Tag Archives: Education

WHY HAVE SO MANY OF MY STUDENTS NEVER READ THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X?

During my nearly two decades as an African-American Studies Professor, I have learned many lessons regarding the U.S. educational process and its impact on the minds, imagination, aspirations, and psyche of African-Americans. I am confident that you agree that one of the most unfortunate by-products of the American educational system is that the vast majority of black children matriculate through the system without any understanding of the unique historical circumstances or the contemporary plight of what it means to be black in America. It is not a stretch to assert that after engaging in the American educational system, African-Americans are better versed in the history of every other race than their own., there are few things that cause more anxiety than the realization that I am on the verge of entering a classroom full of African-American collegians that have no idea of the African-American experience. I literally have to brace myself for the experience. And what an experience it is.

Personally, there are few things that cause more anxiety than the realization that at the beginning of each semester, I will enter a classroom overflowing with African-American students who know little, if anything, about the black experience. I literally brace myself for the daunting experience.

I am confident that most would be shocked to learn that my students arrive in my classroom bereft of either an understanding or desire to engage the black experience. In fact, it is common for students to rebel against the reading of classic black texts such as Chinua Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart or Alex Haley’s classic monograph, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The alluded to displeasure is so significant with many students that they actually emit an audible groan with faced with the prospect of engaging the black experience.

Incredibly, I have had students pursuing a reliable escape route from dealing with the past experiences of Black America object to reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X on religious grounds.

Considering that such antics occur every semester, I am prepared to subdue them via a simple question that illuminates the cavernous holes in the vast majority of African-American students K – 12 educational experience. The question is a relatively mundane one of “How many of you have read Anne Frank?” Invariably, every hand rises. I then ask the overwhelmingly black audience, “How Many of you have read The Autobiography of Malcolm X?” Rarely does more than one or two hands rise.  I follow these initial queries with the following one. “Now which of these texts, The Diary of Anne Frank or The Autobiography of Malcolm X do you think is more applicable to your life? The story of a Jewish girl hiding in a closet or one that follows the life of Black man in America who to this day is revered as one of the most significant figures of the twentieth-century?” My students never dispute this poignant observation.

Although I hate to admit it, it appears that the primary catalyst to my student’s resistance to engaging The Autobiography of Malcolm X or any other classic black text is that somewhere along their travels, they have learned to devalue the contributions of black writers and historical figures. If anything, they seek a refuge from the stigma associated with blackness, even if that soft landing spot causes them to ignore the harsh realities that they are facing on a daily basis. The alluded to desires communicates a deep-seated self-hatred. If they are not careful, African-Americans perspective of their people can closely mirror that of white supremacists.

Let’s be clear on this matter, I have no problem with students reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I consider the text to be significant enough to have visited the location where the story occurred. Hence, I will never refute the story as an indispensable part of Human history; however, I also recognize that such recognition and reverence is due African-Americans stories as well.

It is an understanding of the phenomenal impact of education on the mind that has led me to address this matter. When one considers that humans are social beings, meaning that we learn everything that we “know” through either experience or lessons gleaned from others, education sets the foundation for our values, priorities, and worldview. The fact that education sits at the center of our understanding, the influence of school teachers should never be de-emphasized.

If permitted, I would love to ask the committees and decision makers that champion the worth of Anne Frank’s story and dismiss The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the following questions.

  1. What is your rationale for including The Diary of Anne Frank on the must read list and not The Autobiography of Malcolm X?
  2. Why do you consider Anne Frank’s story of more valuable than Malcolm X’s?
  3. What impact do you think that a K – 12 educational experience devoid of any African-American books has upon the minds of students regardless of their racial identity or ethnic background?
  4. What does it mean when school districts fail to include any classic stories that center upon African-Americans or the African-American experience?

The consequences of African-Americans not learning their history should be obvious — low self-esteem, an absence of knowledge of self, and being turned off from the discipline of history, if not the entire educational experience. Although often ignored, the truth of the matter is that black children are not the only population damaged when the African-American story is left out of the standard American History/Social Studies curriculum; it damages each child, regardless of race or ethnicity by enveloping them in an unnecessary ignorance. The absence of the black experience in the curriculums of American school systems causes the following issues.

  1. It allows for the development of woeful ignorance in regards to African- Americans and their historical experience.
  2. Gives the impression that persons of African descent have never contributed anything to society; thereby, allowing for racism to grow like a wildfire.
  3. The lack of any understanding of the African-American experience or contributions throughout the annals of time severely taints any racial discussions.

It is out of a desire to cease the never-ending racial animosity between American racial/ethnic groups that I call for those power brokers who select reading materials for American school children to consider the stories of myriad races and groups. History clearly dictates that the only weapon we have against ignorance is education. Considering such truth, it is long overdue for American children, including African-American children, to have access to classic black texts and authors, it is the only weapon that we have against pervasive racial animosity and angst in the new millennium.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

INSIDE OF A BOOK: THE PERFECT PLACE TO HIDE IMPORTANT THINGS FROM AFRICAN-AMERICAN MALES

While discussing the difficulty that I was experiencing regarding my students non-desire to read anything of substance, an acquaintance shared a remarkably sad story that verified my complaints in an unusual manner. The story went as follows, “I know a brother who recently had his house broken into. And I am telling you that these thieves ransacked the place trying to find a hidden stash of money. It would be an understatement to say that they destroyed everything in the place. Unfortunately for the thieves, they never found the stash because the brother hid his money in the least likely of places, the books on his bookshelf. Incredibly, the only thing left untouched were the bookshelves and the books that they held.” At this revelation, I mused, “I guess what they say is true, ‘If you want to hide something from black folk, put it in a book.’”

Although these events led me to shake my head, however, as an educator and writer I must tell you that this event holds far more meaning and significance than one could imagine. Experience has taught me that we should not be so quick to dismiss the age-old statement of “If you want to hide something from black folk, all you need to do is put it in a book.” I have come to understand that it is increasingly rare to meet African-Americans, particularly males, who read classic black literature; black females are not above criticism in this regard as the vast majority of them have never engaged writers such as Alice Walker or J. California Cooper, however, they are extremely familiar with Zane and the filth they call “urban fiction.”

The decline in literacy within the African-American community is a crisis that has gone largely unnoticed. The decrease in literacy, particularly among African-American males, is only the calm before the storm. The alluded to “dumbing down” of African-American male students is as pernicious a danger to their existence as AIDS, police brutality or even the Trump Presidency.

Consider for a moment the following indicators that highlight the dire straits of African-American male literacy.

  • The average African-American (male and female) 12th-grader reads at the same level as white 8th-graders.
  • The 12th-grade reading scores for African-American males were significantly lower than all other racial/ethnic groups.
  • Only 14% of African-American 8th-graders are proficient in reading.

For black males, the absence of literacy promises a future devoid of any understanding of African-Americans past struggles and extreme difficulty securing employment sufficient to take care of themselves and any offspring they may produce. There is absolutely no doubt that each of the above variables is crucial to African-American males’ maturation into adulthood. Obviously, there is no other path to satisfying the demands of African-American females possessing the desire to marry a black man than to grow them within our community via proactive socialization and the development of what can be best termed a black economy that rivals those of other groups.

A crucial aspect of every uplift effort within Black America rests upon literacy, the process of engaging information, synthesizing it, and then making logical decisions regarding how it can be best used to benefit our group. Until we get this simple process down, we will continue to experience the same frustrations that have seemingly dogged us like an ominous cloud.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

HOW A GROUP OF EIGHTH-GRADERS FROM ARNOLD MIDDLE SCHOOL REMINDED ME OF WHY I DO WHAT I DO

Like everyone else, I am susceptible to growing weary while performing the mentally straining and emotionally exhausting heavy lifting required to provide the next generation of African-Americans even a remote possibility of succeeding in a society where their inferiority is an absolute given. There are periodic moments when one’s will to continue this never-ending fight is nearly extinguished; without fail, a symphony of doubt, frustration, and questions regarding the seeming futility of the struggle appear as the weary blues. The only balm to the mental and emotional exhaustion mentioned above is the occurrence of some event that reminds you that it has not all been in vain. Unfortunately, the alluded to validation cannot be ordered on command; instead it arrives via unexpected sources at opportune moments.

Recently I was approached regarding my willingness to aid The Collegiate 100 — a subsidiary of the 100 Black Men of America — an organization of extremely impressive African-American collegians that are simultaneously positioning themselves for success while lifting others as they climb the ladder of success, via addressing a group of 8th Graders from Arnold Middle School during a scheduled campus event. Mentors selected these 8th Graders for a host of reasons. During my adolescence, they would have been labeled “at-risk youth,” a term that indicated more about environs than intellectual capabilities and prowess. I knew such a group very well as years ago I carried a similar label. I accepted the assignment without hesitation.

As usual, I arrived early to the 9:30 event and busied myself researching topics for future blog postings, however, slightly before the scheduled start time, a cadre of students, the majority of them currently enrolled in one of my History courses arrived and began their preparations for the young scholars’ arrival. Within minutes our “guests of honor” arrived, took their assigned seat, and were listening to my presentation regarding issues such as self-responsibility, planning, and the development of a familial educational legacy. Put simply; my address sought to inform these young people that they are the primary determinant of their success and the future of this entire nation was resting upon their broad and sturdy shoulders.

One of the promises that I made to myself as a student was that if ever provided the public speaking opportunities that I would never replicate the droning and draining lecture style of orators who operated out of an old authoritarian style of I lecture and you passively listen to my brillance. Put simply; such characters left no room for interaction with by the end of their address was an auditorium full of inattentive listeners. Hence, I always consider it essential that I interact with my audience via a “Question and Answer” segment.

As previously mentioned, the desperately needed jolt that re-energizes those who have grown weary of the Herculean task of uplifting Black America invariably comes at an opportune moment from unexpected sources. I am proud to relate that I received a much-needed jolt from this group of 8th Graders who dared to betray a steely silence that always accompanies persons of their age by peer pressure. To my delight, this group engaged me in an unusual manner that simultaneously displayed their brilliance, intellectual curiosity, and previous exposure to success formulas resting on personal accountability. Their mentors are to be applauded as these children demonstrated an unusual ability to answer an array of issues presented to them in a manner that betrayed their youth. Their superior intellect was displayed at every turn except when I queried “Where do you plan to be five years from now?”

After several questions regarding by background, my alma mater, the degrees I have earned and books that I have written, most were shocked to learn that I was a first-generation collegian. As expected, the conversation turned toward questions surrounding why they should attend a Historically Black College or University.

The question, poised by a brilliant young lady on the left side of the auditorium, was a particularly piercing one of “Since you have been to a white university and now work at a Historically Black University, why should we come to an H.B.C.U.?” Although I have much love for my alma mater, THE Ohio State University, to the best of my ability I explained to this attentive audience that at a place such as Prairie View A & M University “You will not only be invited into, but also joining and embraced by an esteemed tradition of black thinkers, educators, and professionals who are dedicated to aiding you in traveling down a road that they created for your success. You matter mightily at this place from the moment that you make the decision to enter and well-beyond your exit. You are going to find that we will nurture you, challenge you, and guide you every step of the way as you pursue your dreams, goals, and aspirations. At this place, we are serious about producing productive people.”

By the end of our interaction, the vast majority of these individuals had expressed their intention to become Prairie View Panthers and vowed to keep in touch during their high school tenure. As I gathered my belongings and prepared to exit the venue, one young man rushed up to me and related the following, “I thought about where I will be five years from now. I am going to be sitting in your History class right here at PVAMU.” I could do nothing other than smile at him and respond, “Sir, I’m looking forward to it. And I truly mean that.”

As I ended my exchange with this obviously brilliant young man, one of the chaperones for this youth group approached me and stated the following. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was one of your students.” I searched my mental Rolodex for him, yet came up empty. He continued, “I looked different back then. I had a big Afro and gold fronts (teeth). However, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all that you did for me. I am assuming an Assistant Principal position next week.” I could do nothing but laugh at the fantastic news and responded, “From gold fronts to Assistant Principal?” We both shared a hearty laugh at the development.

One thing was sure, as I exited the building, I knew that these young people had made an indelible impact on me; an impact that re-charged my emotional state and simultaneously reminded me of why I do the work that I do.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

Treading Water: Why neither Education nor Hard Work Solves the Racial Wealth Gap

If it takes a big man to admit that he was wrong, at this moment, I should be considered a colossal human being. As with so many other educated African-Americans, I have believed that the path to individual and collective economic improvement, if not liberation, was found via some combination of the following steps.

  • Securing an education that paved a way to a career
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Gainful employment
  • Obsessing over one’s Credit Rating
  • Being fiscally conservative
  • Investing
  • Homeownership

In many ways, my embracing what a recent study titled The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap (Brandeis University & Demos) asserts are pervasive falsities is excusable as I had much company on that path to nowhere.

Trust me when I say, that one of the most common behind closed doors conversation occurring among accomplished black professionals are the pervasive financial difficulties that they are experiencing despite their adherence to traditional economic uplift strategies. The alluded to policies that well-meaning parents, mentors, and family members have traditionally propagated entails for succeeding generations of African-Americans to:

  • Secure a college education
  • Develop a career
  • Save their money
  • Purchase a home
  • Seek investment opportunities

According to the study mentioned above, even a strict adherence to tried-and-true advice regarding the path to economic prosperity will not result in the closing of the extreme wealth gap between blacks and whites.

Make no mistake about it; the wealth gap between black and white households is significant. For every $1 of black wealth, the white median household has $13 in their possession.

The study conducted by Brandeis University and Demos (a public policy group) make several assertions that should make every African-American using traditional paths to economic freedom cringe. According to the referenced study, the following is true.

  • Attending college does not close the racial wealth gap.
  • Raising children in a two-parent household does not close the racial wealth gap.
  • Working full time does not close the racial wealth gap.
  • Spending less does not close the racial wealth gap.

Consider for a moment that although the securing of a college education lessens the black/white wealth gap, it fails to eradicate it. Educated whites wealth is over seven times that of college educated blacks.

From a non-emotional view, it is understandable that not even African-Americans most fervent attempts to work around long-standing economic principles such as time’s positive effects on the growth of investment portfolios and the maturation of real estate investments. Such realities should not shift African-Americans focus away from securing an education; educational achievement does lessen the wealth gap.

The alluded to study has proven that the one major advantage whites have over blacks in regards to the development of capital is the benefit of a significant inheritance (life insurance, homes, real estate property, businesses, or land). Study results indicate that not only are whites five times more likely to receive an inheritance, but also this infusion of currency is usually much more significant than that received by blacks. Brandeis researchers posit that the alluded to funds “can be used to jump-start further wealth accumulation, for example, by enabling white families to buy homes and begin acquiring equity earlier in their lives.”

It appears that it is an infusion of monies, not college degrees and fiscal management, which serves as the springboard for the wealth gap between blacks and whites.

As with most maladies facing the African-American community, it is our failure to plan that dooms our future. Hopefully, this study will encourage our people to not only pursue a life that will allow them to leave a sizable inheritance of some kind to succeeding generations as it is a crucial part of financial prosperity. So the next time that you see our people raising money to bury a deceased individual, I hope that you will view this apparent failure to plan for an inevitable death as a failed opportunity. Make no mistake about it, this pattern of living a life that makes you a burden and not a credit to your loved one’s is not only selfish but also guarantees that the wealth gap between black and white will exist for yet another generation.

We have got to do better if we ever plan on achieving economic liberation.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

Unqualified and Inexperienced: Why Betsy Devos’ Nomination Must Be Blocked

I remember the statement very well for one simple reason; it made so much sense to me. The alluded to statement came from a gentleman who painstakingly explained to me that he considered himself neither Republican nor Democrat. Instead, he preferred to “look at the issue for myself, evaluate how it will impact my loved one’s, and then make an educated decision based upon my priorities. Anyone who is voting along party lines is often working against their best interests.”

I have noticed that the older I get, the less likely I am to experience moments when logic converges with common sense. I partially attribute this fact to my increasing understanding of political matters. However, I also believe that the rise of illogical individuals who often work against their own interests can also be partially attributed to a decline in the American educational system.

Unfortunately for  American schoolchildren, a partisan fight between the Republicans and Democrats regarding the confirmation of Betsy DeVos has placed their access to a quality education in further peril.

In a classic case of what more could go wrong with American education, the future of U.S. schoolchildren is close to being placed in the hands of Betsy DeVos, a person that persons on both sides of the political aisle agree lacks any of the necessary qualifications to become the Secretary of Education beyond being a billion-dollar donor for the Republican Party. There is no other explanation for the nomination of this candidate other than the fact that she has proven willing to reach into her

There is no other explanation for this candidate’s nomination than the fact that she has routinely reached into her deep pockets to aid the Republican Party. One would think that a person nominated to lead the Department of Education would possess some form of education experience. Frighteningly, DeVos has never taught a class, run a school as a administrator, or even led a PTA club. The alluded to lack of experience was prominently displayed during a recent hearing that not only displayed her lack of understanding regarding all things education, but also devolved to a point that her Republican supporters shut the much needed debate that highlighted for the nation her lack of knowledge regarding all things education and set the stage for a quick vote.

One would think that a person nominated to lead the Department of Education would have some form of prior experience with the American educational system. Frighteningly, DeVos has never taught a class, run a school as an administrator, or even led a PTA club. Devos’ lack of experience was prominently displayed during a recent hearing that not only displayed her lack of understanding regarding all things education but also devolved to a point that her Republican supporters shut the much-needed debate down and therefore set the stage for a vote regarding her nomination.

It is frightening to see so many politicians allowing financial campaign contributions to shape their perspective on a matter as important as education. At this moment, it is crucial that American voters, regardless of their political leanings, send a definitive message to their elected officials that when important matters such as the education of American schoolchildren arise that partisanship must be muted. Failure to take such a logical step not only marginalizes American schoolchildren in the present, but also handcuffs the nation’s economic future.

It is with the best interests of our children in mind that we must do all that we can to urge elected officials to display their concern for American schoolchildren and deny Betsy DeVos this crucial position.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017.