This word, bad Education, has been in the air. Throughout the year, essayists, musicians, podcasters and others have revisited Lauryn HillThe masterpiece, Lauryn Hill's education, on the occasion of his 20th birthday. A beginning of cinema on conversion therapy began in early August with the premiere of the film Desiree Akhavan, The miseducation of Cameron Post. ProPublica published in mid-October an interactive database on racial disparities in US schools, entitled "Education. "It's a strange word, with unusual resonances, its sudden predominance is striking. Culture reminds us in time that a school can be a curse.
Chasing the origins of this sustainable formulation, the bad education ofand you'll find your way to an 85-year-old book, Carter G. Woodson's opus, The bad education of the negro. You may already know him as a pillar of some African-American studies, generally perceived as a dry weight for the importance of teaching black history. But dust off the book and open it, and you'll discover something remarkable: a profoundly insightful autopsy, boldly argued, of a pattern that, in human societies, persists.
Each person has two choices to deal with any aspect of society that is uncomfortable: acting to change it or surrender. Education is the art of teaching people to surrender. According to Woodson, being poorly educated does not simply mean being poorly educated, although it is often a by-product. Education is a deeper evil, which occurs whenever an intrinsic trait, such as sexuality or ethnic heritage, is treated as a defect to overcome, rather than a gift to develop. It's about teaching people to own pieces of themselves to adapt to the constraints of their society, rather than teaching them how to shape that society for themselves.
The after-effects of this trauma, the learning of the loss of self-confidence, the questioning of the very right to take a place in the world, can engulf whole lives. Given the reminder of a school or educational system, it can engulf whole communities. This makes bad education so attractive as a means of social control that it reproduces itself again and again, in an infinite variety of contexts.
Mistaken education stories echoed in 2018, in the Lauryn Hill studio in New Jersey, in the Cameron Post fictional boarding school, in a pile of junk in the Idaho countryside, and beyond. Finding the common melody that runs through these disparate stories is what sent me back to Woodson's book. What I found was not just a startling set of lessons about how bad education works, but also a prescription to help fight that bad education.
There are few more pure solutions to how poor education works than conversion therapy. Alongside her sunny portrayals of gays and lesbians the arrivals of age, 2018 presented two feature films describing the practice: Boy cleared and The miseducation of Cameron Post. This latest film takes place in the 90s in a Christian boarding school called God's Promise, which is dedicated to rid teenagers of their sexual attractions. But the film suggests that the described process is not limited to forcing students to hate their sexuality. He has in mind a much wider story of misguided education in America, a culture and wild identities that began before the foundation of the nation and continue today.
Students of God's promise are instructed to fill in their "icebergs", a drawing on which they write hidden trauma or the alleged inner deficiencies on the surface of their same-sex attractions. The camera lingers for a moment on the iceberg of each student, while the protagonist of the film, Cameron Post (played by Chloë Grace Moretz), tries to understand what she has to write by herself. One of the icebergs belongs to Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), whose long black hair suggests his ethnic heritage as a member of the Yanktonai people. "The beliefs of the Yanktonai are in conflict with the Bible," says Adam's iceberg, enumerating the supposed roots of his sexual desires. The director of the school, Lydia, pulls Adam's hair on an elastic at the beginning of the film, accusing him of another trait written on his iceberg: "hide from God" . Late in the movie (light spoiler here), we see her shave her hair. flowing closes his head, a development to which the film is sitting for a moment before continuing.
But mowing Adam's hair has a lot to do with poor education. When those who were here before the Mayflower had been brutally decimated by the consequences of his arrival, Congress had authorized the creation of boarding schools intended to deprive Amerindian youth of any trace of their heritage. These schools also undertook conversion therapy, repressing not the students' sexuality, but their culture. Charla Bear from NPR reported on schools in 2008long after many of them were closed. She spoke with Bill Wright, a Pattwin Indian, sent to the Stewart Indian School in Nevada in 1945, when he was six years old, and recalled to the school instructors: "bathing him in kerosene and shaving his head ".
"Students in federal boarding schools did not have the right to express their culture, whether it was to wear long hair or even speak Indian," Bear reported. "Wright said that he had lost not only his tongue, but also his American Indian name."
"I remember going home and my grandmother asked me to speak Indian to her and I told her:" Grandmother, I do not understand you, "said Wright to Bear . She said, "So who are you? "
These schools were championed by a man named Richard Henry Pratt, who would have been considered by his counterparts as progressive by the standards of his day, the very image of a well-meaning white liberal. the first reference to the word racism in Oxford English Dictionary comes from a 1902 discussion with Pratt in which he sighs against racial segregation. "The association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and classism," Pratt said.
Pratt's prescription for the evils of segregation was not a cultural mix. He was not interested in "Indians" who mingled with whites. What he thought was cultural genocide. "A great general has declared that the only good Indian is a dead man, and that the severe punishment of his destruction has been a huge factor in promoting the Indian massacres," he said. m said. "In a way, I agree with the feeling, but only in this: that all the Indian who is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him and save the man.
For Pratt, it was the only logical or even noble conclusion. Only white culture should be allowed to exist; everything else was savagery. The silver lining that he saw in the great evil of slavery, he said for the sake of example, was "the greatest blessing ever received by the black race: seven million from blacks from the darkest cannibalism to citizenship in a free and enlightened America. "
Never forget that a school can be a curse.
Thus, any trace of indigenous culture should be destroyed, by force if necessary, but by bad education if possible. A government report decades laterAfter scrutinizing Pratt's election campaign, she marvels at the dedication of teachers to the task: "When asked to name the most important things schools should do for students, only about one-tenth of teachers mentioned their academic success. as an important goal, "says the report. "Apparently, many teachers still see their role as" civilizing the native ".
Carter G. Woodson wrote in 1933: "When you control a man's mind, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stay here or go there. He will find his "place" and will stay there. You do not need to send it to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one to his advantage. His education makes it necessary. "
They tore out the children's tongues, tore out their hair, took off their clothes and sent them to live in white culture, hoping to find tongues, hair and white clothes. In many cases, they did not do it. "As a result," the report said, "many are returning to disappointed reserves," deprived of the great advantage of their crops.
Grandmother, I do not understand you, they could say. And their grandmothers would answer, So who are you?
Never forget that a school can be a curse.
The nature of bad education is viral; once infected, you run the risk of passing your own wrong education to another. This means that all misguided stories, including Woodson, are facing an unreliable narrator from the beginning. And few narrators are more convincing and challenging than Lauryn Hill.
In Lauryn Hill's education, the artist admirably exposes the hard-won knowledge of his rise to the top of the music industry and to motherhood – lessons about love and money, fame and family, power and principles. Twenty years later, as Hill toured with these songs in 2018, the album still seemed like a timeless message, still as powerful as Hill was just 20 years old. In the confidence of her flow, the sumptuous rasp of her viola, iconic and undeniable choices in production, she seems incredibly wise, wiser than most adults could ever hope to be.
In the spring of 2018, Cardi B and Drake each released hit hits "Ex Factor", one of the most lavish jewels on the album. When Cardi done his single, "Attention", on Saturday Night Live In April, a zooming out of the camera's half-song revealed to the audience watching at home that the singer was pregnant, to the applause of the studio's audience. Cardi is just a few years older than Lauryn Hill at the time EducationLiberation, when she too decided to become a mother. And like Hill, writes Joan Morgan in his book She started this: 20 years of Lauryn Hill's educationCardi also faced "criticism from women who questioned the merits of having a child early in their careers". Such criticism helped fuel one of Hill's most powerful songs, "To Zion".
The power of Hill's love letter to the blessed son the world told him not to have is palpable. But as Morgan notes, the song also had a striking political subtext. "In the 1990s, black women had competing narratives," writes Morgan. "General feminism has always defended the idea that women should be able to have everything. "It's career, marriage, big sex, kids, etc. The 90s are the era of Waiting to expire. There was so much pressure for black women. The pressure to be chosen. The pressure to not be a statistic. The pressure to make it "correct", while well-known statistics on the drastic decline of marriage among black women constantly reminded us that having this option was increasingly a statistical improbability. "
Hill's talent was unquestionable and she was playing one of the best music sales in the country, but was told that having a child would derail her career. In this context, Morgan writes, "To Sion" was an extremely subversive affirmation of the woman's right to choose. "There are so many ways to stay left," she wrote. "Strongly evangelical with distinct evangelical notes, it could have been the perfect pro-life track, yet Hill beautifully and vulnerablely created a vehicle that tenderly supports choice."
But Hill did not support some choices. The irresistible attraction of "Doo Wop (That Thing)," the most downright didactic song on the album, diverts Hill's moralizing attitude. Yet this song, more than any other on the album, teases EducationCentral Puzzle: How to be sure that the album itself is not a bad education? "Look where you are," she says, "hair is weaving like Europeans, fake nails are made by Koreans." Hill acknowledges in the song that she's not perfect – "Lauryn is only a human" – but many have intervened to ask the implicit question in her words: What life lessons should we shoot from a song that will blame a girl to be woven?
In light of the events of Hill's life and career just after Educationthe question only got stronger. The praises that surrounded this album have given way to years of litigation in terms of compensation and credit. According to Touré 2003 Rolling stone story About Hill, she moved away from many members of her social circle in those years, apparently under the influence of a spiritual counselor called Brother Anthony. In 2013, under apparent legal and financial constraints, Hill fall a surprise piece – "Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix)" – which sparked controversy over the expression of gender and sexuality. The song was sharper and more staccato than anything else in his catalog, his lyrics were an assault of conscience on the fallen state of human affairs. Her queer fans have struggled to know what to make of her references to "female men", "drag queens" and "social transvestism". Hill made it clear that she was not trying to be a public role model. "If I make music now, it will be to provide information to my own children," she said. Trace Claude Grunitzky, magazine, in 2005. "If others benefit, so be it."
Education requires no lack of empathy or compassion. A real belief in a person's best interests offers no protection against misguidance. In his book, Woodson addressed his most scathing criticism to the "highly educated Negroes", victims of a system that made them spoil for his benefit, who later became defenders and authors of the same system.
"It may not be important for the race today to boast of many" educated "members compared to 1865," Woodson wrote. "If they're not the type, increasing the number will be a disadvantage rather than a benefit." The only question that concerns us here is whether these "educated" people are really equipped to face the ordeal that awaits them before or if they contribute unconsciously to their own loss by perpetuating the regime of the oppressor.
If bad education is viral, who should you trust?
Between Hill's songs Education Interludes, recorded in the Hill Salon, in which activist and educator Ras Baraka talks with a group of children about how they learn to perceive the world. After "Lost Ones" – the ball danced and lyric album in the heart of the former lover and collaborator of Hill, Wyclef Jean – Baraka was heard asking the children to give a song about love.
"Love!" Replies one of the boys in the room.
"There is no song called" Love, "says Baraka.
"Yeah!" Exclaims the boy. "It's by Kirk Franklin!"
The song, the Gospel of Franklin, ode to 1 Corinthians 13, had probably not yet reached the ears of Baraka; it was God's property, the hit album that was probably new on the charts when the class discussion was recorded. "The nights I cry, you love me", sings the Franklin choir. "When I should have died, you love me / I will never know why you love me."
One of the girls in the class soon appoints "I will always love you" and the discussion continues. But I have always been struck by this young man who was asked to name a love song, choosing a song based on the mystery of God's lasting love.
In the late 90s, when Education was registered, Ras Baraka was an activist and educator in a busy school district. The state of New Jersey had recently take over Newark Public Schools. That was still the case in 2010, when Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg gave 100 million dollars to Newark to transform his education system. The gift, as Dale Russakoff tells in his definitive book, The price, reflected a great deal between Zuckerberg and Chan, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. All three parties have sought to demonstrate that with appropriate leadership, empowered by the state to implement new proven educational methods, Newark schools could become a model for the nation's cities in just five years. According to Russakoff, this goal helped to overcome the popularity of the group's reforms with residents. "The language of national models," she wrote, "left little room for the unique problems of Newark, its schools, or its children."
Baraka, raised in Newark by the famous radical radical black poet Amiri Baraka, was well aware of the power of a school to shape a society. And he was deeply sensitive to the dangers of bad education. A scene in the documentary series Brick City shows him the address of a student auditorium after one of their comrades was shot dead. He asks them not to abandon themselves to the climate of violence and poverty that surrounds them. "It's not normal," he says. "I want you to know that this is not normal. You live in this life as if it were normal. It is abnormal: go to school, talk about the death of his friends, not be able to walk home safely, be overthrown every other day, drop everything, live in the misery, make sure that the parents of people come out of the fight with them in the middle of the street … And do not take it as it happens, it means you're tough. It only means that you have been oppressed. And our work, outweigh the oppression? He laughs, darkly.
The importance and success of Baraka as an educator propelled him to Newark City Council, where he became the face of opposition to Cory Booker's education reform program. The two men – Baraka, a child from Newark, Booker, a product from his suburbs, Harrington Park – have dueled diagnoses of the ills of Newark students. For Booker, poor education would mean living with public schools that had shown a low ability to educate their children. For Baraka, this would mean focusing on public schools as the primary agents of this failure, rather than tackling the slump of poverty in which many of these students were bogged down. They were both black men, profusely endowed with porridge, intelligence and the passion of great politicians. Yet everyone presented a different vision of what it would mean to teach the city's students how to get there. Once again, the question arises: if bad education is viral, who to trust?
In the title track of EducationLauryn answers: go back inside. On an album punctuated with irresistible rhythms, it would be easy for "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill", a pure evangelical ballad for organ and strings, to feel like a false assertion of self, a promising update on "The Greatest Love of All. "But as Hill invests the song in his richest and most expressive vocal tracks, the lesson carries the power. "The answer was in me," sings Hill, "And deep inside me, I decided to define my own destiny." When criminals abound, it makes sense to reason, one can only trust ;to oneself.
The following of Lauryn Hill's educationthe years of alienation and financial and legal struggle have shown some of the risks of following only an inner compass. Navigating the popular ways of human society requires something more: an education.
Carter G. Woodson had been an educator for over three decades when he published The bad education of the negro. During his distinguished career as a scholar and educator, he has compiled an extremely varied catalog of how education works and what does not, in a wide range of cultural contexts.
Woodson was born of parents who had been enslaved. He grew up with a little formal education and extracted coal during his formative years in West Virginia. He entered high school at the age of 20 and accelerated his studies to graduate. Just before Kentucky prohibits integrated schoolingWoodson studied at Berea College alongside fellow Appalachians. Then come the University of Chicago, then several years of teaching in the Philippines, then a six-month visit to the global education systems, from Malaysia to India, through Egypt, Palestine, Greece, Italy and France. He taught in the DC public schools, was part of the faculty of Howard University and, along the way, earned a hard-earned doctorate from Harvard.
What Woodson discovered during his study of school systems throughout the world, which lasted a whole career, is that the education of African Americans took place in the same lighted premises that governed the boarding schools of Pratt for the natives. They were trained to integrate into a white society, judged according to white parameters, and taught a blank revision of their history. Their needs, environments and experiences have been systematically devalued and, when the knowledge provided has not been useful to them, this failure has been presented as an indicator of their inherent shortcomings. It was a conversion therapy in a different aspect, its ills being amplified by segregation.
Parallel to this misguided education process, however, Woodson has considered other more effective approaches. During his years in the Philippines, for example, he found the failure of recognized American educators – "men trained in institutions like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Chicago" – to successfully teach students Filipino. But he marveled at the success of an unidentified "insurance man" who did not learn the teaching profession but who "nevertheless understood people". In the beginning, Woodson wrote that the man avoided textbooks, "because those provided did not meet the needs of the children." Instead, "he talked about the things around them," helping them see their world as a classroom.
Today's educators could qualify this culturally appropriate pedagogy. But Woodson's prescriptions were deeper than the programs taught in a school. If a school is designed solely to escape a different world, he thinks, then it will only teach students the information they need to exist in that other world. Students will leave without knowing anything about their environment and why not leave it, leaving them unable to understand it and even less to improve it.
Woodson writes, "True education means inspiring people to live more abundantly, to learn how to start with life as they find it and to improve it." This must help a person to more clearly see the world that is there. "And can you expect teachers to revolutionize the social order for the sake of the community?" Has there been any opportunity for enrichment? he asked rhetorically, "Indeed, we must expect this very thing.The educational system of a country is worthless if it does not perform this task."
By this definition, educated is a fitting title for the memoirs of Tara Westover, one of the most dazzling books of 2018. In many ways, Westover's journey echoed that of Woodson: a rural education without formal education, a transition unlikely to university and an even stranger climb through some of the best higher education institutions in the world. But while Woodson has set himself as an educational mistake, Westover's is the reverse: to study what it means to build one's own mind.
The commercialization of Westover's book suggested a ragged narrative. In less nuanced hands, it could easily have been the familiar story of a distant and difficult life, punctuated with misogyny and violence until fate and the indomitable human spirit allow a blazing escape. This story is certainly there. Westover and many of his siblings have been kept out of the government by their anti-state parents, who have been left stranded by their father on top of a mountain in the Idaho countryside. His childhood was indeed an atmosphere of constant physical peril, overwhelming paranoia and isolation. The intensification of domestic violence at the hands of his brother has indeed disrupted in adolescence and early adulthood.
But Westover has instead chosen a rarer approach: it tells more clearly the process of learning to see the world around it – both the mountain and the classroom. She ensures that her readers see her mother become a successful small business owner and manage a staff. She invokes the calm and majesty reserved for those who live at the height of their lives. While her story progresses in the academic halls, she is also amazed by the strangeness of this world.
Having been deprived of a formal education, Westover seeks to moor in the midst of storytelling duels. "What a person knows about the past is limited and will always be limited to what others tell him," she says. Like Woodson, she found herself attracted to the past. "I needed to understand how the great keepers of history had coped with their own ignorance and partiality. I thought that if I could accept that what they had written was not absolute but resulted from a biased process of conversation and revision, I might be able to reconcile myself with the fact that the # 39; story on which most people would agree was not the story that I had taught myself. . "
But Westover realizes that even his own story could be reviewed or challenged by others. In short, she is interested in the possibility of poor education. Instead of turning to herself, however, Westover chose to expand her knowledge of the world, believing that "the ability to evaluate many ideas, many stories, and many points of view was at the heart of the creation of self. "
Self-knowledge alone does not constitute an education; some understanding of the world is needed. To counter a bad education, however, one more step is needed: learning to recognize one's inherent traits as gifts, rather than defects.
My first glimpse of my own bad education has also come to the classroom in seventh grade. All my life, I attended Christian schools run by Protestants and, despite the fact that I was Catholic, it is only in the seventh year of the history course that I am learned that my Christianity was deficient. Les manuels scolaires que nous utilisions provenaient de la Bob Jones University, une université chrétienne profondément conservatrice de Greenville, en Caroline du Sud, qui interdisait encore à ses étudiants de se livrer à des rencontres interraciales. Le manuel s'attardait sur la réforme protestante et utilisait une phrase que je me souviens toujours très bien pour décrire l'Église catholique, mon église, à cette époque: un outil de Satan.
J'ai commencé presque chaque jour d'école de ma vie avec des cours bibliques protestants, du lundi au vendredi, les seules exceptions étant les sorties sur le terrain ou d'autres occasions scolaires. Je suis allé aux cours de catéchèse catholique le mercredi soir et à la messe catholique le dimanche. Quand j'ai vu mon église condamnée dans les tonalités les plus dures qu'un livre chrétien puisse utiliser, j'ai commencé à apprendre un fait puissant: que la Bible pouvait être lue de multiples façons et que je ne pouvais faire confiance à personne pour la lire sans faire ma propre enquête. . Lors de ma confirmation, un catéchisme de l’Église catholique m’a été remis et je le porterais avec moi. Ainsi, lorsque mes camarades de classe m’auraient abordé avec des questions sur les raisons pour lesquelles j’adorais Marie ou pourquoi je mangeais Jésus, je pouvais regarder ce que l’Église catholique croyait réellement, et pointez-les vers les versets de notre Bible King James sur lesquels ces doctrines ont été construites. J'ai nourri le débat entre les croyances catholiques dont j'avais hérité et les croyances protestantes qui m'entouraient afin que, à partir de leur dispute, je puisse construire mes propres croyances.
C'était une leçon utile à mener au-delà des cours bibliques et des cours d'histoire. Cela a coloré tout ce qu'on m'a appris. Je ne me souviens toujours pas pourquoi c’était la raison pour laquelle mon directeur de lycée, enseignant de remplacement à mon cours de géographie pendant un jour où notre professeur habituel était absent, a commencé à parler de la malédiction hamitique. J'imagine que nous étudions l'Afrique, ou peut-être le Moyen-Orient, car quelle autre explication pourrait-il y avoir pour qu'un enseignant commence soudainement à se demander pourquoi les Noirs du monde entier semblent avoir une vie si difficile? Certains érudits de la Bible, nous a-t-il dit, pensent que tous les Noirs doivent être les descendants du fils de Noé, Ham, maudit pour toutes les générations par son père de l'avoir vu dans un état de stupeur ivre.
À ce moment-là, dans ma mauvaise éducation, j'en avais assez de mon propre aperçu du système pour pouvoir, je pense, ne pas intérioriser la leçon. J'étais noire et catholique, et je ne me détestais pour aucune de ces choses. Mais il y avait une chose que je détestais en moi et que mes éducateurs malfaisants utilisaient à mon détriment.
La troisième année à mon école commençait toujours par une retraite en classe. Il s’est déroulé dans une installation forestière lointaine et boisée qui, dans ma mémoire, ressemble un peu au pensionnat de Cameron Post, God’s Promise. Le directeur de notre école nous a accompagnés et lors de la soirée d’ouverture du voyage, nous nous sommes assis devant un feu de joie pour l’entendre prononcer une leçon. Pour ceux d'entre nous qui entrent dans le monde séculier, a-t-il dit, la dernière année serait notre dernière chance de revêtir toute l'armure de Dieu, chaque jour, devant des enseignants capables de nous montrer comment bien la porter.
Notre directeur nous a dit que le monde avait séduit de nombreux hommes et femmes chrétiens devant nous, loin du chemin de Dieu. Et puis il a sauté le piège. «Certains anciens élèves de cette école sont même tombés dans l'homosexualité.» Je ne sais pas qui je détestais plus à ce moment-là – le directeur pour le rappel que le fait d'agir selon ma sexualité était le plus bas d'une longue liste de péchés mortels, ou moi-même pour la peur croissante que je ne pouvais pas m'empêcher de le commettre.
Je savais bien ce que mon catéchisme disait, ce qu'il dit à ce jour, de l'homosexualité. J'avais cherché ces mots plus que tout autre, chassant peut-être un espoir vain qu'ils se réorganiseraient dans une autre configuration. Dans le christianisme, ma sexualité a rendu possible un oasis d'accord doctrinal entre les prêtres et les protestants. Pour citer le Catéchisme: «L’homosexualité désigne les relations entre hommes ou entre femmes qui éprouvent une attirance sexuelle exclusive ou prédominante envers des personnes du même sexe… Sa genèse psychologique reste en grande partie inexpliquée. Se fondant sur la Sainte Écriture, qui présente les actes homosexuels comme des actes de dépravation grave, la tradition a toujours déclaré que «les actes homosexuels sont intrinsèquement désordonnés». Ils sont contraires à la loi naturelle. Ils ferment l'acte sexuel au don de la vie. Ils ne procèdent pas d'une véritable complémentarité affective et sexuelle. Ils ne peuvent en aucun cas être approuvés. "
C'est l'arme secrète de la mauvaise éducation. As Woodson wrote, “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions.” For all the distance I had cultivated from my education, for all my skepticism of any one interpretation of the Bible, it took me years before I could hear anything but the words in my Catechism every time my sexuality tried to assert itself.
Even though it began as a religious institution and was named after a clergyman, my high-school teachers thought of Harvard as the very heart of secular society. When our high-school secretary found out I’d be matriculating there, she told me she’d be praying for me. “Thank you,” I said to her, “the classes will be tough.” “It’s so secular,” she replied, as though I hadn’t said a thing.
A year into college, the spell of my miseducation had worn off enough that I found myself taking courses on the Bible again—multiple ones, even though I had rarely experienced a day of schooling from first through 12th grade that didn’t begin with a lesson on that book. My most treasured Bible lessons didn’t come from my professors, but from our college chaplain, who gave Sunday lectures in Memorial Church, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, the legendary Peter J. Gomes. His very existence as a man like me—Christian like me, black like me, gay like me—leading moral and religious instruction at an institution like Harvard, was manna to me.
The way Gomes taught the Bible was a revelation. In his lessons, I saw the book as though for the first time. In high school, I had spent an entire semester of Bible class in a line-by-line reading of the book of Genesis. Yet over the years, I came to understand that I had never truly learned the lesson of the creation story that begins the book. “Its first moral tale,” as Gomes put it in The Good Book, his published collection of essays about the Bible, “is not about sex or even about disobedience. We might say that it is about a false trust in the benevolence of knowledge.” Gomes knew that a school can be a curse.
When Eve and Adam eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they learn to be ashamed of their very bodies. They become so disgusted with their nakedness that they have to hide themselves from God. The terrible cost of this lesson, of learning to hate oneself, is the invention of sin, the root of all the evils in the world. In the Bible, Jesus arrives to redeem us from this lesson, bearing two great commandments, the second of which is this: Love thy neighbor as thyself. There is a precondition embedded in that commandment that all my years of Bible schooling never taught me: To follow it, one has to love oneself. A lesson so simple, it’s nearly impossible to teach.
It’s important to remember that a school can be a gift.
In 1889, a wealthy, white Catholic heiress named Catherine Mary Drexel felt a calling from God to dedicate her life and fortune to the uplift of black and Native Americans. She became a nun, taking the name of Sister Mary Katharine Drexel. During two years at a Pittsburgh novitiate, she learned how to lead a religious order. At the time, while many American orders worked in Native and African American communities, Drexel came to be convinced of the need for a new order exclusively dedicated to that purpose. And so in 1891, Mother Katharine Drexel founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People.
Drexel spent years working on reservations and in black communities throughout the United States, founding and supporting missions and schools across the country with her annual income from her family’s estate. She witnessed the pitfalls that could attend religious charity, especially in communities of color, and she tried carefully to avoid them.
Building schools for people of color was dangerous work. In Beaumont, Texas, for example, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament had to face down threats from the Ku Klux Klan. “We will not stand by while white priests consort with nigger wenches in the face of our families,” read the signs posted by the Klan outside the order’s church. “If people continue to come to this church, we will dynamite it.” But Mother Katharine and her sisters persisted in the face of these threats, creating missions from Washington, D.C., to St. Louis, Missouri, and beyond. When a bishop in Nashville, Tennessee, asked her to open a school for black Catholics in his city, Drexel agreed to open a school, but not just for Catholics. “Katharine Drexel stressed to him that her mission was to Indians and colored people, regardless of their religion, and that if he wanted her to open a school for black children in his diocese, it would have to be a school open to those of all religions,” Cheryl D. Hughes wrote in her biography of Drexel.
As Mother Katharine’s order grew, a need emerged for black teachers. And so Drexel and her sisters created a teachers college, in New Orleans. At the time, few women had college degrees, and many teachers didn’t. Katharine Drexel’s Xavier University, founded in 1925, was quietly revolutionary. “At a time when official Church teaching prescribed separate sex institutions for men and women, Xavier University was coeducational,” Hughes wrote. “While Xavier was indeed a Catholic coeducational university, it was never exclusively Catholic. Students of all faiths, or no faith, were accepted to Xavier.”
“The influence of Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament through Xavier University cannot be overstated,” Hughes wrote. “In 1987, 40 percent of the New Orleans public school teachers were Xavier graduates.” In 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized the late Katharine Drexel as a saint.
Xavier’s influence grew mightily during the tenure of Norman Francis. Francis, the first layperson and African American to lead the university, had grown up in a poor family in Lafayette, Louisiana, and attended Xavier as an undergraduate. He’d gone on to become the first black student admitted to Loyola University’s law school. He was drafted into the Army, and after he completed his military service in 1957, he received the call to be dean of men at Xavier.
In 1961, when the Freedom Riders needed refuge from white segregationists firebombing their buses, Dean Francis housed them at Xavier. He was appointed president of the university by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1968, and would go on to become the longest-serving college president in the nation. After Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans in late August 2005, Francis assembled his staff and announced that the university would reopen in five short months. “We came back on January 17,” he told Anitra Brown of The New Orleans Tribune. “We had 75 percent of the student body. We lost freshmen, but every class graduated on time—including the class of 2006, whose commencement speaker was a young U.S. senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.”
In 2015, the reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones went to New Orleans to profile Xavier for The New York Times Magazine. She described the pitfalls many black students face in college pre-med programs, and the system Xavier set up to avoid those pitfalls. Thanks to that level of care, Hannah-Jones wrote, Xavier “consistently produces more black students who apply to and then graduate from medical school than any other institution in the country. More than big state schools like Michigan or Florida. More than elite Ivies like Harvard and Yale. Xavier is also first in the nation in graduating black students with bachelor’s degrees in biology and physics. It is among the top four institutions graduating black pharmacists. It is third in the nation in black graduates who go on to earn doctorates in science and engineering.”
A school can be a gift.
July 2018 marked the beginning of the first semester at Akron’s I Promise public school, funded in part by a gift from the NBA legend LeBron James. The school builds on James’s years of philanthropy in his hometown of Akron, including a partnership with the University of Akron to cover tuition costs for some low-income students in the city. He offered free GED classes and tests to the parents of students in his programs, with a free laptop awaiting every parent who passed the class.
When he was in the eighth grade, the enormity of James’s athletic talent meant he had the pick of high schools in Akron. As his memoir tells it, James and his three friends decided to attend St. Vincent–St. Mary High School, a private school, because of a pact the four friends made to stay together, instead of the public school Buchtel, a launching pad for many of the city’s black athletes. “To many in Akron’s black community,” the memoir says, the choice to attend a mostly white Catholic school meant “we were now traitors who had sold out to the white establishment.”
That history heightens the significance of James’s gift to Akron Public Schools. Like the schools James attended from kindergarten to eighth grade, I Promise is a traditional district public school. Most of the money to create and support the school comes from Akron Public Schools. The grant from James covers some of the school’s start-up costs, but ultimately, James’s foundation will largely be supporting the lives and needs of students and their families beyond the classroom, securing them clothing, food, counseling, transportation, and full-ride scholarships to the University of Akron, while helping their parents earn GEDs, find work, and manage money. According to a five-year master plan obtenu par L & # 39; Atlantic, the I Promise school’s “homegrown” curriculum aims to pull students more fully into the world around them, immersing them in Akron’s “businesses, neighborhoods, organizations, history, and issues.”
“When people ask me why, why a school, that’s part of the reason why—because I know exactly what these 240 kids are going through,” James m said to the crowd assembled for the school’s opening day. “I know the streets they walk. I know the trials and tribulations that they go through. I know the ups, the downs. I know everything that they dream about. I know all the nightmares that they have. Because I’ve been there. I know exactly what they’re going through. So they’re the reason why this school is here today.”
“Every man has two educations: ‘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.’”
Will the I Promise School succeed? There are so many ways it can fail. Woodson’s book was written 85 years ago, yet so many of its cautions still pertain: Akron’s very hopes for the school could curse it. It could become more a symbol than a school, a formula for an ever-imminent “national model.” It could thrive, and become a cudgel against every school that lacks its advantages. The students could become objects of America’s twisted politics, victims of the enmity of a callous president toward their benefactor.
“Philosophers have long conceded,” Woodson wrote, “that every man has two educations: ‘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.’” So to those who imagine themselves as educators, he argued, what is needed is not leadership, but service. The “highly educated Negro” who would educate others of his race, Woodson said, must “fall in love with his own people, and begin to sacrifice for their uplift.” The purpose of a school, in other words, must be to help its students learn to appreciate the gifts within themselves, and discover how to help others with those gifts.
“If you understood who you are,” Ras Baraka dit une fois, “you would understand that the world belongs to you. And you shouldn’t claim a piece of it, you should claim all of it. And when you begin to claim all of it, you fight for the whole of humanity. And when you fight for the whole of humanity, you help us become freer. And you begin to, in essence, change your immediate condition.”
That, in miniature, is the process of education: to love oneself enough to recognize in one’s own need an opportunity to serve another. To view the world with enough empathy and distance to see struggle that overlaps with one’s own, whether on a mountaintop junkyard in Idaho, a neighborhood in Akron, or a recording studio in New Jersey. To find the tools to ease that struggle, and wield them, at last, to change the world.
* Photo-collage images courtesy of Chris Lopez / Sony Music Archive / Getty / Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP / Filmrise / Penguin Books / Paul Stuart