By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in present-day society.
– Black Panther Party Platform
The celebration of Juneteenth resonates with me deeply. An occasion to purposively celebrate our culture, Juneteenth also provides an opportunity to expand the community’s collective knowledge of the black experience, a perspective excluded from traditional vehicles of education and learning.
It was a full two years after the Emancipation Proclamation legally abolished slavery on January 1, 1863, until Blacks in Galveston, Texas, received official word and became actually free from subjugation. It took Juneteenth to expose the critical unsolved problem of freedom declared but not yet realized.
In a similar vein, the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education and the federal government’s intervention successfully removed segregation, ensuring universal access to public education. Nonetheless, the verdict has yet to deliver excellence and equity in BIPOC students’ educational experiences and outcomes.
It is now time to pivot beyond the realization of universal access for students based on gender, race, ethnicity or special needs to pursue excellence and equity for those who “have always been on the margins of how this nation interprets contributions to the construction of our democracy.”
Why Education Equity Matters:
College enrollment declined more than two million students in the decade before COVID-19. Since 2017-18, whites no longer represent the majority of the undergraduate population at public colleges, according to the Center for American Progress.
There has been a corresponding decline of 200,000 black students ages 18-24 and an increase in Latinx college enrollment (18 to 24) that exceeds the increase in the general Latinx population.
The impact is seen in two ways.
First, the multicultural activism and protests occurring in light of George Floyd’s death cannot be optimized without engaging college campuses. “There is an intellectual perspective to social change that takes understanding through applied knowledge or engagement in coursework,” said an esteemed college administrator.
Many of today’s generation of students – both white and nonwhite – are demanding diverse faculty and professional development in inclusion topics. These students also call for multicultural coursework offerings such as “critical race theory” and faculty that look like them.
With the strain on university budgets and minorities making up most students who attend, many white conservatives fear “minorities getting a leg up on the competitive scale when it comes to jobs that require a degree.”
These factors, including the struggle for power and control, make the debate over “critical race theory” more contentious.
“People are saying that there are those that want to ignore the 1619 Project and disreputable aspects of American History because they don’t want to know the truth. But that’s not enough of a reason to make laws banning teaching what really happened. It’s also about the fact that white kids are not going to college and not wanting minorities to have an edge in the workforce by being the most educated and the most qualified,” the administrator added.
As We Move Forward:
Juneteenth is about black culture and freedom. It is about celebration and education. It is also a call to acknowledge the “progress that has taken place thus far while continuing to work to bring about change at the individual, organization, community, and system levels.”
The black community is currently situated at the cusp of a critical moment where white nationalism has resurged. There is “no consistent, comprehensive, coordinated commitment to formally and appropriately educate and socialize the masses of African Americans for group advancement in a social climate that dehumanizes and devalues them,” says scholar Alan Colon.
Yet our world of alternative facts, conspiracy theories, and a “consistently loose relationship with the truth” continues to push out flawed racialized cultural representations. Media and textbooks continue to present white success while portraying dysfunction, pathology, and failure for black family life.
What Can We Do?
We can work individually and collectively to achieve educational equity, meaning that each child receives everything needed to develop their full academic and social potential.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights’ Education Equity Project is among those fighting in the trenches. This traditional civil rights organization performs equity audits at public universities to determine retention and completion barriers for minority students and help schools develop equitable policies. They also scrutinize the campus climate to determine any racial incidents or issues that contribute to an unwelcome educational environment.
We must also require equally high outcomes for all students and demand that success and failure are no longer determined by racial, cultural, or socioeconomic factors.
We can support the Strength in Diversity Act. This legislation calls for “developing and implementing new strategies in public schools to promote inclusion, which would strengthen the fabric of our nation.”
What are you doing with the children?
However, colleges and universities require a pipeline. The black community must supply more than what the primary, middle, and high schools can provide. Children need more than the rote memorization of facts in the public schools’ bland and deliberately sanitized approach to history.
We need to undertake more than pouring information into children. We also need to draw out of them the gifts and creativity that every child is born with. The misguided distortions taught in mass education strategies result from the tendency to analyze and interpret from a Eurocentric or White middle-class norm rather than through the lenses provided by African Americans’ unique circumstances and experiences.
Therefore, each young person needs to be connected to some more-extensive network where culturally responsive teaching and learning occur. And, where gifts are nurtured and promoted rather than constantly told to sit down and be quiet. The pain of too many adults is that somewhere in growing up, they were talked out of their gifts or devalued so much that the flame was extinguished.
Finally, everyone should find a church or community program that espouses African core values. It will allow our children to escape the danger of becoming spiritual and relational refugees and gradually shape a new consciousness to preserve and promote the community.
Contact Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org