by Lois Cooper
There is a crisis in public education. The fact that students are graduating high school and can barely read what's on their diplomas is sad. What we should remember is that education is really about self-preservation. If you don't get it in the classroom, then you should obtain it somewhere else: by home schooling, tutoring, mentoring, being self-taught or by other educational models available today.
African Americans have been down the road to illiteracy before and it's not a good look. Our ancestors would be appalled by the mockery that education has become for African American in urban cities. There was a high price paid by others for that right to receive a quality education. In life we don’t have control over everything that happens to us. The one thing we have some authority over is education, but there are persons and institutions trying to separate us from that fundamental resource.
Knowledge does not originate in a classroom. Schools should be an extension of the daily and evolving learning process. We know that life isn’t always fair, and some students are coming from extreme poverty, homelessness and other extenuating circumstances. So, “who's at fault” becomes a complex issue in a very complicated equation where words and knowledge are everywhere around us, not just in books.
Neither of my parents completed elementary school. My mother’s family owned a 400-acre farm in rural South Carolina that sustained and provided for the family. My mother's family still owns the land today. On my father’s side, we have a matter before the court about who the rightful heirs to the Cooper property are. With a minimal level of education, my parents raised eight children, who I must say were extremely bright and intelligent because of what they taught us. Both my parents learned the basics of reading and writing because someone took the time to teach them, probably using the Bible as a textbook.
This was a time when blacks could not go to school because of segregation, Jim Crow Laws, lack of schools and opportunities for blacks. In spite of all these obstacles my parents were determined to make a prosperous future for the next generations. My mom would often remark, "When I look back over my life, I wonder how I made it." Well, she’s 100 and still here.
Making sure that you get a good education is not just for the sake of your parents or society-at-large, it's for you. It's your passport to the world. When you can read and write, you can explore places and communicate with people without even leaving home. You can negotiate opportunities for yourself and your family. You can make plans for generations yet to come. Not everyone's destination is college, maybe you want to get a trade/skill or become an entrepreneur. Having a solid educational foundation is important to your prosperity as an individual. To get what you need may mean going back to school. It's up to you to decide.
There is the recent story about Melisande Short-Colomb, one of the 272 descendants of slaves sold to finance and save Georgetown University. Short-Colomb at age 63 is back in school as part of Georgetown's legacy admission status. She is fulfilling a legacy that her ancestors could not.
The good thing about education is that once you have it, no one can take it from you. They can repossess your home, evict you from your apartment, garnish your wages, incarcerate you, fire you from your job and treat you like a second-class citizen, but what they cannot do is take from you the knowledge and wisdom you've acquired over a lifetime. Everyone likes to throw around the powerful statement by Malcom X, "By any means necessary"… I beg you... By any means necessary, make sure you get a good, solid education.
Be strong, get educated and Be Well!