Saturday, January 19, 2008

Getting A Little Personal: Part 2 MisEducation

The Prelude
Part 1: Early Education
Part 2: MisEducation
Part 3: Educating Them & Us
Part 4: Home Schooling
Part 5: Return to Education
Part 6: Education of a Mayor
The Epilogue

I had gone to school for five years in a completely foreign environment where there was not one day that I didn't feel like a foreigner. I was picking up mannerisms of swinging my hair from side to side and speaking in a very altered way. No matter what things I imitated I was always reminded that I didn't really fit in. It was further compounded because I had picked up just enough of this new school routine to the point that I didn't really fit in the neighborhood either.

I was conspicuous in both environments and suspect on the block.

Brown Brownies
My brownie troupe had the whole regalia, the shoes, the sashes, the badges, and the beanie. The brownie troupe at my neighborhood school had white shirts with red trim and those press on letters that said "Brownies". When I would come home to the neighborhood, I'd have to RUN into the house and change my clothes quickly before being made fun of and hearing the overheard term "better than us."

Some may find this hard to believe but in an educational setting, by educated educators I was being held out as the possibility of what black people could be if they just worked hard. Each day I went into this school I was being given this message and guess what happens when you hear the same record over and over? You start to sing the same tune.

Back to Fifth Grade
So, I go back to the neighborhood school in fifth grade. I stand up in class that first day in the first hour and do some new tricky math. I told you earlier that Mr. Dillanger responded very negatively. He made a big deal out of what I knew and what he's students had not learned. Guess how the other students reacted? It turned into, "yea who does she think she is to come in here and act likes she is better than we are." At this point I knew I was better -- right? That's what I had been fed for years at the other school. As far as I knew these kids just needed to work harder.

After my little mathematical showing in Mr. Dillanger's class it started a new ball rolling. Mr. Dillanger sent me to the principle's office. YES! I was sent to the principle's office for doing NEW math. He showed up later and talked with the principal. The next day I went to school, I was ushered down to the BOILER ROOM with the teacher's aid. What...!?! It wasn't punishment that is where her office was located. Why was I there? They wanted to test me to find out what else I knew. She pulled out a couple of grade level reading books and I told her that I had completed those in the third grade. I was more than two complete grade levels ahead. She pulled out a few activity sheets and I finished them without breaking a sweat. It was decided that I should not return to Mr. Dillanger's class, instead I was sent to the elementary school side to work as a teacher's aid and tutor to second, third, and fourth graders.

Tell a twelve year-old that she doesn't have to do work, just roam the halls going from class to class helping whatever teacher needed help. It never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with this arrangement. I read stories to little kids, graded papers, socialized with the teachers and ran errands all day. What was the big deal? We all found out when my mother found out that this was happening. She hit the roof. I can't remember how long I trolled the halls as some junior educator but it ended immediately when my mother found out. I wonder what the young kids mother's would have thought if they knew their children were being educated by me. I was Miss Education and we we were all being miseducated.

I'll pose a few more questions for thoughts:

  • How does a student get almost three grades ahead by only grade 5?
  • So was there a test score disparity between the two schools? Absolutely! What did the test scores really mean? What is the message given to the different groups of children?
  • What happens when black children are defined and labeled by the education system? How early does it begin? What damage does it cause? What doors does it have the power to open or close?
  • If I was being told that I was special and better than the others what where they being told about who they were? If I believed it and operated on what I was told weren't the other students simply singing the song that had been written about them too?

"When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."

-- Dr. Carter G. Woodson, "The Miseducation of the Negro" 1933

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