Black Educators Must Take our Rightful Place in the Movement to Educate our Youth!

Black people’s concern with the U.S. public education system – it’s intent, policies, curriculum and practices – is longstanding. Our forced entry into the colonial system later the United States was anything but fair and democratic. Whites brought us here to exploit our labor, amass their industrial and agricultural wealth at our expense, and then devised various laws and practices to maintain our servile and powerless position in the social hierarchy. Education therefore was an important weapon in their attempt to maintain and expand white supremacy. In other words, education as it related to Black people was hegemonic, not empowering or even neutral.

Nonetheless, even a cursory glance backwards demonstrates that our people, in every historical period, valued education. Long before we endured the horrors of European imperialism, we not only developed educational philosophy but also family and societal institutions designed to transmit intergenerational knowledge.

egyptian books of instruction

Coming as this did before the development of capitalism (or modern considerations of”industrial development”) our educational philosophy was holistic and not focused solely on material gain, career advancement or status. Unlike many people today, we viewed education both as a means of character/ethical development, and vocational preparation. Without going into voluminous detail, proof of these facts are found in the Egyptian Books of Instruction, and the University of Sankore (containing over 700,000 manuscripts) for starters.

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University of Sankore

Even after the Transatlantic Slave trade where we were viewed and treated as scorned objects and where learning was officially prohibited, our people used the Bible as a primary tool for literacy and our educated brethren as teachers. Scholar James Anderson notes that by the mid-19th century our enslaved ancestors created approximately 500 schools to educate themselves in this country.

This coalition of slaves that wanted to learn and those that knew how to read and write is instructive for those of us today who want rescue our children from miseducation and social conditioning today.

Allow me to digress. As I explained in a previous essay, the “emancipation” of 4 million Black people during the 19th century concerned whites gravely – so much so, that they held three education conferences (Capon Springs Conferences For Christian Education) to determine:

  • If Blacks should be educated
  • What the content/nature of that education should be

These conferences gave rise to the creation of education boards across the country, and models of education designed to keep Black people disenfranchised, servile, non-resistant, protective of U.S. interests, and languishing in the lowest economic strata of this country for generations to come. We see the results of this educational agenda: Confused, culturally disconnected youth with inadequate social, emotional, leadership, financial, and academic skills who become easy prey for gangs, privatized prisons, broken families and unfulfilled lives.

Those of us who are serious about reclaiming the minds and hearts of our children realize that education is the primary tool in this regard.The problem is that noble intentions in this area and political ideology are simply not enough to accomplish this task.

First, we must be clear about what proper education is and does from our perspective. An adequate education empowers people to understand, participate in or transform the world they inherit. It prepares a person to sustain themselves, solve problems, make decisions and embrace/manifest values that are beneficial, and that exert power in their lives. From the perspective of an oppressive society however, education as noted by Paolo Friere, is a project in social control and hegemony.

pedagogy of the oppressed

The educational systems we develop accordingly, include but involve far more than teaching African history, Black pride and Black solidarity. Our alternative and reformative educational theories and systems cannot be guided by political ideology alone We must be thoroughly and accurately familiar with our children’s holistic educational needs (i.e. academic, psychological/emotional, cultural, sociopolitical, ethical, vocational , and economic). In confronting the problem of Black miseducation, we must be careful not to oversimplify the problem and instead develop solutions that are practical and take into consideration the realities we face, rather than imposing our political ideology alone.

We must understand our children’s preferred learning styles, effective and humane methods of discipline, effective and alternative diagnostic methods, and how to create structures that can combine all the above effectively and affordably so that the majority (if not all) of our children can benefit, not just those of privileged classes.

carter g woodson

 Just about every Afrocentric or Black Power speaker, author or activist has said (or will say) “We can’t send our children to their oppressor to be educated!” The logic behind this is simple. Oppressors will never educate their subjects to become free and empowered. But simply acknowledging this fact is not enough. Several compelling questions remain: How do we create engaging, relevant and empowering curriculum, practices and environments that maximize our children’s ability to lead, solve community problems, love/value themselves and their people, and develop the creativity to sustain themselves and create much-needed community institutions/movements? How will independent Black schools be funded to make sure our poorest students can attend? How can we support via information and funding, the Black homeschooling movement? In summary, how do we properly educate almost 8 million Black children (most of whom are poor) in a country actively working to keep them ignorant, poor, and powerless?

To adequately address and resolve these questions, WE MUST INCLUDE PROGRESSIVE AND BLACK POWER EDUCATORS IN THE DISCUSSION!  Education, contrary to popular belief, is a serious vocation like any other. Fiery rhetoric and political pontification without strategic thinking and educational expertise will not rescue our children and might even compound their problems! To make the point clearer, if you wanted to build a bridge you consult engineers and construction workers; To defend yourself in court you hire an attorney or someone well versed in the law; You expect a trained surgeon to perform your operation; You include an architect in a discussion of erecting a building. Education too, is a serious field requiring trained, experienced and knowledgeable theorists, teachers and administrators. That we don’t readily understand this, only demonstrates the low regard we hold for education and teachers, even as we shout “Knowledge is power and Save our babies!”What all of this means is: the movement to properly educate our people absolutely must involve Black folk with classroom teaching and school administration experience, background in Afrocentric educational theory, and successful school creation.

By writing this, I do not come from an elitist perspective suggesting that non-educators cannot contribute meaningfully to the Black Education Movement. To the contrary, I am arguing that we cannot leave trained, experienced and informed educators out of this discussion. Only a determined coalition of sincere, committed and informed organizers, parents, students, Black educators/scholars and Black philanthropists will accomplish the task of reforming the existing educational system and creating viable alternatives. Black educators, and school administrators MUST take their rightful place in this movement by dispelling myths, identifying/modeling best practices in education, and lending our expertise and experience to this important discussion. This might bruise the egos of some in our community. Others might become defensive, but it must be done. Our children’s very lives and the future of our people depend on it…..

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 Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. In 2015, he wrote My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Race, Politics, and Culture. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School.

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Resolving the Problem of Black Miseducation

We are familiar with the oft-quoted Ghanaian proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Sometimes I wonder if we recognize the converse of this truth: “It takes a village to destroy a child” as well.

With this in mind, reasonable Black folk must concede that we cannot attach sole responsibility for the miseducation of our youth to negligent Black households. While easy and convenient, this approach fails to assign equal responsibility to our local places of worship, community organizations, and public schools.

Of these, the last community resource (public schools) remain convenient targets for those of us working to provide Black children with an empowering education. But if it takes a village, why do we single public schools out when it comes to education? For one, they are THE recognized institution responsible for education in our communities; Secondly, they have trained teachers, administrators and staff (whose salaries derive from our taxes); In addition, schools have budgets, supplies, property, specifically allocated and designated for educating our children. Certainly, this all makes sense, that is until we recognize that the public education system has a hidden agenda for educating Black children that draws its roots from the turn of the 20th century.

This hidden agenda implies that we must begin by clearly understanding the purpose and objectives of education from a societal view. Paolo Friere in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, addresses the purpose of education by noting: 

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

Putting Friere’s quote into a U.S. context, the U.S. educational system prepares our children to integrate and conform to its culture of values, expectations and views. From the societal standpoint, our children are to assume three primary roles: 1.To become a semi-skilled pool of labor for corporations who will follow instructions without resistance. 2.To become a relatively smaller pool of directors or managers (professional overseers) for the corporate plantation. 3. To become the defenders and enforcers (military and police) of the corporate culture.

The first group is designed to generate wealth via their underpaid labor for the corporate elite while the second group coordinates, manages and helps train the first group or uses its higher degree of skill to make more money for the corporate culture.  The third group monitors, detains, intimidates and murders critics, rebels and disillusioned citizens who might threaten the corporate culture’s existence and objectives. You will note that all groups must be patriotic, subscribe to bourgeois notions of achieving the “American Dream,” defend and sympathize with U.S. capitalist/imperialist culture, and of course have the basic skills and sensibilities to fulfill their respective functions.

Black Nationalists like myself and my comrades in the educational trenches, find the social conditioning and conformity agenda of education unjust and unacceptable. We side with the freedom-oriented and transformative objectives of education. We reject an educational system which produces generations of people who uphold, defend and cooperative with an unjust and exploitive status quo. We seek one that creates critical and creative thinkers and problem-solvers who work to create a just society. We want competent and compassionate human beings who identify with and advocate for the Black experiences and communities that birthed them. Knowing that the traditional school system – along with the university think-tanks, foundations, and corporate culture that created and maintained it – aims to create people who will maintain the current status quo, we challenge and reject it. We understand that such curricula, schools, and school cultures will keep the current system of white supremacy in place. Our unashamed goal is to dismantle it and prevent it from regenerating.

For many of us then, Afrocentric schools become the remedy of choice. By definition,too much schooling such schools boast all-Black faculty and staff, use fair and effective methods of discipline that edify rather than humiliate, and promote academic rigor and competence while teaching our children to love, understand, advance and protect their history, minds, and people. Dr. Mwalimu Shujaa, a widely-recognized expert on the subject, oulined 5 characteristics/objectives of an African-centered education in his book, “Too Much Schooling, Too LIttle Education:

1. It should reflect our own interests as a cultural nation and be grounded in our cultural history.

2. It should be a process of identity development within the context of Pan-African kinship and heritage.

3. It should provide for the inter-generational transmission of values, beliefs, traditions, customs, rituals and sensibilities along with the acknowledge of why these things must be sustained.

4. It should teach children how to determine what is in our interests, distinguish our interests from those of others, and recognize when our interests are consistent and inconsistent with those of others.

5. It should prepare children to accept the staff of cultural leadership from the generation that preceded theirs, build upon their inheritance, and make ready the generation that will follow them

Before we all lock arms close our eyes, and begin singing “Kumbaya” however, we must acknowledge some serious challenges to resolving the issue of Black miseducation. No serious movement to provide our children a real education will occur easily, without opposition, or “overnight.”

1. Because true African-centered curricula and schools go against the social conditioning agenda of U.S. education, they face intense scrutiny, monitoring, and lack of support from “mainstream” society who will label them as “reverse racist,” “separatist,” and even “terrorist.” Such schools therefore, will need to seek private funding and avoid any government support. They will most likely need to be private and independent, and charge tuition to cover expenses.

2. There are not enough Afrocentric schools to accommodate all or even 10% of the school-aged Black children and youth in the United States: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2014, approximately 7.7 million Black children attended public elementary and secondary schools. From my internet search, I could only identify 37 African-centered schools in the entire country and I could not verify that all of them are still open, or are in fact, truly African-centered. It will likely take decades to close this gap. In the meantime, this means the overwhelming majority of our children will attend traditional public schools. Yet, all hope is not lost. We should begin a rigorous campaign to create viable independent and African-centered schools.

But at the same time, we need courageous and qualified Black teachers to continue working in existing public schools, providing our children with a conscious alternative to the brainwashing and social conditioning they receive. We also need to create more viable after school programs and liberation schools in our community centers and places of worship. Our churches, mosques and temples own property and have already-established congregations/members, many of whom have expertise in several important fields in additional to professional resources. Another excellent options is community homeschooling. Congregants should challenge these institutions to create such programs.

Brother Markus Kline has created 3 successful homeschools called Freedom Home Academy in Chicago which house several students, and provides a rigorous academic and African-centered education. Students learn 3 languages (Arabic, Swahili, and French) and ADVANCED academics. All students demonstrate accelerated learning. Why can’t we create schools like this in every U.S. city? See brother Kline discussing his concept below.

3. Even when we create a larger number of African-centered schools throughout the country, who will form the important cadre of teachers and administrators? How do we make sure these individuals remain true to the pedagogy of African-centered curriculum, discipline, and education? How do we prevent the ever-present tendencies of bourgeois values (materialism, individualism, profits over people, pro-imperialist thinking) or patriarchy from creeping into and sabotaging our schools, staff, and students? The not-so-subtle answer is that we must create national or regional institutions that recruit and properly train Black people to teach and run African-centered schools, and institutions that accredit such schools.

Simply being a Black teacher does not designate a person as African-centered or even “conscious,” and simply having all Black faculty, staff and students does not characterize a school as being “African-centered.” Educators in these schools will need to understand the “Developmental psychology of Black students” (Amos Wilson), African-centered education, and be able to develop disciplinary, management, and instructional methods consistent with this. We must provide parents with the capacity to determine if any school is certifiably African-centered beyond just a name or claim.

In closing, Black Nationalists like myself always argue that “We can’t send our children to receive education from our enemies.” Yet, I  should remind you that Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Kwame Ture, Assata Shakur, George Jackson, or most of our most radical and committed Black Liberation leaders did not attend African-centered schools. They either attended segregated Black schools or integrated schools. In either case, neither brand of these schools were African-centered by our contemporary definition. The creation of African-centered schools was a direct product of the Black Power Movement. Most of these schools did not appear until after the 1970s and later. This means that while African-centered schools are the preferred ideal, our children need an empowering education NOW and we cannot afford to wait several decades to accommodate all of them in such schools. However, we can still help our children emerge competent, committed, and conscious even in the framework of the existing school system if we seriously reconfigure and maximize educational capacity within the larger community VILLAGE that raises them.

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. In 2015, he wrote My Two Cents: Unsolicited Writings on Race, Politics, and Culture. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment. He is the founder and coordinator of Harlem Liberation School.

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.