There is no freedom without choice. I know that’s pretty basic. Anyone who thinks about freedom for five minutes could easily come to that conclusion, and I know I’m not the first to say it, but I think it’s profound.
The struggle for freedom is as old as humanity itself. There have always been those who try to limit freedom—limit choices—for certain groups, and for me, that struggle is glaringly illustrated in our current education system.
Since hitting these shores, Black people have fought for the freedom to learn, work for a fair wage, and worship an unvarnished gospel. These are foundational rights provided by this country’s political architects and protected by the red, white, and blue.
Notice my list begins with education. That’s because everything begins with an education. Historically, the basic right to learn to read has been most elusive to Black Americans. And make no mistake, reading for most is directly tied to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In Narrative of a Slave, Frederick Douglass describes his master’s words about the consequences of an educated slave:
“if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”Narrative of the Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
From slavery to freedom to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights era to the School-to-Prison pipeline culture, historians and storytellers have documented the battles and sacrifices just to access education. So, after more than 400 years of educational warfare, why are Black people loyal to an education system that has consistently and perhaps intentionally worked against us? Why do so many think they have to stick to the traditional school-assignment program that has failed so many of us?
Let’s take a look at the data below for Tennessee’s traditionally underserved groups from the state’s standardized assessment TNReady released October 2017.
In the wise words of Lauryn Hill, “It could all be so simple, but you rather make it hard.” Tennessee students of color, economically disadvantaged, and with special needs in grades 3 through 8 have a slim chance of reading at or above grade level or meet expectations in math. Sadly, reading skill deficiencies in these grades offers a grim peek into the future for these students.“The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.”
But make no mistake, Tennessee’s performance issues didn’t just start five, ten, or even 20 years ago. Only in recent years did Tennessee upset the status quo with a robust boost in standards and expectations. We may be on the right track, but the scores suggest we have a long way to the promised land.
Our schools reflect our communities. It doesn’t stop those who have money and resources to get into high-performing schools from tripping over their own righteous indignation, unwittingly (or wittingly) magnifying education’s undercurrent of supremacy by removing any external choice, thereby forcing families to attend the school they’ve been told to attend. Meanwhile, White parents and other well-to-do families do what they do best. Roll out.
These parents certainly have a right to take their resources to a neighborhood attached to a school that works for their family. But these same folk, in all their entitlement turbo-boosted by privilege, fight heaven and earth to keep other parents from enjoying even an ounce of that kind of freedom. In addition to the well-resourced resistance, parents of color who have exercised the right to select the best situation for their children get blamed for segregating schools. Miss me with that BS.
“The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness.” – Frederick Douglass
Even as they are blamed for abandoning, segregating and siphoning money from the public school system, if we pay attention, Black parents are making a powerful statement. They are choosing charters in large numbers. Homeschooling among Blacks is on the rise and many are opting for private schools.
Personally, I’ve struggled over the years with private schools, school vouchers, and even homeschooling using public money. But I’m learning that my personal thoughts on those issues are short-sighted and frankly, of no consequence. Millions of Black parents throughout the country want these options for their children. Period. They have freed themselves from the mental and emotional shackles created by 400 years of paternalism and accompanying violence – physical violence and the kind inflicted by warehousing a child for 13 years and sending them on their way without an adequate education.
Melinda D. Anderson recently wrote an in-depth look in to Black parents’ homeschooling and theimportance of self-reliance, “many are channeling an often overlooked history of black learning in America that’s rooted in liberation from enslavement. When seen in this light, the modern black-homeschooling movement is evocative of African Americans’ generations-long struggle to change their children’s destiny through education—and to do so themselves.”
Parents: you are your child’s first teacher and first investor. Research your options and select the school that best meets your expectations. Whether it’s the traditional public school across the street, the private school in another county, or the makings of a school in your kitchen, this is the first best investment you’ll make for your child’s education. Don’t fall victim to the persecution of the hypocritical privileged.