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How Black Genius is Misdiagnosed as Disability

Full disclosure: I am an educator who has long fought against the tendency for Black students to be disproportionately diagnosed w/ disabilities, especially considering the huge error of margin in rushing to judgment in an institutionally racist system which regards our children as an “other” and given the common thread of behaviors which intersect an ADHD diagnosis and that of giftedness/exceptionalism. As an avid believer in the oft-neglected, innate genius of Black children (in particular), and one in awe of the indomitable spirit of our people as a collective, I am convinced that Black genius has routinely been misdiagnosed as a disability in K-12 schools in America. I argue that it’s time for the entire pedagogical profession to shift our myopic views of what constitutes a developmental disability and consider how our bias too often informs the disproportionate labeling of Black youth as special needs. If scholarly research determines the validity of an existing pattern of prevalent pedagogical practice, findings would likely augment the veracity of modern testing protocols and inform the measurement of youth of all other ethnicities as well. Academic testing – How Academic Testing is Racist – in any form is racist, as such disproportionate disability diagnoses can scarcely be deemed viable, when rendered in a system which is firmly rooted upon antiquated systems of oppression and when performed at the hands of educators suffering from the scourge of the perpetual mis-education of Black students.

Honestly, has it ever occurred to a large percentage of the reigning resident experts, i.e. “holier-than-thou” educational policy makers that the students most prone to “acting out” during daily instruction and/or those least engaged with the didactic (and predictable asf) teaching style, are merely bored beyond belief and grossly underestimated in terms of their scholarship and ability? Surely, we must shift the blame from Black students’ and other students of color supposed inabilities, given the unrealistic expectation to conform to a flawed, Eurocentric model of education which neither places their experience nor their uniquely cultural (and multiple intelligences inclusive) learning styles at the forefront of the learning experience. For example, if indeed restlessness, inattention, impulsivity, high activity levels, and creativity infused day-dreaming are regarded as evidence of superior intellect in African centered or AP (advanced placement) classroom settings, then such behaviors are also representative of the trademark virtues commonly associated w/ being gifted. Yet, these behavioral indicators are often only afforded a positive connotation in specialized, small, private or otherwise affluent schools, overwhelmingly comprised of White students. Unbeknownst to many non-educators, in the average public/charter schools, the exact 👏🏾same 👏🏾descriptors 👏🏾are used to disenfranchise Black students and to otherwise limit, or completely obliterate a universal belief in the natural genius of our Black youth. This practice typically manifests as a large percentage of Black students in integrated school settings (and especially those in large, urban, underfunded school districts), as belonging to a special needs population, encumbered with academically underperforming tendencies or severely developmentally disabled labels and treatment.

There is widespread knowledge among pedagogical circles that the behavior profiles of gifted students closely mirrors that of troubled and/or non traditional students. Therefore, the only discernible difference in opportunity, resources, service delivery and corresponding student performance data is how a student has been officially labeled while on the K-12 trajectory. In affluent districts, student’s who are not traditionally served by general education classroom settings are almost immediately assumed to be gifted and prescribed to being set apart as bright, talented, creative, or as markedly gifted children who would benefit from advanced academic placement and smaller class sizes (among other interventions). The corresponding academic and social expectations are subsequently raised, the requisite resources and teacher quality soars and students officially begin the lifelong trajectory of designation as “gifted”. On the contrary, in urban schools across the nation, our most gifted population of Black students show traditional signs of non-conformity and are immediately regarded as academically, socially and behaviorally disadvantaged and after enduring the referral process, they languish in poorly staffed, scarcely resourced and sparsely funded Special Education departments. In this model SPED students are otherwise relegated to a bleak future wherein academic, social dysfunction is expected and deemed as the norm. Sure, they are placed in small class environments too – only these spaces are not labeled as advanced placement classes, but resource rooms. The bulk of these students almost exclusively mirror the self-fulfilling prophecies of lowered expectations, poor academic performance, social stigmatization and exclusion from the lifelong learning opportunities afforded to their equally gifted peers (born to a different culture and socioeconomic class). Ultimately, the inherent bias, labeling, and level of services offered by educational institutions is predicated upon the slightest nuance in special needs classifications and despite the apparent and often overwhelming intersections between giftedness and diagnosis as “an other”, there’s a literal world of difference between the two categories. Sigh . . .

Until now, little attention has been devoted to the similarities and differences between the two groups, particularly from the viable perspective of race and class inequalities as manifested in educational settings, thus raising the potential for misidentification in both areas — giftedness and disabled. Overwhelmingly, White students are referred to psychologists or pediatric physicians for their non-conformist, ADHD behaviors while Black students are routinely referred to behavior interventionists, deans and even external law enforcement facilities and detention centers at an equal (or accelerated), rate. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that Black students comprising the disabled ranks in segregated, underfunded inner city schools, possess levels of, as yet undiagnosed genius and have been failed by a system intent on their mis-education. Instead, Black students are increasingly diagnosed with ADHD, ASD and/or as distinguishable only in the form of academically, socially or behaviorally significant statistics.

As a general rule in academic practice, when White students’ even begin to exhibit behaviors in alignment with boredom, misbehavior or not working up to his/her apparent ability, they reap the corresponding benefits of attending well funded, resourced educational environments in which their parents’ favorable property values, all but guarantee that the best available social workers, psychologists, counselors and highly compensated administrators and staff will service their every need. In such idyllic environments, every educational and familial stakeholder is well versed in engaging an all-encompassing protocol replete with early intervention allowances to ensure the academic and social success of the individual student’s. When afforded a timely opportunity to be assessed on their academic strengths and weaknesses, the student is then, more often than not, determined to be “gifted and talented” in one, or more, distinct academic disciplines or social emotional capacities. As a veteran educator and scholar, I am not the least bit critical of this high expectation infused protocol of educational service delivery. On the contrary, I merely interrogate the absence of the same tried and true procedural precision in widespread application in the urban schools where I have taught/served as an administrator and in environments in which Black student scholars predominate.

Perhaps as evidence of the grave disparity in being diagnosed as gifted, in a recent Twitter thread, one middle-aged woman courageously, unwittingly exposed the frequency of White, affluent students being diagnosed as “twice-exceptional” in adulthood for harboring a virtually undetectable disability as adults, after having already been labeled as exceptional/gifted during their K-12 years. The thread quickly went viral and it rather innocently exposed the wealth of people who admitted to having benefited from being gifted early in life, while exhaustively detailing the corresponding frustration at struggling academically (or socially-emotionally), later in life when their learning disability was finally diagnosed. For many people, the academic and social differences only frustratingly emerged while enrolled in Ivy League Colleges or whilst working in corporate America, so clearly their White privilege anesthetized them from the special needs shame uniquely experienced by Black students. This only increasingly underscores the reality that the traits of giftedness and disability seamlessly intersect w/ race and class being the only discernible distinction in classification. Common admissions on the twice-exceptional thread included statements in line with this one: “Identified as gifted in grade school. I “never paid attention” in class, always turned in homework late, but did great on tests. I was only later diagnosed with ADHD at 19…”.

Educators must consider that if a student doesn’t finish his/her assignments, or hastily answers questions without showing their work; if their handwriting and spelling or organizational skills are poor; or if the student persistently fidgets in class, talks to others, refuses to keep a seat and often disrupts class by interrupting others they might well be aptly deemed as requiring intervention. The pivotal question is whether the student is gifted or developmentally disabled, and furthermore who is in the best possible position to render such a profound diagnosis? When students’ prematurely shout out the answers to teachers’ questions it’s admittedly annoying (despite the fact that they are usually right). Likewise, when a particularly bright light of a student daydreams during whole group instruction or seems far too easily distracted – these tendencies are typical precursors to being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, because of the inescapable reality of institutionalized racism, in similar case studies involving Black students we rarely if ever, pause to consider whether he/she is gifted, developmentally disabled or some semblance of both? More often than not, Black students are overwhelmingly diagnosed as falling within the confines of the latter Special Education population. While this should not constitute a prescription for academic disenfranchisement, it usually manifests as just that. Therein lies the dilemma of mis-education.

Since in current practice, educational professionals reach the consensus of an ADHD diagnosis by initially listening to parent or teacher referrals (detailing the child’s academic/behavioral profile), w/ only the insufficient contribution of a few brief classroom and social observations of the child, we must make allowances for human error and bias. Even in other cases, when brief screening questionnaires or assessments are used, these measures typically supplement the parents’ or teachers’ subjective descriptions of the original behaviors. Admittedly, only students who are fortunate enough to have thorough physical evaluations, which include screening for allergies and other metabolic disorders, and those afforded extensive psychological evaluations – including assessments of intelligence, achievement, and emotional status – have an equal footing at being accurately diagnosed as either gifted or disabled. It is clear that any student, Black or White, affluent or impoverished, may well be gifted and/or have ADHD or ASD. The truth is that without a thorough professional evaluation, exclusive of the assumptions common in a codified system of oppression, it is difficult to tell. Determining whether a child has ADHD can be particularly difficult when that child is also gifted. The use of many instruments, including intelligence tests administered by qualified professionals, achievement and personality tests, as well as parent/teacher rating scales, can substantively contribute to discerning the the subtle differences between ADHD and giftedness. All evaluations must also be followed by appropriate curricular and instructional modifications that account for cultural competencies and nuances, advanced knowledge, diverse learning styles, and various types of intelligence.

In the end, thoughtful consideration and appropriate professional evaluation is warranted before concluding that bright, creative, intensely gifted and talented Black students have developmental disabilities – or not. We must collectively consider all of the characteristics of the gifted/talented child’s culture, class and background (as well as that of the resident experts) before rushing to judgment. Parents: Do not hesitate to raise the possibility of giftedness with any professional who is evaluating your child for ADHD or ASD, as it is your right to interrogate this possibility. It is vitally important for all educators to make the correct diagnosis, and for parents and teachers to be similarly obliged to educate ourselves, since giftedness is often neglected in our collective professional development training. Together, in mindful consideration of the prevalence of mis-education, we can curb the incidence of Black genius being misdiagnosed as a disability. Otherwise we are all guilty of a grave disservice to all of humanity.

#EducateToLiberate

Would you Pass an #Equity Litmus Test?

“Walk it like I talk it” is what comes to mind when you think about the attention paid to equity across today’s educational and professional landscape. Although a widespread verbal commitment to equity is now politically correct and upon everyone’s lips as a trendy way to appear #Woke, we must advance beyond mere lip service and into the realm of the tangible in order for deeply entrenched levels of equity to be realized. In other words, it’s time to show and prove that we can walk it, like we talk it.

In this sense, equity starts in your own belief system and household and does not encompass merely the lip service paid while one enjoys the privileges of whiteness or working/middle class affluence. Question: would you enroll your children in an integrated, inner city neighborhood public school? And educators: would you consider enrolling your own children in the schools in which you teach? 🤔 The question is no doubt rhetorical, but if the answer to this question is not affirmative, chances are that you are painfully aware of the inequitable funding, resources and academic outcomes which are a reality within a widespread system of mis-education; yet you have, like so many others, deemed low-income, Black students as expendable. #Smdh.

Ultimately, NO student should be regarded as a sacrificial lamb from an educational perspective but Americans have made a conscious decision over the past few decades since Brown v. Board of education, to re-segregate education (and housing) on the basis of white privilege and affluence – thereby rendering mis-education as a myth or the inescapable inheritance of those unfortunate, marginalized children. I guess the real question is: who decides which children are unworthy of an equitable and high quality education education? The resounding consensus is that WE do . . . Everyday and by virtue of which schools we opt to enroll our own children. Truly, actions speak volumes over words and the act of personal investment in an inequitable system goes a long way towards establishing your commitment to and unwavering involvement in fostering widespread change. For the record, I’m not speaking about my opinion here, I am honestly about that life and telling you what I know from my own experience as both an educator and a parent who made a conscious decision to invest in my own child’s education as commensurate with the sacrifices I was willing to make on behalf of our people and all of the other children whom society regards as expendable. If the neighborhood school system in the countless cities in which you make your livelihoods aren’t worthy of your own child’s enrollment…perhaps your commitment to equity is in lip service only.

Each of us is uniquely obliged and largely responsible for counteracting the institutionalized systems of oppression that marginalized people inextricably face in meaningful, tangible, and personally significant ways, not just with the imposter syndrome facades with which we adorn our public persona(s). How can the public, impoverished schools ever be improved upon and rendered equitable, if they remain as an enigma to our own experience as privileged, school choice decision makers? Inner city schools go the way of housing and many are wholly abandoned by the affluent change makers in our midst who use their privilege (as secured by educational esteem and degrees) as fodder for their decisions to move on up (and right out of) disadvantaged communities. That is until gentrification deems the financial benefits of re-discovering and re-investment in a well established ‘historic’ region with renewed interest and promise of prosperity and stability. Even more curious, the verbal commitment of educated professionals who ourselves work in inner city schools have often tied our public agendas to equity, student achievement and closing the opportunity gap, even as their own residence is outside the community in which they earn a living and their own children attend private schools. Recently, the Washington Post posited that equity “could be the most effective mechanism for driving better outcomes for Black and Brown children”, still it would be very telling to conduct a poll on one’s personal alignment to equity, using school enrollment and residency as a sort of personal preference litmus test (to determine if the private reality matches up with one’s public perception). I daresay, our collective actions speak louder than words.

Despite my esteemed educational attainment and lengthy career as a teacher, principal and now a college professor – choosing to devote the bulk of my daily energy to dismantling mis-education through my work as an instructional leadership coach – my life’s work pays homage much more to my own humble public school beginnings, than it does to framing an illusory portrait of financial stability and upward mobility. Because quite frankly, the truth is that for even working class professionals like myself, we are all merely 1-2 paychecks (or looming, depression-like recession status) away from the clear and present danger of financial crisis. So we must align our personal commitments with our public persona as a means to lend credibility and the spiritual fortitude of Ma’at (balance, truth and reciprocity) to our efforts and to what we hold dear.

My own daughter, nieces, nephews, and cousins have ALWAYS attended the same Detroit and Brooklyn inner city, public schools I have taught in. Moreover, in each of these cities, I also lived in the neighborhood in which the schools were located. This is not a novel idea, because my college educated, community invested parents ultimately laid the foundation for an exemplar of: community reinvestment, social activism, grassroots political engagement, Black economic empowerment and perhaps most importantly, neighborhood public school enrollment, involvement and accountability that I was genetically gifted with the literal playbook equity 101. Trust me: it makes a huge difference to be both immersed in and materially invested in (as opposed to pimping), the communities and schools for which we fight.

Equity, social activism, anti-racism and their inextricable ties to freedom from oppression are not just fancy buzzwords in my family – they were and always will be a way 👏🏾 of 👏🏾 life 👏🏾. If the communities in which we lived and the schools in which we chose to enroll our own CHILDREN were the litmus test for equity, progressive thought and an abiding commitment to anti-racist ideology, sooo many people (educators included), would fail. 👀💯 Contrary to popular belief, many social activists and leaders have similarly opted to align their personal agendas with their beliefs and public persona, and in doing so they courageously set the standard of a conscious commitment to equity (not just in words, but in deeds). Notably esteemed and admirably bad-assed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, would likely agree that she and her husband’s reported decision to enroll their 4-year old daughter in a high poverty school is not sacrificing high quality nor lasting academic performance and success, rather she is exercising equity in action by investing in the very community within which some of our best and brightest Black and Brown children have sprung. She vehemently defends this decision against critics who insisted that she shouldn’t experiment with her own child’s education to a social justice agenda and she wisely counters “whose children should be sacrificed?”.

Of course I can only speak from personal experience, still I have admittedly been blessed to attend AND work in schools within which the founders, school leaders and teachers/support staff, all had their own children enrolled. It made a fundamental difference in how equity was practiced in terms of teacher pay, academic quality and the depth of the lifelong relationships and alliances formed. How blessed I have been to have had the exemplary privilege to have been enrolled in and to have taught in such unique institutions which meaningfully actualized the Educate to Liberate mantra of education as the basis of freedom from oppression. Surely the breadth of my lengthy experience as an educator also means that I have attended and worked in schools within which the leadership and instructional team have had multiple school-aged children who overwhelmingly attended private, suburban or parochial schools in the detached, affluent communities in which they lived. But of course, by and large these educators comprised the non-invested, savior, or “I’ve got mine, you get yours” ilk who represent the portrait of mis-education. No judgment if this has been your experience . . . But kindly save us all the empty lip service regarding your heartfelt commitment to equity. America has been far too willing to sacrifice its Black and Brown children to mis-education, while privilege and affluence prescribes the perpetuation of the status quo for their own offspring. Equity is not just a popular buzzword but informs a living, breathing and autonomous decision-making reality in each of our lives. How about making certain that we can walk it, like we talk it?

In the Name of Equity, Some School Practices Must be Abolished

Some of the age-old practices that schools engage in and passively endorse should be revamped or altogether abolished, for the sake of equity.

Schools, oftentimes unknowingly, contribute to mis-education by centering whiteness and affluence via cultural traditions, rewarding students not burdened by poverty or by further marginalizing those who are oppressed (through no fault of their own).

Among the questionable practices are:

Thanksgiving/ANY holiday feast

Perfect attendance awards

Charging for lunch

Scholastic book fairs

Free dress days (@ cost)

Policing uniforms/shoes/hair

In their own unique way, each of these seemingly harmless practices are biased, classist & egregious. In many ways the policies isolate, demean or exclude children of a certain culture and class and essentially contribute to lowering individual self worth in a manner consistent with mis-education.

Honestly, the list goes on & on re: the endless ways schools normalize cultural whitewashing; celebratIng affluence; limiting personal agency and otherwise excluding students from an equitable educational experience by simply doing things the way they have always been done. I don’t believe that all schools harbor malice towards impoverished students or are complicit in the vein of purposeful harm. Given the widespread popularity of these practices, it’s likely that some schools are even conscious of their negative impact upon students. However, those of us that know better – are required to do better. And stated plainly, many school norms further mis-educate, marginalize or disillusion Black students and those oppressed by the limits of poverty.

Imagine the worthlessness a student feels when/if they are unable to afford a “free dress ticket” or a popular $5 young adult novel at the book fair, upon witnessing their peers’ privilege. Consider that a class or school wide field trip, which might even be sponsored by the school, still assumes that students are capable of bringing along spending money to purchase a lunch, novelty gift or other memorabilia . . . When in fact, this expense, seemingly minor in the eyes of those who are financially stable, becomes an impossibility for families without the luxury of a few extra dollars. Even holiday feasts, when wholly purchased and professionally catered by teachers, administrators and staff seem to forcibly normalize Western, Eurocentric Holidays which may or may not, exist as a part of a child’s cultural or religious traditions. I’m not saying that schools should eliminate all extra curricular activities and experiences – but we must certainly strive to make them more universally inclusive.

An exemplary, veteran elementary educator and colleague wisely shared that even bake sales, selling bagels and juice, and field trips are practices which must be totally FREE otherwise they risk becoming symbolic of systemic inequity. Many of the schools we work in (by choice, not by force), are demographically classified as 90-100% Title I institutions, thereby comprised of a student enrollment reflective of an overwhelming majority of low-income families. Thus, as a general rule the needs of all children must be thoughtfully and equitably centered in all of our decision making.

In conclusion, what if free dress day were truly free for students? I guarantee they would enjoy it more and there would be less of a demarcation between the students who could afford to wear spirit day outfits and those who weren’t. What if “twin day” (which must be an absolute nightmare for those who are socially awkward or don’t have existing friendships), could be transformed into a dress like your favorite athlete, author or entertainer day instead? This would be a more inclusive option than the latter. One of my thoughtful Educate to Liberate Instagtam followers wisely proposed that schools consider abolishing any spirit week’s that include a “nerd day” because further isolating brilliant, bookworms or computer science geeks is just mean spirited and wrong. Ultimately, we can (and should) consider revamping or altogether abolishing those thoughtless practices which have even the slightest potential for harming our students. At the very least, it’s something worth thinking about.

Is It Still Mis-Education in Black Face? A Resounding Yes!

As the dawn of a new year and decade is on the horizon, I am so fortunate for the months of reflection and the meaningful catharsis that this blog has been in my life. Even during tumultuous periods of my life, when writing and maintaining this blog has felt like a selfish indulgence unwanted by my attention, rather than an outlet to share my heartfelt truths – I have always found affirmation in the thought that despite the noise of life and all of the many obligations involved in honoring God, family, work and community – I have done my level best in continuing to speaking truth to power re: my lifelong passion to dismantle the mis-education of Black students, wherever it exists and by any means necessary; and to consciously Educate to Liberate as a matter of urgency.

In this vein, I pen what will undoubtedly stand as a novel contribution to my always ready critique of white supremacy (and its willing co-conspirators), in the promulgation of institutionalized oppression in the hallowed halls of education. Rather, I am motivated to address head-on, during my annual observation of Kwanzaa and embrace of Nia (purpose) no less, the prominence of internalized oppression and Black self loathing in countless educators who are equally complicit, if not even more culpable, for their pivotal role in the mis-education of marginalized people and in particular their own Black students/children and young adults who comprise the next generation. But sadly, because it is not an enigma and does indeed exist as an embarrassing testament to all things unholy and vile within our condemnable system of education oppression . . . This post is dedicated to all the knee bending, head scratching, foot shuffling, self hating, racist apologists and feet don’t fail me now negropean or mentally enslaved brothers and sisters, who willfully propagate mis-education in Blackface.

In exposing the self righteous yet self hating bards of powerful position and lowly stature of mis-educating Black teachers, I don’t have to look too far back into my own personal history to lift up an egregious case study. This fact, in and of itself, speaks volumes of the prevalence of “hurt people, hurting people” and of the danger of Black teachers willing to use their proximity to Blackness and access to positions of power to dish out harm, in large doses, to countless classrooms comprised of malleable Black genius minds. In any case, about 5 years ago my daughter was enrolled in a popular, high performing magnet high school which requires all academically advanced students to be tested to obtain enrollment and to maintain above a ‘B’ average to retain one’s seat. The particular institution in question, Cass Technical High School is especially near and dear to my own heart, as it is my own beloved alma mater and until my family relocated to the East Coast during my teens, was the site of so many meaningful coming-of-age lessons. In fact, full disclosure, it was because of my own testimony of experience that I made little secret of my own personal preference when Jendayi had her choice of several accelerated local high schools when we relocated back from Brooklyn, NY to Detroit at the culmination of her middle school years.

Because of her history of academic high performance and love of school in general, it was no surprise (and in fact expected), that she would soon be enrolled in Baccalaureate or AP (advanced placement) courses in one, or more, of her core subject areas. Well, there was an instant love affair of mutual respect and high academic expectations cultivated in her language arts course, which assigned a seemingly limitless roster of required reading. But enrollment in her AP math course proved to be less rigorous. In fact, the course syllabus was rarely adhered to and the effeminate, Black male teacher reportedly spent the bulk of class time on his own cell phone while the gifted students were rather mindlessly engaged in silent, independent work. Having just moved from NYC and after being immersed in vibrant, rigorous Common Core aligned classrooms where teaching was reflective of active modeling, purposeful mini lessons and students had multiple opportunities to engage in practice, discussion and evaluative feedback – Mr. H’s classroom felt like a foreign prison staffed with an animated warden who picked favorites and used instructional time to fulfill his own whimsical behavior quirks. Needless to say, my daughter’s math performance and grades soon plummeted and this only exacerbated a hostile class climate-because this teacher regularly picked on/teased the students who appeared not to fully understand the lessons (on their own with virtually NO direct instruction), whilst openly favoring those who could boast of a natural math genius.

My daughter’s struggle to master the AP math course objectives and assignments was the least of her worries however, because this self loathing, mis-education wielding Black man had lasting damages to one’s self esteem and cultural pride in store. Adding insult to injury to the already dreadful classroom environment: peppered with Mr. H’s flagrant cell phone use, his significant praise for the (primarily) Black male students who “got the gist of the lesson” with zero effort on his part and with the frequent, inappropriate commentary he would make on the high school students’ fashion choices – somehow, someway the situation only worsened thus prompting my immediate intervention and that of an entire team of school administrators. Namely, as the teacher sought to personalize his class experiences, he asked students to participate in wearing throwback clothing on an upcoming day of the week to show their school spirit. Then, this cultural and gender challenged fool of a teacher commenced to arming himself with self hatred and publicly berating my daughter about her choice of attire on the day in question.

Ultimately, this power wielding, dangerous teacher ridiculed Jendayi in front of all of her peers for wearing African garb to school on the ‘throwback gear’ day in question. He laughed uncontrollably at one sight of her colorful dashiki and asked whether she had mistaken the throwback day as Halloween. Never mind that this is the same school where she proudly maintained a 3.75-4.0 for all four years and graduated in the top 5% of her class. When Mr. H clowned her for wearing an African inspired dashiki on a day when many of her peers chose to adorn 80s inspired baggy clothing instead, he single handedly opened the door wide open for cultural ignorance, high school bullying and ridicule and for self doubt and potential shame from a young girl who had grown up in a household, where she had been specifically taught to know and love herself (and to be proud and knowledgeable of her history). Needless to say – this was/is an unforgivable offense. Of course when my entire family arrived to the school, unannounced and threatening legal recourse while demanding his resignation and/or formal reprimand-he promptly apologized and was even ultimately defended by school administration who acknowledged that though his comment had been in poor taste we must insist that this married man of teenage daughters of his own (relevance? Tuh..) was a tenured, valued member of staff and that we should merely excuse his minor error in judgment.

Needless to say, the formal complaint was escalated beyond the school level to include personnel documentation at the district level. But alas, the damage was still done. My 15 year old daughter? Was in tears and inconsolable (as well as essentially untrusting of academic professionals from that point forward). Her 16 year old peers (my daughter was always a year younger than her classmates because of an early elementary double promotion), reacted with laughter and nervous, unspoken consensus that yes, cultural garb of any kind and the audacity of knowledge of self and pride in the same was worthy of general scorn and disrespect. No wonder an entire generation now sees fit to misuse cultural terminology like Hotep, a common Pan-African greeting meaning peace and regarded as a sign of respect to legendary genius God Imhotep, and the word has assumed a wholly negative connotation on all social media platforms and wherever it is used in modern context. The title is now almost universally regarded as a derogatory euphemism for being pro-Black. I guess this means it’s fair to say that one of the by products of Black teachers enthusiastically propagating mis-education in Blackface, is that self hatred is the norm and expected ideal for those under the age of 35. Sigh… So now that such palpable forms of internalized oppression have taken up residence in our cultural AAVE lexicon – it would appear that the die has been cast; the damage to our collective psyche-done and the conclusion re: mis-education-universal.

No matter the source, form or fashion . . . education as a tool of oppression leaves irreversible damage upon the Black, Indigenous and all other marginalized students it regularly impacts. Sadly, no demographic is unscathed from the effects of institutionalized oppression and as such, we are all equally obliged to engage in the conscious act of liberation. As for my daughter and her status you might ask? She is entering the final semester of her undergraduate tenure, soon to emerge as a well adjusted, spiritually and socially conscious environmental activist committed to engage in her life’s passion of averting the climate crisis and ensuring clean water sustainability for the people who are most at risk of oppression. She was irrecoverably shaped by overwhelmingly positive and a notable, few negative educational experiences as the one just described. Our family jokingly concluded that she would soon either be an attorney (as is her aunt, Godmother and several mentors; or a change maker, in her desired field of choice). Based upon her life trajectory, it would seem we weren’t too far from the mark. As for the inept teacher referenced in this blog post? Last I checked, and trust me I’m keeping tabs, he is undoubtedly still employed at the same exemplary institution, armed with the same soul crushing power in an AP Geometry or Calculus course filled to the brim with eager, idealistic and brilliant minds within his treacherous grasp. Trust me, the literal thought of this moves me from the stark emotions of profound sadness to violent aggression and neither outcome has dissipated with time. This only means that our Educate to Liberate efforts are all the more urgent in 2020 and beyond. Asé ✊🏿

#ArrivedInFullGarbLikeMeetMeOutside #ClownStillWorksAtTheSchool #EducateToLiberateIdeologyMakesAllTheDifference

Leveraging Teachable Moments

My daughter teases me for being so impassioned about life experiences, current events, and especially about injustice far and wide. I am the literal Queen of taking advantage of life’s teachable moments. I wear this honor proudly, because I realize that the penchant for turning any situation into an opportunity to engage critical thinking, debate or inform a logical opinion is what makes me such a natural born teacher. In my opinion, a teacher can teach about any subject, in any place and at anytime. So when I launch into an impromptu lecture on self-love and African history or the importance of a healthy knowledge of self, whenever someone around me questions my heritage because of my Pan-African name – Jendayi just laughs, shakes her head and typically walks away because she’s heard it all before and would rather skip the repeat lesson (lol). For the record, this example is not just blog content, but this actually happened a few weeks ago when I met someone in Chicago and the young woman inquired why I had an African name since I was apparently, from Detroit and not the continent . . . Baby! Let me tell you, I launched full throttle into a lesson to rival any history course on Africa as the birthplace of all humanity. I was admittedly in my element as a teacher and as for the young woman? Well, she was the recipient (albeit unwillingly), of an unscripted mini lesson on that day.

Likewise, we should all leverage relevant current events as viable opportunities to engage teachable moments. As a pertinent example, I am perfectly capable and willing to employ the rigorous literacy shifts of complexity, grounded/objective evidence and building knowledge through context rich nonfiction by exploring daily news events, as they happen in real time, with unsuspecting “students” of life. So as to avoid the mindless folly of watching television or obsessing about the stresses of daily life – I am apt to turning the overwhelmingly negative occurrences of daily life in America into teachable moments. Educators should ideally welcome an opportunity to cover the basics of Trump’s looming impeachment as a lesson in integrity and to explore timely themes of anti-corruption in government. Another option is to encourage our families, friends and social media contacts to process, respond to and grieve the tragic school shooting in Santa Clarita from the often disregarded perspective of those most acutely affected by this harsh, but all too common reality: teachers and students. And for the sports buffs in our midst, why not motivate a social justice inspired discussion of Kaepernick’s potential return to the NFL by asking them to consider combing the persuasive evidence that his widely touted workout opportunity is curiously subject to an entirely different set of rules – thus rendering it suspect. Lastly, though this lesson is admittedly out of my reach as an old-school Hip-Hop head who has little respect for the music and trash-adjacent artists of today, one could scarcely argue how motivated our children or other young people in our lives might be to do more than mourn the temporary loss of a young man who has fallen prey to the penal system, but rather to gather evidence as a means to compare and contrast Kodak Black’s recent arrest and sentencing (who even is this young man? And wth are his songs?), to that of equally irresponsible yet white, privileged entertainers who are similarly guilty of doing “Stupid things since they were 15” to quote the judge in Black’s case. Certainly, a critical analysis approach to daily news has universal benefits in rendering us all more discerning and research oriented as opposed to accepting stories at face value. Ultimately, each aforementioned topic frames a unique opportunity to leverage a teachable moment and to potentially explore relevant, cross-curricular themes of civics, school safety, human rights and the currency of white privilege v. the presumption of Black guilt in the criminal justice system. Just some thoughts to consider.

In many ways as educators, it is our natural inclination to “school people” or to model the depths of critical thought and expression to the less inspired, mere mortals around us – so we should regularly and in my humble opinion, must increasingly make our indelible marks upon ensuring a better world for ALL, by leveraging our skills as educators in embracing the teachable moments in life. One of the ways we shine our innate light in our profession is to spark the longing to know more and to motivate discussion, deep thought and a quest for knowledge on a wide range of subjects and concepts. Of course, there might be some who say, perhaps rightfully, “Hey I don’t get paid to enlighten people 24-7 so why should I educate for free?” And certainly we have a right to unplug, take a day off or just veg at as the spirit moves. However, let’s not forget the wisdom in the scholarly quote of our revered elder and honored ancestor, Dr. John Henrik Clarke who profoundly stated: “I only debate my equals. All others, I teach.” #MicDrop. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly and as in all things in life, I choose my battles wisely and opt to drop knowledge in arenas where I know my gift will be appreciated and valued. Let’s consider for a moment that fine tuning our craft on our own unsuspecting family members, friends and strangers/acquaintances, is a benefit to us as well. Who can argue with the notion that in this age where ignorance is regarded as a virtue and knowledge sharing is officially a 21st Century relic. So, since people are far too dependent on technology, preoccupied with pedestrian presidential musings via Twitter and reliant upon others to do their thinking for them as they monotonously advance through the cycle of life – I say we have a moral obligation to raise our collective level of consciousness.

Here’s a thought: What if the dearth of the universal value of teaching as a career choice and our disrespectful pay overall is as easily attributed to our own unwillingness to perpetually shine our lights upon the world as a manifestation of our deepest fear as it is the fault of society’s inequity? I submit, later for playing down our pivotal role in propagating intelligence as a universal theme and it is high time for us to cash in on our relative goldmine as a value-added resource to all of humanity. Forget all the second job hustles we are forced to engage in as a means to make ends meet, and let’s agree to retire exploitative, pennies on the dollar profits from entities like teachers pay teachers, as beneath our pay grade. Let us embrace the teachable moments of life both for our own enjoyment and for the tangible benefits derived from our growth mindsets expanding the public’s regard for our incalculable worth. By virtue of our own self-fulfilling prophecy of our worth and esteem, let us admonish others that we are more valuable than pro athletes, entertainers, and Fortune 500 executives combined – and remind them that they (like each of the aforementioned stakeholders), would truly have nothing, if it were not for dynamic teachers like us, who give so unselfishly of ourselves in this noble profession. Each of us has the creative and divine power to dispel the universal notion that teaching is an unwanted, dreaded or dishonorable profession by honoring ourselves and using our skill set and powers to change the minds of the world. Many of you, like me, were born to teach. We have a literal, non-transferable gift and for those who have tried this profession and failed, they learned the hard way that pimping ain’t easy . . . but somebody’s got to do it. Indeed, the satisfaction and rewards associated with being an educator will only begin to outweigh the liabilities to the extent that we share willingly of our gifts, while at the same time compel others to sustain the future of our fine profession by rewarding us, accordingly.

Leveraging the teachable moment offers two-fold benefits: the first part is akin to ego tripping and taking stock of our own gifts, because truly ain’t nobody bad like teachers baby. The other part is to inform the wealth of documented evidence that as others have their own level of consciousness raised and begin to consider the sum value of our ability to teach spontaneously on a wide variety of topics, they will be more readily inclined to both recognize and honor the marketability of our unique set of skills. As a collective bonus, the more educators increasingly embrace the virtues of #anti-racism, #equity and #inclusion and their pivotal role in developing the intellect, at all levels – others around us will increasingly realize that though we are admittedly knowledgeable, capable and wise, there is truly so much more for us to learn. I have faith that as educators seize the opportunity to relieve others of their ignorance, racism and apathy; we accept our anointment as those uniquely gifted to be a part of the solution, as opposed to the problem. In many instances, if people knew better . . . they would do better. So, teachable moments are not merely reserved for those ideal occasions in our own classrooms where poignant lessons can hit home, but should be our literal calling cards as educators, social activists and change makers throughout the diaspora. Granted, perhaps this suggestion is not for everyone. Undoubtedly, this message will resonate most with those who regard this profession as a calling rather than a career and for those like me, who have such a passion for the continuous cycle of teaching, learning and repeating – that we do it all day anyway. On a personal note, early on in my teaching career, when I would get home, seemingly ready to decompress and engage in my beloved evening rituals of cooking, listening to music and cleaning or spending time with family; during conversations about any given topic, my husband would sometimes feel the urge to remind me “Girl, I ain’t one of your students.” Instinctively, I would become conscious of my use of some innate educator behavior (I would have otherwise been blind to because its truly second nature) and I would always lovingly, verbally affirm “I know hun. I guess old habits die hard.” Secretly, deep down inside I am almost certain that I would really be smiling and thinking: “But in a way, you are my student dear husband . . . don’t fight it (smile), just learn”.

Living and Learning While Black, Without Armor

One could scarcely imagine the Black Panther, whether it be King T’Chaka, T’Challa or even the brief reign of Erik Killmonger without the obligatory accompaniment of the indestructible Vibranium suit of armor. Needless to say, without donning the bulletproof, deftly Shuri enhanced, nanotechnology infused and upgraded Black Panther habit, or protective suit of armor, the proud tradition of being the warrior protector of Wakanda would have been virtually inconceivable. Mere Hollywood fantasy you may argue? Perhaps. But there’s still so much which powerfully resonates and is historically correct in the relevant concepts of African royalty; a Rites of Passage inspired tradition of passing the honored elder leadership mantle from one generation to the next; and of wisely, preemptively adorning oneself in armor as an essential and salient means of self preservation when at war. Perhaps Black people heavily identified and invested in the Black Panther film’s success not only because of the visceral pride we felt in the all Black director, cast and design team but because it overwhelmingly stoked our preoccupation with realizing a revolutionary reality. We can relate on a deeply spiritual level to an affirming narrative of our own shining, revolutionary representation. We nod in agreement at the delicate, unstable, complicated and warring juxtaposition of our African and American identities and relish in a depiction of a thriving Black on Black future unfettered by white supremacist oppression. The film is like our own personal imagination and was glowingly emblematic of how regal, genius, beautiful and incorruptible we see ourselves as distinct from the white gaze of who we are. We will always and forever stan the multifaceted beauty of our Blackness and have rousing appreciation for any /all art showcasing the unmitigated Black excellence of our narrative from our own unique point of view.

Black Panther the Marvel character, long believed to have been inspired by white creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in order to capitalize upon the Black imagination and conjure a fantasy version of the Black Power unapologetically coined in Kwame Toure’s uncompromising demand for Black freedom in the late 60s; was very much like The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the seminal grassroots movement, in that it normalized the concept of Black people being sufficiently armed for warfare. Ultimately there’s a salient argument for the fact that, in every meaningful iteration of authentic Black Power – both imaginary and true to life soldiers must be fully armed as a prerequisite to knowingly entering into battle or warfare. Given the general assumption that as a Black people, we collectively place supreme value on education and maintain that our genius intellect is our most viable weapon and significant attribute in our suits of armor in fighting against our own oppression; then too, our education must be a refreshing, liberation fueled and all-inclusive immersive experience, designed to wholly prepare us for a glorious future in which Black royalty, wealth, technological advancements and our intellectual prowess are nurtured and flourish without limits.

In the same way that a skilled warrior would essentially embark upon a suicide mission to even remotely consider engaging in battle while unarmed . . . So it is incumbent upon each of us to consider the ultimate sacrifice we instinctively bear by living in a contentious society, in which we are duly unarmed. Since we are neither sufficiently armed nor equally yoked with the oppressive forces against us – as a result, we continue to perish at alarming rates, not just for being physically subdued and slaughtered, but rather we perish because of a profound lack of knowledge. There’s little disagreement about the fact that it is the unique calling of Blacks in America to be the universal casualties of the literal war against us, that sadly many of us scarcely even acknowledge that we are fighting. As a Black people we must of necessity, navigate a grenade strewn terrain of living in an American society hellbent on our annihilation, via a white supremacist waged genocide. Certainly, our people the world over understand the unwritten, and all too palpable rules of engagement in a society, which still benefits from our forced labor, intellectual property, material wealth and creative contributions; but which incredulously harbors a neurotic “Fear of a Black Planet” and demands universal compliance to white male, female privilege in every conceivable form. We are therefore resigned to acknowledging that our very existence, in our own bodies/spaces/homes, are everyday subject to being unlawfully permeated by the murderous intrusion of white, unlawful enforcement officers and begrudgingly accept that we WILL unequivocally lose our lives for merely BEING Black in America. As a means of normalizing our oppressive existence, we methodically tiptoe on eggshells when navigating the mundane tasks in our everyday lives. And we attempt to unsuccessfully mask the most prevalent by product of our systemic oppression: internalized self-hatred. “We wear the mask” as poet Paul Laurence Dunbar brilliantly described, all while politically correctly diluting the harmful impact of systemic oppression’s unwanted gift, by casually referencing the symptoms of our inevitable self loathing as the “pop culture approved” phenomena of having imposter syndrome. Yeah right! Try PTSD for being the zombie like survivors of a 400-years long war, without the benefits of Reparations. Meanwhile, we walk around aimlessly and unarmed as the soon to be martyred casualties of an all-out warfare being waged against us. And even as we are subject to the barrage of the enemy’s unrelenting attacks, we somehow turn our disgust and rage inwardly towards one another and routinely send our most beloved and revered treasures and resources: our children, to oppressive schools which we naively regard as “safe zones”. Tuh! For a proper contextual framework we should consider that: Black students come to schools innocently armed with hopeful optimism and school supplies; Meanwhile teachers, administrators, staff, and policy makers equip schools to be armed to the teeth and dangerous. Educators and lawmakers are flush with degrees, certifications, racism, bias, prejudices, personal/political agendas and rampant white privilege or Black self hatred (or a unique combination of each of these potent power dynamics). Left untouched, an inescapable inheritance of these weapons of mass destruction, all but guarantees that mis-education is the universal inheritance and sole deliverable of the K-16 trajectory.

News flash American public: Black students are collectively unarmed! Indigenous students and other students of color are disproportionately unarmed! Black, Indigenous students of color are victimized first by systemic oppression within the culture at large and then acutely so in your failing, underfunded and total misfit factory producing school institutions. How else could this country have produced a Donald Trump, or assault weapon armed white males who commit mass murders in schools, churches, mosques and synagogues as if for recreation?! Marginalized students and their families are admittedly at fault for still, overwhelmingly regarding schools as a welcome refuge from the inescapable oppressive realities we face everyday by just living, breathing existing in the same space as those otherwise privileged with power. So in schools across the country, our children and the stewards of our collective future are being forced to defend themselves against enemies as formidable as Ulysses Klaue, Black Panther’s evil and bigoted arch nemesis, without so much as a ceremonial necklace, assegai or shield to be used as an ingenious tool to defend themselves or to effortlessly activate their suits of armor when they find themselves in danger. Our students are admittedly at war and instead of being armed with knowledge of self, or critical thinking abilities or technological survival tactics and solutions to the world’s problems – they are outfitted with an outdated and inherently racist reading canon and nightly reading logs, a meaningless collection of high stakes test prep notes and wooden pencils (and let’s be honest, it’s October and by this time of year many of them don’t even have a pencil). I promise you that their insufficient weapons are no match for the intimidating, Vibranium laced armored suits seemingly worn by those accountable for their academic success.

Mis-education is not rocket science. And though it certainly serves as an imagery rich, useful analogy in this frustratingly real asf blog post – mis-education is admittedly no #WakandaForever style fantasy with even the slightest prediction of a happy ending. On the contrary, the powerlessness that Black students and other marginalized students wield is 100% Factssss and all too painfully real in an educational system ill-prepared to duly arm them for the actual battles they face. Though Black, Indigenous students of color are clearly unarmed, they are behind enemy lines and suffer from an educational system designed to bolster white supremacy and keep them in chains. Far too many of the power brokers determining their academic and social realities are resigned to categorizing them as low-performing, irreparably damaged goods who are ultimately expendable in the collective vision of a New World Order. Black students are defenseless while their teachers are akin to the rest of the world, armed and dangerous. This works as a perfect complement to systemic oppression which prescribes a nonexistent future, in which the universal low expectation of Black students, becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. This is a vicious cycle to be sure – but one which must be valiantly thwarted by an Educate to Liberate ideology . Thankfully, our innocent, unarmed students are not alone. As divine providence would have it (and has always dictated), each generation is uniquely gifted with a small number but a nonetheless impressive cadre of warriors. I am one and have actualized my unique purpose since my teaching career began in 1994.

We are the parents, educators and even decision making legislative and executive bodies who battle alongside our innocently, unarmed students. We are wholly well intentioned, thoroughly burnt out, admittedly cash strapped and materially tapped out and yet, we manage to fiercely and courageously infuse passion, equity, anti-racism, diversity, inclusion and social justice into our professional repertoire as we live and breathe. We labor to ensure a tangible means to actively counteract the collective mis-education of Black students. We recognize that the education system is merely a microcosm of society and we know that to merely call the world dysfunctional is, well, an understatement. We accept the reality that we are at war, and we take our dues-paying earned positions on the front lines. We are in the system, but not of the system and as for me? I’m fully strapped, locked and loaded as I eschew cushy six figure salaries in highly perched positions in which my impact is if no consequence. Those who fight on behalf of our people acknowledge that the very same white supremacist ideology which wholeheartedly infects the rest of society has an indelible imprint upon the educational system. So we work tirelessly to overtly dismantle systemic oppression wherever it manifests from within the dysfunctional fabric of the pedagogical community and on many fronts, we win. For lack of a better term and as a final, albeit prophetic Black Panther reference: we are acutely conscious of the self-destructive armor we instinctively wield and so we are mindful and ever vigilant to engage in the necessary study and reflective practice which empowers us to disarm our weapons of mass destruction from behind enemy lines. We endeavor to be like the Dora Milaje in that we are the indestructible, first line of defense willing to be fired upon knowing that our own Vibranium infused assegai’s and shields can withstand the onslaught of oppression’s blows.

It is not fiction that Africa is the cradle of civilization. There is scientific evidence and widespread consensus that the Black Woman is the progenitor of the earth and irrefutably the continent of Africa is the most mineral rich land in the universe. So an afro-futuristic, African Diaspora reality with technological advancements throughout and warrior women no longer shackled by Korean, or Malaysian weaves but embracing our natural, beautiful Black selves is warmly welcomed. For me: a Black woman, mother, sister, educator, scholar, warrior and Queen innately imbued with magic and fashioned in the image of God, it is not inconceivable that I could accompany my other sister and brother warriors as the highest ranking force in the military. Without exception, it is the obligation of every Black man, woman and child to assume the protective armor of rigorously engaging our innate, African genius as a means to be free from oppression. As a closing note, in a comprehensive review of the long awaited Marvel film, prior to its release, Time Magazine had this to say of the applicability of art imitating life “The revolutionary thing about Black Panther is that it envisions a world not devoid of racism but one in which black people have the wealth, technology and military might to level the playing field—a scenario applicable not only to the predominantly white landscape of Hollywood but, more important, to the world at large.”

We couldn’t agree more. Asé.