In 1933, when Dr. Carter G. Woodson wrote about the miseducation of Black people, he was referring not only to his generation and at least three previous generations of Africans brought to America before him, but also future generations who would receive a whitewashed education in American schools. An education where Black contributors are primarily “overlooked, ignored, and suppressed by the writers of history’s textbooks and the teachers who use them,” Woodson said. He wanted to implement a Black studies program in America where Black children will be properly educated about their true history, accomplishments, heroes and sheroes. However, this never happened in K-12 education.
While he was able to establish a Negro History Week in 1926, which later grew into Black History Month in 1976, here we are 46 years later and there is still no Black studies curriculum mandated in our K-12 schools. But what is a Black studies curriculum and why do Black scholars see it as essential for advancing the Black community?
This crusade is much more important than the anti-lynching movement,Dr. Carter G. Woodson
because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.
The Black Community or the Lack Thereof
First of all, in order to advance the Black community, there has to be one. However, there has been attacks on the Black community for not having systems in place to supports its members.
According to George O. Patterson, The Senior Director of My Brother’s Keeper in New York City, “the kids say it the best when they say, ‘we live in hoods.’ If we lived in a community, we would live in a place that is extremely supportive of the people who reside there. Communities support each other financially, socially, emotionally, academically, and spiritually. For example, there is financial support through businesses. However, the money does not circulate in the Black community. There is a lack of financial support. Also, we often do not receive loans to start businesses in our communities. Regarding social support, there used to be a number of programs for Black children such as The Little League, the Girl’s Scouts, and the Boy’s Scouts where people would come together to get to know one another and where families could come together. Currently there is an abundance of issues that are detrimental to our community, such as drugs, homelessness, unemployment, and alcohol. That is what makes it a hood instead of a community; high crime, high drugs, high police brutality, and underserved schools. These factors are elements found in a hood not a thriving community. These factors impedes our children from reaching their full potential. Instead, they should be living in a thriving community that makes sure they reach their full potential.”
In essence, we have no institutions that support our hopes, dreams, goals and desires. We have no agency to turn to for business loans or mortgages. Instead, we have to turn to the white community for these programs and services.
White Supremacy in our Community
Tema Okun describes white supremacy as the psychic conditioning that uses race and capitalism to commodify and dehumanize all living things for the sake of power and profit for a few at the expense of many. She points out in her article, White Supremacy Culture – Still Here, that “white supremacy has evolved to constantly extend an invitation to many of us, inviting us to join, [although our] assimilation would only serve the ability of the power elite to profit at our own expense.”
From a very young age, Black children are indoctrinated to love and respect all of the white man’s accomplishments even when it places Black people in an inferior position. Upon entering the public school system, white supremacy is in all aspects of K-12 education. It is in the curriculum, the 80% white teaching faculty, the teacher evaluation tool, the disciplinary actions, and the standardized testing.
In this blog, I will attempt to explain why the current educational system needs to be abolished and rebuilt from scratch for Black students in Black schools serving Black communities.
Once we eliminate white supremacist thinking from our minds, we must replace it with something else, something that is healthy and uplifting, something that supports Black communities and elicits Black joy. This involves learning, unlearning, and relearning.
“All Reform is Fugazi”
There have been numerous attempts to eliminate white supremacy from the nineteenth century model that the public educational system was founded upon. In response to the numerous protests, marches, and boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement, President Lynden B. Johnson designed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 as part of his War of Poverty to aid low-income students and to combat racial segregation in schools.
The purpose of the ESEA was to increase test scores and encourage academic development so that poor children could have a means to escape poverty. Although it called for a nationwide curriculum and a system to hold schools accountable, the government covertly used student data to allow military recruiters access to the personal information of 11th and 12th graders for the purpose of poaching students to join the armed forces.
Over time ESEA’s funding mechanisms became so complicated that it required a bureaucracy to implement. Along with this, there were so many other hidden caveats to the reform that it had been reauthorized eight times since its inception including the 1981 Education Consolidation and Improvement Act and the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act.
In 2001, President George W. Bush reauthorized ESEA once more in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which introduced standardized testing as a means to ensure that no child is left behind. Ironically enough the Act provides the government with big data for the children who are left behind which are the students who score at level 1 on state tests. These students are systematically ignored because the Act actually provides monetary rewards for teachers and administrators who are able to move the 2’s up to 3’s and the 3’s up to 4’s.
This test-driven model contributes to the school to prison pipeline and facilitates more destruction of the Black community. When students enter into the school to prison pipeline, they usually do not complete high school. This leads to economic devastation because when people have criminal records they cannot vote, obtain housing, or employment.
In 2009, President Barack Obama exacerbated NCLB by adding the Common Core State Standards to his Race to the Top agenda with the goal of rewarding innovative reforms in state and local school districts. With state standards being raised in this way, it made it much more difficult for low-income students to accelerate academically.
Building a New Black America
Despite all of these attempts at reform, we are still dealing with white control of Black schools. However, Black children are in need of a different educational system than their white counterparts. According to Dr. Claud Anderson, author of PowerNomics: The National Plan to Empower Black America, “Children who come from Black homes and communities come to school bearing different burdens, experiences, and needs and they should be entitled to an educational program that addresses who they are and what they need. Blacks must create a new, prosperous and empowered community that builds upon the yet unrealized competitive advantages of Black America.”
Anderson’s PowerNomics curriculum is based on realistic needs and socioeconomic goals which includes the following:
- Cooperative and Group Learning Vs. Individualism
- Black children need to learn how to work together as a group as opposed to competing against one another. We need to instill in them the values and advantages of group cohesiveness and developing cooperative skills.
- Cooperative Economics.
- “One of the reasons that Jews have succeeded economically in America is that they move as a group. Jewish families and their religious institutions instill a sense of community and groupism in young Jewish children early in life.”
- Black children need to learn how to depend on each other.
- Black children should learn to produce for, buy from, and sell to members of their own communities.
- Retrain Education Teams
- Instructional programs should teach the keys to community building.
- A communal philosophy should be weaved throughout all aspects of the curriculum.
Black Studies Curriculum in New York State
As was brought out at the beginning of this blog, we cannot afford to have any more generations of Black children miseducated in our schools.
In 2021, George O. Patterson, while representing Black Edfluencers-United (BE-U), shared that same conviction when he wrote a white paper advocating for a new, mandatory Black Studies curriculum to be implemented throughout all K-12 public schools in New York City. After presenting it to the New York City Council on May 12, 2021, he received word a couple months later that it was accepted and that the City Council will allocate $10 million over three years to the writing of the new Black studies curriculum.
Black Edfluencers-United (BE-U) then collaborated with the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC), the United Way of New York City, The Eagle Academy Foundation, the Association of Black Educators of New York (ABENY), and BERC from Teachers College, Columbia University to form a new branch of support for the New York City School District’s plan to ensure a city-wide Black studies curriculum. Once it is written, the new Black curriculum will be taught systemically throughout all NYC public schools.
If Dr. Carter G. Woodson is called the Father of Black History, then George O. Patterson must be the Godfather of Black Studies in New York City.