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Education as a Priority Investment

You know the old adage about how doctors make the worst patients? Well, I’m beginning to wonder whether this analogy also applies to educators. I can readily admit that in spite of being a lifelong student and learner in so many ways, I still have so much to learn about our capacity to love and to leverage education as a priority obligation – especially when it comes to our greatest assets . . . Our beloved children.

If anyone had asked me just a year ago, whether I believed that American citizens properly valued our education? My cynical response would have been a vehement “No, not nearly enough as we should”. And I would have likely shared my own experiences as a veteran teacher and school leader for nearly 3 decades and countered that too many parents are only motivated by negative stereotypes or grades as a means to propel them to get up and get actively involved in their children’s educational lives and schools (especially beyond the elementary stage). I might’ve even rather arrogantly shared, that as a small business owner myself I have only attracted 1:1 individualized tutoring revenue from the many Chinese families I have been blessed to have worked with, as evidence to support my position. Surely, while there certainly is truth to the reality that I have partnered with too many to count Chinese families in ensuring their children’s mastery of the English language, the fact that they eagerly seek highly educated Americans to teach their children English doesn’t mean that we don’t equally invest in our children in equal proportion. Well, today – the 18th of May in 2023, I can unashamedly and even publicly announce that I was 100% jaded and undoubtedly wrong by minimizing the degree to which we too, value education as worthy of our capital investment.

How refreshing it is to learn how wrong you’ve been about such a negative attitude and skewed belief in education, when you are yourself a lifelong member of the esteemed educational career in question. Especially since the truth of the matter re: our collective willingness and predisposition to investing deeply in our own children’s education has much more affirmation and value in demonstrating the limitless love, commitment, and integrity that so many countless families have chosen, when it comes to the academic success of their own children/grandchildren. I for one, have never been more proud than to stand corrected as I am right now. And I owe it all to the supplemental education company, with whom I partner (that happens to have been around for decades and is almost as old as I am) 👀. For I am now convinced in a very short span of time, and to the tune of thousands of dollars of sound investments, that our own American families are no less committed to sacrificing on behalf of our own children’s education than that of our international peers – who are frequently touted and globally regarded for their high respect for knowledge, education, and advanced degrees.

I’m being serious when I say that prior to this year, I would have lost my hard earned money in a very foolish bet against our perceived willingness to invest in education when compared not only to the affluent and working class families I have worked with in China; but also in comparison with the families on the African continent who have such an admirable esteem for the educational system as a whole that even the children in Ghana, would sooner be in school learning, than to play outside in the glorious, idyllic warmth of the soul-enhancing sun. I know this to be true because early on in my teaching career, when I was just starting out and in my early to mid-twenties and while teaching in a legendary African centered school in Detroit, Malcolm X Academy – we were fortunate enough to sponsor a fully subsidized/community financed trip for more than a dozen K-8 students (and 2 adult chaperones), to celebrate Kwanzaa, volunteer our efforts, and spend 7 days abroad in our sister school, on the Eastern region. Not only was this trip remarkable in its capacity to expose our young scholars to the glory and beauty of the African diaspora from which our ancestral descendants (and quite frankly from which all humankind) sprang. But how utterly blessed I was to share in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (as both photographed and immortalized in the pictures and video shown herein). Among the indelible lessons learned from this life altering pilgrimage to our Motherland, we witnessed firsthand the meager architectural structure and supplies readily available within our sister school in Ghana. Moreover, despite its relative simplicity, use of natural light, and surplus of the traditional, one room schoolhouse charm; we encountered African children of all ages, who by far surpassed our own seemingly high standards and expectations for the sacred realm reserved for as the learning environment. No doubt, a teacher in Africa is/was extremely high regarded by all students, without exception. And the students would sooner welcome basic school supplies as treasured gifts than to worship and/or selfishly demand the latest, most expensive designer clothing and shoes for themselves. In comparison to Western societal norms, this was revelatory indeed. Needless to say, our students who were tasked with copiously reporting and presenting their research findings to their peers, were unanimously humbled and admittedly awed by how much they and their peers take their own (largely free and enormously well equipped, by comparison), education for granted, back home in the U. S.

Similarly, countless Americans have likely borne witness to the presence of newly transitioned immigrants who are new citizens to this country make zero excuses for their above reproach attitudes towards achievement in their studies and high academic performance pursuits. There are certainly enough demeaning stereotypes of those external to typical cultural norms who value education as a priority and as such are typecast as a sort of “model minority” which abounds. Yet scarcely do we hear about or celebrate those of us who are disadvantaged, working paycheck to paycheck, and/or who happen to comprise the ranks of the privileged, wealthy class, and who equally find themselves in respective positions of needing to supplement their children’s education’s, out of their own pockets and by any means necessary. In the case of my college educated parents, early on in their marriage and when they were admittedly strapped for cash, they were flatly denied by the bank as they sought an education loan to help subsidize my brothers and my private school tuition. Thank goodness that in spite of the reality of such racist redlining, they were quietly advised to seek a “vacation loan” instead. Without much formality, this nonsensical request was swiftly approved and we were then afforded the opportunity to benefit from a private, premier African-centered education at Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse of Detroit. The ironic headline here is that though I was an actual beneficiary of my parents commitment to investing in our education, I still believed the hype that most Americans don’t value education nearly as much as do other cultures and societies. Newsflash: I have now witnessed it as a veteran educator and the truth is much more satisfying than fiction! In fact I count myself as lucky to have even helped to foster tangible levels of academic supports to U.S. families by recently partnering with a privately owned and wholly committed, small company -which has as its core beliefs and mission, the goal of providing the needed resources and personalized learning services to K12 students and their families, per their demonstrated intention to move Heaven and Earth (if need be), to ensure that any/all struggling students are afforded the opportunities that may come more easily for our ranks of the privileged.

I guess what this means is two things: that you’re never too old to learn new tricks and that I’m never again tutoring my family members and/or friends’ children for free (sorry, not sorry)! Listen, I have seen families of all kinds collaborate in the singular goal of offering their youngest, most promising family members the literal “gift of education”. I have patiently persisted with these families in their efforts to determine and devise of new and creative ways to finance the academic supports their child needs. I have been privy to some agonizing over the dilemma of how to ensure that their child is not somehow left behind, through no fault of their own. Does this mean that we’ve somehow solved the age-old dilemma of miseducation which plagues this country and which this blog essentially exists to bemoan the existence of? The answer is of course, a resounding-No! Alas, the struggle continues. We must be ever vigilant, especially in the countless ways that this outdated educational model in the United States informs and otherwise cripples, deleteriously affects the scores of children of color who languish in the opportunity myth and gap, as so aptly coined by TNTP in a groundbreaking study. I daresay that our unending, universal struggle for educational equity and the the ever increasing need to abolish the oppressive power dynamics cultivated by thoroughly oppressive, white supremacist culture traits and construct do indeed remain (and even thrive in this post-pandemic, book banning and ridiculous critical race theory propagandist era). Still, all is not lost.

So, I guess the only question that remains now is how precisely, do families best navigate the pitfalls of our current educational systemic failures? By coalescing around the priorities of right-sizing the entire flawed system (for the benefit of our children’s children), whilst also valuing our own children’s academic success by unapologetically speaking life over their life trajectory, through tangibly investing – not in cars, clothes and meaningless things – but in education. I urge more of us to continue to dig deep (even as we work to improve what ails us), as we match the powerful energies of that which people the world over hold dear: investing in our children’s education and futures. In my own case, in addition to my lifelong passion of extolling the infinite virtues of African-centered education, for Black children in particular, I am also humbled and honored to have been in the midst to collaborate with an incredible and empowered group of exceptional educators at the nonprofit organization Leading Educators, as we tapped and gleaned from students’ own voices and envisioned a culturally relevant, responsive, and sustainable framework that by the way, can be downloaded and implemented for free (!) and which guides us all in the valiant pursuit of “Teaching for Equity”. This publication, in concert with our individual family and larger organizational institutions must forge a unified front, in ways which allow Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latinx students who are furthest from opportunity to feel seen and to justifiably have access to an affirming educational model. Let’s all pledge to increasingly invest in the education of all children, as often as needed to offset the enormous burden and costs of widespread miseducation. After all, every single child alive is certainly worth it . . . Kudos to those of you who have helped me to learn this meaningful life lesson from your sterling examples – especially after so many years of ignorance about the depths of our investment in an industry with infinite returns! #Salute

Malcolm X Academy students in Ghana (December 1997)
Malcolm X Academy, Detroit MI –
a short, retrospective film to honor the inherent beauty and value of an African-centered education.
Malcolm X Academy students in Ghana (December 1997)

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