It was Carter G. Woodson, author of The Mis-education of the Negro who said, “Philosophers have long conceded, however, that every man has two educators: ‘that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds, the latter is by far the more desirable. Indeed, all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself. It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.” From our HBCUs to some of our school districts, is the education system failing our kids?
Literacy is very important as it gives us access to information. It is also a way of life. If you’re not informed, then you can easily be taken advantage of, misguided and so much more. During the slavery era, there were anti literacy laws that made it illegal for Blacks to read and write. These laws were created because if slaves were literate, they were considered a “threat.” Slave owners didn’t want slaves to escape or forge any documents declaring their freedom. These anti literacy laws were called “slave codes.” One of the laws was the Alabama Slave Code of 1833. This slave code was “a set of laws that restricted aspects of slaves’ lives to depending on the state.” In addition, it also controlled other elements like slave travel, marriage, and employment. These codes also gave certain rights to slave holders, according to the Smithsonian American Arts Museum.
There were some slave owners who taught their slaves to read and write, but this quickly changed after the actions of one man named Nat Turner. He was born in Virginia on the plantation of Benjamin Turner, where he was able to learn how to read and write. After being sold three times as a child, he ended up working for John Travis. Nat was a “fiery preacher” and led many enslaved individuals as he felt he was chosen by God to do so. On August 21, 1831, he and a few others started an uprising when they killed the Travis family, stole weapons, and killed 55 White people. Nat was convinced by voices and signs he believed in that told him to do it. Nat was eventually found after hiding for several weeks and was hanged with 16 others for their involvement. Because of this rebellion, there were great consequences. According to History.com, “His action set off a massacre of up to 200 Black people and a new wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting the education, movement, and assembly of enslaved people.”
This tragic event put fear into many slave owners, and it was the beginning of stricter laws for enslaved people.It was now up to slaves to educate themselves and help others learn as well. One person who made it his mission to learn how to read and write was Frederick Douglass. As a young child, he recognized the connection between literacy and freedom. He always found ways to educate himself despite laws that restricted it. He even began to teach other slaves how to read and write as he knew that his found knowledge would benefit all slaves and not just himself. It is because of this selflessness that many others found their way to freedom.
It is important for us to fight for our kids and their education, like Nat Turner and Frederick Douglas fought their way through literacy. We can’t be afraid and just sit back and watch our kids receive less than they deserve.
While it is legal for our kids to learn how to read and write, there are still other elements that could hinder them from reaching their full potential. This could include a lack of resources, access to technology, books, funding, and lack of leadership. In addition, when some school districts do get resources, they are not effective because they may not be implemented effectively which means students are not benefiting from the resources. Also, diversity plays an important role when it comes to our students as they need teachers that not only look like them but can understand them and their background. Representation does matter and it can make a difference.
How are our schools failing? According to Good Reason Houston, an organization that transforms schools, stated that “about 1 in 3 students in Houston are attending a low-performing school,” and “only 44% of third-grade students are reading on or above grade level.” These are not great statistics considering that Houston is one of the largest cities in America. How did we get here and what will it take to get back to where education was respected and where people see the true value in it? We have lost our way since integration, and it has crippled our communities and our kids.
So, what drives true change? What makes a true difference? It starts with leadership. It takes a great leader who can put aside their personal agendas and do what is best for the people they serve. It also takes parents supporting their kids and being a part of their education. Additionally, it takes having a village that is on the same page and is willing to be there to help others. It also takes having passion and momentum like Nat Turner and Frederick Douglass who fought to be educated and who made a difference in the lives of many. So, the next time you pick up a book, read an article, or write something, think about those who didn’t have that privilege to do so. So, let’s fight like Turner and Douglass, and work together to transform our communities. Our future depends on it.