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How Long Must Black Children Suffer American Mis-Education?

The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. We have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.” ~ bell hooks

The present-day landscape of urban education in America mimics an awful research study of human subjects akin to the legendarily unethical and criminal Tuskegee Syphilis experiment of 1932-1972. In 2014, the nation observed the sixtieth anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, purported to transform the pursuit of educational equality in U.S. education. However, in the 64 years since that decision, Black students have not reached levels of academic achievement comparable to students in other demographic groups (NCES, 2013a). Academic achievement disparities between Black students and their White, Asian, and Latinx counterparts have been well documented over the past two decades. At a time when children of color comprise a majority of students in most urban districts, and will be the majority in the nation as a whole by 2025, “we face pernicious achievement gaps that fuel inequality, shortchanging our young people and our nation” (Darling-Hammond, 2015, p. 3). According to Check & Schutt (2011) “teachers, counselors, administrators, coaches—practically anyone involved in education—work with at-risk students at some point. They often find they need to learn more about at-risk students by reading the research or perhaps even conducting research of their own” (p. 65). Thus, in disproportionate rates, Black youth are the unwitting casualties of a sad, unfortunate experiment in #Miseducation.

Across the United States of America, students of common racial and poverty lines languish in urban, academically low-performing schools, which are overwhelmingly subjected to seemingly identical elements of mis-education. This increasingly criminal, trial-by-error form of education occurs by our collective permission, given our ignorance and/or stubborn unwillingness to implement another paradigm. In addition, this gross mis-education occurs at the hands of the widespread ineptitude of multiple factions including policy makers, authorizers, institutions devoted to teacher preparation, pedagogical leaders and practitioners to the parents and students themselves. As such, since we are all, each one of us, equally at fault for the abject failure of an entire educational system completely failing a growing ‘at-risk’ student population – we must approach the remedy with a collaborative, ‘all hands on deck’ and full stakeholder investment in the solution.

It is my emphatic belief that authentic education is only possible when students are regarded as equal, valuable partners in the educational process. Thus, in order for educators of good conscience to affect meaningful and lasting change, we must espouse the cause of liberation by facilitating the growth of men and women who critically generate knowledge from their own unique, culturally-rich worldview. The problem of mis-education raises “fundamental questions about how educators and schools contribute to these problems . . . how can we make schooling meaningful so as to make it critical and how can we make it critical so as to make it emancipatory?” Teacher education programs need to evolve and reflect the increasing diversity in public schools. Ogay and Edelmann (2016) stated, “An online consultation of teachers revealed that 66% of the respondents felt that they were ill-prepared to address diversity in the classroom.” And, while this does not mean that every teacher (largely White females), must become card carrying members of the Black Lives Matter movement in order to prove their readiness to be apart of the liberation-driven solution, it does mean that the previous playbook of instructional “Best Practices” and modus operandi must be radically reshaped or altogether discarded.

A liberation-based pedagogy is, at its best, a level of culturally significant and 21st Century pedagogical strategies fueled by my own practical experience as a career educator in exclusively high-needs, urban schools across America. An Educate To Liberate infused education provides the world with the thinkers capable of challenging (and ultimately transforming), the status quo. My firm belief in a revolutionary pedagogical approach is equally inspired by the powerful body of research-based scholarship underlying the failure of countless education reforms and represents an attempt of grasping for a solution uniquely geared to the 21st Century needs of this nation’s underserved masses. While the #EducateToLiberate paradigm does not profess to have the answer to all that ails us on the pedagogical forefront, there are explicit strategies, studies and efforts underway to empower each of us to evolve into the kind of revolutionary-activist educators capable of collectively transforming the world (one classroom and/or school at a time), by teaching students to think critically. Not only does this fulfill the universal need for increased academic achievement, but these tools arm us to promote the creation of empowered intellectuals who are, as a result of their liberating education . . . accountable for their own freedom from oppression.

“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel it’s warmth.” – African proverb #EducateToLiberate 💜

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From Divine Suffering: An Imperfect Masterpiece

For some of us, life’s lessons are far more painful than poetic and just plain hard. As for me, there has been no gentle nudges, soft whispers or idyllic narratives to accompany me along my life’s journey – only harsh realities, and sledgehammer wielding obstacles to litter my otherwise ‘charmed’ existence. I promise you that there is truth to the belief that “you don’t look like what you’ve been through”, because my broad smile has the capacity to mask a multitude of hurt. Yet through it all, because each trial has been a profound lesson, I have emerged as an admittedly scarred, and complex person with a powerful testimony and unique gifts to offer the world: an Imperfect Masterpiece.

Though it may appear cliché, I can honestly say (and believe scores of others will agree), that bad things really do happen to good people. It seems when bad things repeatedly occupy residence in life, they exist for a reason beyond logic and worldly interpretation, but embody a divine purpose reserved for those for whom suffering frames powerful growth and required intervention. My hardest life lessons, have also been a universe balancing testament to an equal overabundance of good fortune. Strange as it seems, there was always more infinite love, light and purpose-driven focus on my part only after having experienced unimaginable emotional and/or physical pain.

My purpose-driven pain portfolio includes: early childhood trauma which contributed to underlying self-image issues, a sum total of three painfully debilitating orthopedic surgeries (the first in early adolescence and the most recent just last year), a seemingly irreparable broken heart from spousal infidelities (prompting an abrupt end to my marriage), and a rather typical litany of ‘hard knocks’ which are all too common to the plight of other Black women: overexposure to abject forms of both racism and sexism, single motherhood, sole breadwinner interruptions to employment, sexual harassment at the hands of an abusive male supervisor, suffering merciless fat-shaming – both socially and professionally, not to mention the annoying stereotype of being labeled an ‘angry Black woman’ when I have deigned to be outspoken about injustice in any form. Essentially, I can readily identify with having fallen, repeatedly and literally. Except with God’s unrelenting grace and the ever-present support of my family, I have somehow summoned the strength to get back up and to attempt to put the broken pieces of myself back together, as skillfully as orthopedic surgeons have done. The result? My own unique form of an Imperfect Masterpiece.

The priceless, teachable moments of each of these unscripted and woefully unwelcome trials have inspired: impactful truths about relationships, increased patience, deep spiritual insight and the mental clarity that one can only obtain after having survived a life-altering tragedy (and lived to tell about it). Perhaps the most moving component of my testimony of imperfection, is that I have come to understand that my experience is not an exception to the rule but rather an optimistic exemplar of a universal pattern. The seemingly ‘bad things’ which curiously seem to befall countless ‘good, benevolent’ people…exist not as a divine punishment (as organized religion and some enlightened people may tout), but rather as a non-negotiable, sacred appointment to fulfill a task more closely aligned with our uniquely personalized calling in life.

The concept of ‘the rose that grew from concrete’ may be foreign to some who were born with privilege, are on their divine-right paths and have never experienced life’s detours, misfortunes or imperfections. However for those who, like me, are able to acknowledge the presence of an all-too familiar life pattern of heart wrenching pain, loss, and missteps; this message will ring true. Rest assured, you are not alone in your experience of an imperfect journey wrought with hard life lessons. What’s more, the absolute last thing you may need to hear – during periods of acute pain – are reminders to “be positive”, “attract your good”, or to “create another reality through the power of your affirmations and thoughts”. These admonishments though often well-meaning, are often ill timed and received as offensive, pollyanna poppycock which may indeed have legitimate merit but are too often taken out of context or preached in the midst of a purposeful, divine suffering – which must run its full course in order to ultimately emerge in the context of a powerful lesson.

The best, non-offensive advice I can offer others in the midst of a trial is to just recognize that: this too, will pass. It’s important to understand that though the depth of your pain is real, the heartache is tied to a purpose or lesson and is merely a natural, unavoidable component of life. After the initial shock of grief, utter sadness and profound loss there is an inner knowing of the need to change paths or to learn a transformational life lesson. We, the chosen lot of Imperfect Masterpieces, must endure this pain and survive it in order to later inherit the spoils of war.

In my case, my surgeries have blessed me to enjoy life-altering periods of seclusion and a profound alignment with the plight of the disabled; thus substantively impacting my work on behalf of those oppressed. Prior to the abrupt dissolution of my apparent fairytale marriage – I gave birth to a literal Goddess who gives my life meaning in the most profound sense. And finally, the breadth of more than two decades of divine-right work in education has yielded years of fulfilling classroom teaching, successful leadership tenures as an A.Principal, Principal, Chief Academic Officer and most recently, I have achieved an ultimate goal of earning an Ed.D in transformational leadership. My unique, circuitous path admittedly empowers my current pursuits in an affirming and powerful Educate to Liberate model devoted to countering widespread mis-education. If my personal testimony can serve as a testament to anyone, please embrace your status as an Imperfect Masterpiece recognizing that we must allow the personalized colors and patterns of the select ‘bad things’ in our lives to paint the beautiful canvas and craft the unique tapestry of our divinely fulfilling and purpose-driven lives.

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From Schools To Starbucks: White Spaces Abound

Mis-education occurs in American schools because of an unprecedented level of reactionary remedies to systemic problems, rather than a substantive plan to restructure a failing model and proactively change from within. The failure of U.S. schools to properly value and serve the needs all of its students is not unlike the perpetually low quality, discriminatory, public image of Starbucks – in that both operate as unofficial ‘White spaces’. For Blacks (particularly those of us in notoriously racist and segregated cultures like America or South Africa), navigating outside of the preferred norm is an inescapable reality. However, when racial tensions are exacerbated by White supremacist leadership (Trump) and militia controlled politics (NRA), then literally no place is safe or neutral from race-fueled persecution and consequences.

For the benefit of the privileged who incessantly question the veracity of racial profiling and are either exempt or blithely ignorant of the inescapable reality of the oppressed, I will attempt to elucidate how schools and Starbucks are indeed ‘White spaces’ wherein any/all grievances from parties outside of their intended target population of affluent Whites, falls on deaf ears. Sociologist Elijah Anderson, researched the hostility encountered by Blacks who reflexively adjust our level of comfort when in a ‘White space ‘, and defined this as an area whose “most visible and distinctive feature is [the] overwhelming presence of white people and [the] absence of black people.” According to Anderson (2015), “society is still replete with overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, restaurants, schools, universities, workplaces, churches… associations, courthouses and cemeteries, a situation that reinforces a normative sensibility in settings in which black people are typically absent, not expected, or marginalized when present.” Though essentially sound, the fatal flaw in Anderson’s (2015) sociological theory regarding ‘White space’, is that he erroneously assumed that middle class Blacks who permeate formerly all-White spaces, are only occasionally subject to profiling, despite the affluent veneer that their suburban homes, luxury vehicles or designer clothing affords. When in actuality, ALL of America is essentially a ‘White space’ in which all Black people-men, women and children; regardless of socioeconomic class are profiled on a daily basis and in every, single place. Increasingly in 2018, our very essence as a people, warrants second-class citizenship, and no institution, site or environment is absent the polarizing ‘White space’ demarcation.

In the wake of a spontaneous, social media ignited and widespread public intent to #BoycottStarbucks for yet another, egregious example of racism toward its Black patrons, the company now reportedly seeks to improve upon its historic disregard and initial embarrassing, dismissive apology in cutting their losses via engaging in a single day of diversity training for all of its staffers and locations. Diversity training (please insert the straight face and/or a blank, incredulous look here)? This action is a public relations stunt at best, and is doomed to fail given its temporary and insignificant potential to counteract generations of institutionalized racism, firmly embedded into the fabric of American society and imprinted upon the psyche of its corporate structures and people.

Similarly, schools consistently fail our students on the margins (Black, Latinx, Native American, special needs, impoverished, etc.), because these institutions were designed, by default, to educate White landowners and existed only to perpetuate the status quo – the means to keep each of the aforementioned populations oppressed. Thus a vicious cycle of mis-education ensues whereby – as students fail to demonstrate proficiency on high-stakes assessments (intentionally designed to widen the achievement gap between the have and have-not’s), then already underpaid and overworked teachers are forced to endure inane, ineffective, ‘silver bullet’ solutions of single day professional development training(s). These trainings are unrealistically thought to impact a more favorable academic achievement outcome for our most at-risk student populations. Yet, the historically flawed system which inequitably funds high-poverty schools thus crippling them with outdated supplies and curriculum resources is never fundamentally altered. So even though the well-intended diversity training, increasingly common in schools given the growing disparity between the nearly all-White teaching force and the overwhelming majority of students of color, might succeed at expanding the knowledge base of some willing participants, this does not, nor has ever, resulted in significant or systemic policy shifts or intended changes.

Racism in America is institutionalized, and is therefore generationally and deeply entrenched into the very fabric of all social and political norms of this society. As such, single-day initiatives are woefully insufficient to cure what ails us, in either schools or overpriced coffee shops. Bear in mind that “white people typically avoid black space, but black people are required to navigate the white space as a condition of their existence” (Anderson, 2015). Given the inevitability of our precarious position to be racially profiled and/or victimized on a daily basis – it is incumbent upon us to collaborate on a substantive plan to restructure our failing, racist institution models and proactively change these structures from within.

It’s imperative to start by acknowledging that all of America is essentially a ‘White space ‘ in which 14-year old Black boys cannot safely knock on front doors to ask directions to school, without risking the loss of their own life to gun violence at the behest of racist, suburban retirees. Also consider that Black people can not: drive, walk, sit, shop, or even safely be in our own backyards, merely holding a cell phone without ‘fitting the vague description’ of a criminal and innocently, tragically, falling victim to assassination at the hands of corrupt police. In sheer acknowledgment of the fact that Blacks are subject to racism-both overt and subtle-it might empower others to temporarily eschew their White privilege (as did the ethical and courageous White patrons at Starbucks, who recorded, posted and advocated on behalf of the Black investment bankers to simply BE Black) in an un-official ‘White space’. This unified voice against injustice ultimately intensifies the power to cry foul and balk at any/all feeble attempts to profile and criminalize an entire demographic in an inescapable and age-old caste system.

As for the institutions themselves, solutions are likely to be forged in valiant attempts to engineer substantive change through conscious rebranding to reject their historic ‘White space’ designation and to reflect the broad inclusion of those who are systematically targeted and oppressed. There need not be any special legislation or reactionary protests to signal the implementation of such change, this transformation must occur immediately, organically and from within at the uppermost levels to the grassroots workforce ranks. It would also be a powerful testament of transformative justice to align intended professional training(s) with tangible, financial renumeration for the victims of mis-education and/or discriminatory hate-crimes, as this demonstrates authentic investment in the healing of those oppressed and consistently marginalized by inescapable forms of systemic racism. Expanding upon insufficient levels of school funding to Title I schools and conscious, substantive investment in the urban communities where all of these institutions are located, speaks volumes of a willingness to do more than apply temporary bandages to long-standing and life-threatening wounds. Finally, long-term investment in the social and political initiatives which exist to counter the forces of oppression including, but not limited to the countless agencies devoted to eliminating racial profiling, discrimination, police brutality and the prison industrial complex represents the most profound indicator of change. Collectively, this degree of impactful, economic reparations aids in re-branding the powerful, revitalized image of your institutions as value-added resources, rather than as a legendary corporate scavengers of oppressed people.

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Teacher Backlash: A Symptom of Systemic Decline

Teacher: For today’s lesson we will learn about electrical currents and solar energy…

Student: Why? Is this how we will restore power to Puerto Rico?!

Lesson: Unless knowledge has practical applicability to real-world dilemmas – it is useless information. #TeachableMoment #EducateToLiberate

As a general rule, educators are charged with ensuring that our students are engaged in an authentic acquisition of knowledge which derives from inquiry, research, explicit instruction, spirited discussions and hands-on experiences gained in an environment conducive to learning. However, all too often our classrooms reflect common standards, and ultimately daily lessons – which have no practical applicability beyond the latest (and ever-present), high-stakes standardized test. This eliminates virtually all opportunities for relevance and creativity in classroom instruction and otherwise renders our current educational climate as one preoccupied with ‘busy work’ rather than real knowledge acquisition. This is merely one common teacher grievance and component of an increasingly dysfunctional educational system. Surely, the most significant measure of the systemic decline of American education is represented in the diminishing and utterly dissatisfied teaching workforce.

Many educators would likely agree that through no fault of their own, the joy of teaching has been systemically replaced with a sort of robotic and mechanical uniformity that leaves much to be desired from teachers, students and parents alike. It is no secret that the for-profit standardized testing industry is now indistinguishable from the agenda of high-ranking education officials and these combined forces have collectively dictated federal K-12 education curriculum and even policy; a dilemma which has increasingly disillusioned teachers. As the political and profit-margin obsessed entities place increasing faith on the value and frequency of high-stakes assessments – the myopic focus on ranking the worsening performance of both students’ and teachers’ is a universal sign of the decline of authentic education. This fact seems lost on those engaged in education reform measures, but is glaringly apparent to scores of teachers across the nation – who are revolting en masse for a wide variety of justifiable reasons. A common thread observable in the states where teachers have recently launched formidable walkout movements (W. Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky); is that these are Republican-dominated districts suffering the debilitating loss of school funding, collective bargaining rights and pay freezes of an already meager living wage.

Adding insult to injury, the teaching profession suffers the pronounced loss of future talent from college graduates admittedly unwilling to enter a field so synonymous with disrespect, low pay and even lower levels of job satisfaction.
In the end, teachers have been disallowed an opportunity to actually do what they love and have devoted their lives to: teach. Around the country, the discontentment of our teachers is showing and those who suffer the most pronounced loss? Our students, whose academic performance thrives when their education is primed for authentic knowledge acquisition rather than the ‘busy work’ that marks our present dysfunctional educational system.

No other world-class nation imposes as many testing mandates on its students, while inflicting even greater performance edicts on its teachers, than does America. The systemic methodology which unrealistically judges the aptitude of learners and the quality of its teachers on a single, non-transparent, and high-stakes assessment is fundamentally flawed. Educators should be regarded as both supremely qualified, and considered the front line of defense for a thriving educational system. Yet in 2009, educators had no discernible input in designing the national standards now being universally taught; nor are they allowed to revise the glaring imperfections of the Common Core curriculum and its accompanying testing mandates (at least until after 2021). In this nation’s current, dysfunctional educational system affluence has sadly become the ultimate arbiter in the wide disparity of the academic fate of students, the corresponding evaluation rating of teachers and ranking of all public (or DeVos inspired, for-profit charter) schools. Ultimately, despite popular, unfounded claims that the current wave of teacher walkouts and backlash is driven by greed-driven salary demands, or unrealistic demands for increased school funding – the crisis in America’s public schools is not exaggerated. It is real, worsening and headed for a yet unseen, dramatic climax.

Teachers in this nation are unsatisfied, grossly undervalued and represent merely a symptom of an eroding educational system on the brink of demise…from within.

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MSU Offers More Scandal Than Substance

As a Michigan State University Mom, I am wholly disillusioned with the degree of scandal permeating the school. More importantly as the parent of a Black woman, I am acutely aware of MSU’s failings in the forms of: a legacy of non-existent sexual abuse prevention policies, institutionalized forms of blatant racism, willful tolerance and inaction to seemingly all forms of human rights violations and as such, my family must seriously consider all alternative undergraduate options. Honestly, all families of the nearly 40,000 currently enrolled student roster of MSU, must similarly begin to assess and legitimately exercise financial leverage to guarantee our young adults more than just the abject public shame now uniquely associated with earning a degree from MSU – an increasingly beleaguered institution.

The school’s missteps have been plentiful, but the damage? Seemingly incalculable and ongoing, as MSU officials continue to showcase record levels of ineptitude. In addition to a demonstrated failure to appropriately address the rampant criminal sexual misconduct of Larry Nassar, a longtime university employee who victimized in excess of 250 young women; this past week William Strampel, the former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine (and Nassar’s former boss), was arraigned on eerily similar, serious charges of criminal sexual misconduct of a host of MSU students. High profile staff reprimands are apparently commonplace, given that former President Lou Anna Simon and Athletic Director Mark Hollis resigned in absolute shame following their respective administrative lapses in effective leadership. And even now, despite mounting criticism and statewide calls for the resignation of the school’s eight-member and exceedingly out-of-touch Board of Trustees, this incompetent body of sycophants was incredulously allowed to appoint the woefully unqualified and legendary racist, John Engler (former MI governor), as the university’s interim President. Adding insult to injury, it comes as no surprise that MSU’s negative S&P Global credit rating now further deleteriously affects the university’s future. There is no illusion of a model to educate nor liberate at Michigan State University…sigh.

This week while the University of Michigan dominates the national news media in positive press for heading to its second men’s basketball championship game in just six years, MSU continues to bring dishonor to the state of MI and corner the market on negative press. MSU has consistently been in the hot seat for fostering a hate-filled campus climate conducive to producing alt-right attorney and former MSU campus organizer, Kyle Bristow and for recently hosting White supremacist icon, Richard Spencer. Amid news of their current position to protect the “free speech” of a Brighton resident, Jillian Kirk, who has been formally reported on for her rampant use of racial slurs both on campus and on all social media platforms – MSU continues to blithely offer more scandal than substance.

Since the university is so glaringly tone deaf to its own increasingly negative, racially hostile public image and worsening campus climate – the all-encompassing degree of widespread MSU shame is admittedly – the final straw. For the record, repeated refusals to take formal action against criminal sexual offenders and card-carrying racists alike, speaks volumes. The verdict is clear: Michigan State University offers more scandal than substance. Further, Michigan State University is overwhelmingly synonymous with dysfunction and as such, it appears that “Spartans Will”… be forced to exercise more feasible enrollment options elsewhere.