Saturday, January 19, 2008

Getting A Little Personal: Part 3 Educating Us & Them

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

Somehow I made it to the end of that fifth grade year and I asked my mother to stay for sixth grade. The work was really easy, but more than that I definitely felt more comfortable going to school with kids from my neighborhood. For the first time I got to walk to school. Talk about an education, I learned a new lesson everyday as we passed the penny candy store, the churches, the pool hall, the abandoned building, and 500 Liquor store that was open early in the morning. I remember this being the best time for me. As we walked through the neighborhood, we picked up more kids along the way. These were becoming my friends and I definitely felt more comfortable with them. I could just be myself.

Our school only went to the sixth grade. For seventh and eighth grade we all went to a feeder school with five or six other elementary schools. Guess what happened before we got there? We were tested again! This time everyone got tested, but this is after six years of sub-standard education for them and 1.5 for me. What do you think that result of that was? Me and the neighborhood kids did all go to the same school, but I was instantly separated from them once we got inside. I went to the gifted program tucked away on the other side of the building. My new gifted class had about 20 white students and four black students. There was Dana, Kathyna, Monica, and me. This school was perhaps 50% black and 50% white. The funny thing is that the new middle school was only about 4 or 5 blocks from my neighborhood school.

Separate and Unequal
I now boarded a school bus everyday with my neighborhood friends and after we hit the school doors, we went to homeroom and then I was completely separated from THEM until the end of the school day. My little gifted group had a different curriculum, different books, different schedule and completely different expectations. I remember that we had fewer classes and each class latest 2 to 3 times as long as the other students. It took time to study the subjects in depth. To help you understand the significance of the difference. We studied LITERATURE but WE chose the books that we would read. WE developed the study questions and WE gave out the grades to each other. We were being taught how to develop arguments, negotiate within the group, and problem solve at a college level. We did not use the standard textbooks, were required to type all of our work, and were graded on a curve. We did not participate in things with the other students like field trips or pizza parties. We were separate, and often told that the other children were spending their time on silly things that we earn them nothing. There was a big focus on being intellectually superior. Our teacher let us know that it was his job to safeguard that for us and that is why we did not mix much with the other kids.

Intelligent Blacks
Here is the best thing or the strangest. Our teacher created his own English book because he thought we needed to be challenged. It was called, "Slot Machine English" and we did all of this overcomplicated diagramming of sentences. But, there was a chapter in the book that he called, "Black English." We sat in a class and actually had to study the inferior manner in which black people spoke English. When me and the other girls (I know that that is grammatically incorrect by the way) challenged him, Mr. Williams actually said to us, "Of course this was not written about any of you. You are good blacks, you are intelligent. You have been socialized and you know better." This was actually told not only to seventh grade black children but was also said in front of impressionable white children that may not have had is ability to make the subtle distinction.

He called me, "good". He said that I was, "intelligent." I should feel pretty good about that right? But tell me how do you feel good about the fact that you are better than or more intelligent than the people that you hang out with everyday after school? I remember this being the first time that I was ever really offended. It didn't feel good at all to hear this. I wasn't sure why but it felt like someone had poked a dagger into my heart. It didn't make me feel superior to my neighborhood friends. My mother was from the country and demonstrated many of the patterns he wrote about in his book. But I knew my mother was intelligent enough to get me into this program. I knew that they did not talk this way, at least not all of the time. But, I also understood that I did talk that way but only in certain settings. For the first time I got it! If he would say this, he was talking about me too. I was one of THEM no matter how he tried to clean it up. He wasn't only talking about my schoolmates he was talking about my mother, my aunts, my cousins and my friends. He was talking about me too.

I was intelligent, I was well-spoken, I was a good student, and I was BLACK too. These things were not contradictions. I can still see the smug look on his face when he said, "There are always exceptions to the rule. You four are the exceptions." I was not an exception and I was not exceptional, but I was angry at the insinuation.

The questions:

  • How does someone develop the nerve to make such incredulous statements to anyone let alone children? Well, the answer is because they believe it. So, a better question is how do you develop this theory as a belief and get away with never being challenged on it? How do you look at your only four black students and instead of using them as your model of who black people are and how they speak, you instead develop caricatures of a race of people that you probably never even encounter?
  • Is this where white children learn superiority, entitlement and arrogance? Could this also explain what leads to strong bounds of black solidarity?
  • If this is what an educated person who teaches children truly believes and espouses to other children, doesn't he espouse these beliefs in his social groups? Does anyone challenge him or do they silently agree?
  • How many children did he teach this garbage to over the years and what did they go on to believe and teach as a result?
  • If you create the box, the terms, and the labels does that give you the power to define, defame, and destroy the self-esteem and self-worth of others? Even if it is not your intent aren't you accountable for the damage? How do you fix it? Do you care if it gets fixed? Do you think that anything has even been broken?
  • Why was is it that when we were taught about Black English it was associated with lack of intelligence by an entire race of people; however, when we were taught about the use of tautologies (my sister, she), the improper use of words like irregardless, or the incorrect usage of I and me those things were not characterized as white failures?
  • What is the pressure on a black child that is the only one or one of few that is constantly seen as representative for their entire race?
For me the issue has nothing to do with whether or not Mr. Williams was racist. I think that they're are far worse things than a racist. The power he yielded was not racism but that he was an educator. I understood somehow at that young age, that his intent (unfortunately) was not to demean or castigate all black people as ignorant, that was only the outcome. I say unfortunately because his intent was only to TEACH what was acceptable. In so doing he used the worst speech patterns of a small segment of black people to compare against the best speech and equated that with BEING white. He deemed the rest of us exceptional or exceptions to the RULE. We were all "better than" as long as we did not demonstrate qualities like those who were "less than." For the first time I had to choose which one of them I was to be. Was I a them or an us? Well, he had just told me that I was neither.

FOOTNOTE:
For what it's worth, I wrote a final paper in his class on Transexuality in Children. Why? He always told us that subjects like Tornadoes where boring. Remember the theme was to challenge, to reach, to learn, to impress with knowledge. He said surprise him with something new. I picked what I thought was most shocking. I only mention this because years later when I returned to the school I was told that Mr. Williams had been convicted for molesting young boys.

1 comment:

LoveNotes4CocoPrincess said...

WOW! Thank you for writing. In doing so, you have allowed me to experience your VICTORY!