Refined and Fly

Thursday, April 13, 2006


ed·u·cate (ĕj'ə-kāt') v., -cat·ed, -cat·ing, -cates.
To develop the innate capacities of, especially by schooling or instruction. See synonyms at teach.
To provide with knowledge or training in a particular area or for a particular purpose: decided to educate herself in foreign languages; entered a seminary to be educated for the priesthood.

To provide with information; inform: a campaign that educated the public about the dangers of smoking.
To bring to an understanding or acceptance: hoped to educate the voters to the need for increased spending on public schools.
To stimulate or develop the mental or moral growth of.
To develop or refine (one's taste or appreciation, for example).
To teach or instruct a person or group.[Middle English educaten, from Latin ēducāre, ēducātus.]

v. trained, train·ing, trains
1. To coach in or accustom to a mode of behavior or performance.
2. To make proficient with specialized instruction and practice. See Synonyms at teach.
3. To prepare physically, as with a regimen: train athletes for track-and-field competition.
4. To cause (a plant or one's hair) to take a desired course or shape, as by manipulating.
5. To focus on or aim at (a goal, mark, or target); direct. See Synonyms at aim.
6. To let drag behind; trail.

About 98% of the youth I work with attend public schools. Most of them hate their homework, hate completing it and do not see the function of it. It puts me in a tough spot. Part of my job is to offer homework assistance and expose youth to information they may not be accessing in school. When they ask me, "Sister Medina, why do I have to do this," when looking at the standardized homework packets, I struggle to come up with an answer that will make sense to them, besides, "You need to complete this work so you can pass to the next grade level, graduate..." and then do what?

Many of the children have specialized needs that are not being served due to classroom sizes and a "one size fits all" way of learning. Many of my students are developing an aversion to learning and information because they are constantly bombarded with "work" that is neither culturally relevant nor socially practical. Most of my children have never been able to take a book home with them. I know its' hard out here for a teacher and I give it up to those who really strive to be effective and creative. Its' not easy to teach, especially when working with a population that is generally underserved with a host of issues and you may not have enough of the resources you need to teach them properly because your school is in an underserved neighborhood, hence, the school itself is underserved and you are underpaid.

Now don't get me wrong, I know that there are some "good" schools out there with good teachers who have a joy of learning and teaching, and therefore impart a joy of learning to their students. I attended private and public school and I had a very rewarding experience, particularly at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, CA. I learned a lot about myself and had access to classes and teachers who saw in me what I did not see in myself at the time and took that extra time and gave that extra encouragement for me to bring out and apply my knowledge, skills and talents (shout out to Hodari B. Davis! You were the coolest teacher I've ever had (and he was an emcee!) You changed my life...teachers can make a difference!).

At Berkeley High, we had an Ethnic Studies and African Studies Department. Not just one class... a DEPARTMENT! I had access to classes like Black Psychology, Africa's Glorious Golden Age, Black Gold, Black Male/ Female Relationships, Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced African Dance, KiSwahili and Black Economics, and I took most of them. Myself and my civilized colored sister Vajra Watson were able to organize school-wide forums where teachers would cancel their classes to bring their students (of various ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds) to discuss issues of racism, classism, sexism and issues that are relevant to young people. My 10th-12th grade years were probably the best educational experience I had in all of my years of schooling (including grad school). It set up the foundation for how I saw the world and what I wanted to consistently do in it (todays' mathematics...knowledge+understanding borns culture). I wanted to change the world after I graduated.

But all schools ain't as progressive as Berkeley High. Matter of fact, most schools don't come close, and unfortunately "B High" has become other than its' own self in the past 10 years. And then there are the schools where the classes are overcrowded, the teachers are stressed out, the children run the show (and not in your typical "youth empowerment" sense either), and many slip through the cracks. One of my beloved students is a fifth grader who can barely read or write at a first grade level, and I have to wonder how he passed from grade to grade.

In my humble opinion, the structure of the American education system engages in more training than education where students are trained to do the work, graduate, and get a job to support the economy, and many of these schools are creating a perminant labor force/ underclass that is only skilled enough to do minimum wage work supporting a lot of corporate entities. And then there are the students who are disenchanted with school altogether, never make it out, and eventually stop going (my God is the coordinator for our Truancy program and he has many stories to tell). And I see where many of these children end up. I also think that it is unrealistic for us to rely on school as the primary educator of our children. Education starts at home! There are many social, political, cultural and environmental implications here, but one has to ask the questions:

Is the American Education system the best model for stimulating the growth, creativity and intelligence of children?

What is the origin of the American Educational System?

Below, I have enclosed an article from that explores and offers answers to those questions. It also references a book by John Taylor Gatto called The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling (New York: Oxford Village Press, 2001) that you can download free online at that goes into more detail. I also recommend a book called The Teenage Liberation Handbook (author escapes me at the moment) which offers alternative ways of educating young people. Peace!

The Educational System Was Designed to Keep Us Uneducated and Docile

It's no secret that the US educational system doesn't do a very good job. Like clockwork, studies show that America's schoolkids lag behind their peers in pretty much every industrialized nation. We hear shocking statistics about the percentage of high-school seniors who can't find the US on an unmarked map of the world or who don't know who Abraham Lincoln was.
Fingers are pointed at various aspects of the schooling system—overcrowded classrooms, lack of funding, teachers who can't pass competency exams in their fields, etc. But these are just secondary problems. Even if they were cleared up, schools would still suck. Why? Because they were designed to.

How can I make such a bold statement? How do I know why America's public school system was designed the way it was (age-segregated, six to eight 50-minute classes in a row announced by Pavlovian bells, emphasis on rote memorization, lorded over by unquestionable authority figures, etc.)? Because the men who designed, funded, and implemented America's formal educational system in the late 1800s and early 1900s wrote about what they were doing.
Almost all of these books, articles, and reports are out of print and hard to obtain. Luckily for us, John Taylor Gatto tracked them down. Gatto was voted the New York City Teacher of the Year three times and the New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. But he became disillusioned with schools—the way they enforce conformity, the way they kill the natural creativity, inquisitiveness, and love of learning that every little child has at the beginning. So he began to dig into terra incognita, the roots of America's educational system.

In 1888, the Senate Committee on Education was getting jittery about the localized, non-standardized, non-mandatory form of education that was actually teaching children to read at advanced levels, to comprehend history, and, egads, to think for themselves. The committee's report stated, "We believe that education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late years manifesting itself among the laboring classes."
By the turn of the century, America's new educrats were pushing a new form of schooling with a new mission (and it wasn't to teach). The famous philosopher and educator John Dewey wrote in 1897:

"Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth."

In his 1905 dissertation for Columbia Teachers College, Elwood Cubberly—the future Dean of Education at Stanford—wrote that schools should be factories "in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products...manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry." The next year, the Rockefeller Education Board—which funded the creation of numerous public schools—issued a statement which read in part:

"In our dreams...people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple...we will organize children...and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way."

At the same time, William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906, wrote:

"Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual."

In that same book, The Philosophy of Education, Harris also revealed:

"The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places.... It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world."

Several years later, President Woodrow Wilson would echo these sentiments in a speech to businessmen:

"We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."

Writes Gatto: "Another major architect of standardized testing, H.H. Goddard, said in his book Human Efficiency (1920) that government schooling was about 'the perfect organization of the hive.'" While President of Harvard from 1933 to 1953, James Bryant Conant wrote that the change to a forced, rigid, potential-destroying educational system had been demanded by "certain industrialists and the innovative who were altering the nature of the industrial process."

In other words, the captains of industry and government explicitly wanted an educational system that would maintain social order by teaching us just enough to get by but not enough so that we could think for ourselves, question the sociopolitical order, or communicate articulately. We were to become good worker-drones, with a razor-thin slice of the population—mainly the children of the captains of industry and government—to rise to the level where they could continue running things.

This was the openly admitted blueprint for the public schooling system, a blueprint which remains unchanged to this day. Although the true reasons behind it aren't often publicly expressed, they're apparently still known within education circles. Clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine wrote in 2001:

"I once consulted with a teacher of an extremely bright eight-year-old boy labeled with oppositional defiant disorder. I suggested that perhaps the boy didn't have a disease, but was just bored. His teacher, a pleasant woman, agreed with me. However, she added, "They told us at the state conference that our job is to get them ready for the work world…that the children have to get used to not being stimulated all the time or they will lose their jobs in the real world."

posted 17 July 2003 updated 24 Jan 2006copyright 2003/6 Russ Kick


  • At 4:51 PM, Blogger EntellektualSoul said…

    I work with children also. I am a literacy reading coach for second graders at a all black (maybe a couple Hispanics)elementary school. I can look into a child's eyes and see the untold story that is going on at home. On top of that, the teachers are the worst. I have heard teachers call students "sorry" and "lazy" and my favorite "I know you wish you were in the projects right now"!!?? Sometimes I have to stop and make sure I heard what I had heard.
    The garbage that these children have to learn is another story. I have had to read stories on how Abraham Lincoln freed slaves and Susan B. Anthony helping black men and women getting the right to vote and we know that, is the furthest thing from the truth. I try to drop some jewels in our readings, without bringing chaos to the situation with the administration. One day I had to practice read with the children a story on Columbus. I let them know that there were original people here before Columbus "discovered" Amerikkka. Our children have it the hardest these days, and no one can claim any victory with the Civil Rights or Black Power Era until we successfully build on those gains for the next generation
    Keep building!
    ---17 Sanaa Perfect Paradise Earth

  • At 3:53 PM, Blogger Divine IZ Earth said…

    Peace Queen!

    Thank you, thank you for posting this piece. I work in the public school system as a teacher aide and I see first hand how the system is made to keep people in their "place" so to speak. When bringing up the subject of changing curriculum to make the youth interested, they (teachers) often go into saying, "You're not always going to be able to have music at your job, etc..." They're pushing our youth to eventually work for others, not themselves. And the children are the terms of talking back, not doing work at all, not caring. Some say its a fear of "acting white" that our children are doing well in schools, born u truth is that the youth see through the hypocrisy in the educational system and don't have the knowledge to articulate it just yet, so they rebel.

    Thanks again for this piece Sis...

  • At 8:38 AM, Blogger B.A.Rak said…

    This was a great post! Have you read any of Paolo Friere's stuff? "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" "Pedagogy of Freedom". He's got very good ideas about education and engaged learning etc... Very important stuff.


  • At 10:15 PM, Blogger vajra obolu said…

    what up queen. i don't know how i just stumbled upon this sight, but alas i am here and got blasted and blessed with some real information. your words are powerful, poetic, and all too true. what can we do? one love, vajra


Post a Comment

<< Home