessness infecting African-American collegians is a historical anomaly. The alluded to disruption began when African-Americans unwisely attempted to assimilate with a hostile, politically organized, and black maleseconomically formidable ‘white’ society. I refer to this moment as being historically peculiar because it fails to reflect one crucial aspect of the African-American struggle, that being that proud people’s indomitable pursuit of education ‘by any means necessary’. Put simply, stolen Africans, and their descendants, maintained both their humanity and an obvious belief that “after the darkest night, always comes a brighter day.”

When enslaved African-Americans emerged from chattel slavery, the vast majority held few tangible possessions. However they were in possession of the following: (a) an kkkunceasing determination to worship God, (b) a desperate desire to locate lost kin, and (c) a belief that literacy and education were keys to their future progress. Our people attributed much of their oppression at the hands of a horrifically hostile white community to the fact that they lacked even a rudimentary education.

African-Americans have longed believed that education is the crucial difference-maker between ‘them that have and them that don’t.’ The vast majority of African-American parents have placed their belief in a simple formula for success; a quality education removes a significant obstruction to their child’s success. My grandparents conveyed their belief in this formula when they admonished each of their offspring that education “was the only thing that the white man can’t take away from you.” Such mantras are publicly displayed each time an older African-American joyously smiles when a grandchild graduates from high school or college.

There appears to be an innate understanding amongst most civilized people regarding the power that a relevant education bestows upon its possessor; how else can we explain the consistent attacks upon African-American education by those who oppose Black progress. I find it fruitless to rehash the many occurrences of whites attempting to undercut African-American educational pursuits; rather, this posting addresses a far more dangerous, and largely unprecedented, foe in the battle to uplift the race via students 3educational pursuits. To the surprise of many, this opponent has successfully resisted the overtures of African-American educators, the foot soldiers in the vicious battle to educate the next generation of Black youth. The formidable opponent I speak of is the absence of intellectual curiosity, a condition that is currently infecting many of our children with the same vigor that allowed it to control the previously discussed President George W. Bush. It is sagging pantsrelatively common for many of my students to behave as if I am interrupting their busy day during my lectures. If I did not know better, I would be convinced that they have much, much, much more important things to do than attend class, take notes, study, and prepare for exams.

Undoubtedly, for large swaths of African-American students, certainly not all of them, they see little utility in education, particularly, if it is not directly tied to their acquiring material goods. For many of my students, education’s lone utility is found in its ability to allow them to increase their access to additional material goods. Such a stance betrays the storied history of their ancestors who battled for the right to secure an education. Despite their relative illiteracy, they had sense enough to recognize that education was a primary building bloc in preventing the politico and economic exploitation of their kind from hostile outsiders. Such understanding emboldens me to order my students to turn their cell phones off while in my class and to recognize that the opportunity to pursue an education is a privilege that they did not earn; rather it was gifted to them by those who came before them. To their chagrin, until they learn this lesson, I will continue to interrupt their day and point them towards education and explain to them the ultimate utility of education, the protection of their community against hostile outsiders who have historically, and still seek to, rob and pillage their community to provide for their own.

James Thomas Jones III

#ManhoodRaceCulture

 

Only a Fool Would Let His Enemy Educate His Children: The Desperate Need for “Freedom Schools” within the Black Community

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 malcolm-x-23is 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 school 3givens 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 prisonpursuing 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 school 2institutions 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 bpp6without 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.

#ManhoodRaceCulture