I hate case studies. A lot. They’re beautiful for story-telling and quirky books we can keep, like oral traditions and love poems. I just don’t find case studies particularly engaging. Yes, people can manipulate statistics ’til their face turns indigo, but people can hyperbolize the effect of one or two people without making sure that there’s a pattern for said behavior.
Except when it comes to Malcolm X.
Whenever he comes up in the discussion about whether our students need school, I lose my tongue. He is the essential answer to the question, “What’s the difference between education and schooling?” So many of us are caught up in pretty ed-tech solutions, teacher talk, and data enumeration, we forget the bare essentials and how we have yet to find real, concrete, and plausible solutions for as many students as possible, which is always the goal. How do we discuss those secondary parts of education when the more rudimentary parts of our pedagogy get completely ignored?
Taking a glimpse at Malcolm X’s life, one can see a clear delineation from when he was schooled to when he was educated. The schooling came naturally to him. He did very well in school all the way through 8th grade, until a white teacher told him he had no business pursuing his dreams of becoming his lawyer. At this point, he’d drop out of school and never returned. That is to say, he returned only when he was one of the most sought-out speakers of his era, speaking all over colleges and universities in his adult life.
He spoke with such conviction and acumen, he could have very well been the lawyer his teacher told him he couldn’t.
For Malcolm to get from there to the peaceful legend he embodied as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, he had to hustle, run numbers, hustle some more, go to jail, lose his mother and other relatives early on in life, and deny a larger part of himself and his prosperous dreams. He had to be reprogrammed through the Nation of Islam, relearn everything he acquired through his father about black nationalism, and reform his whole life, eradicating those uglier parts. And that was only the beginning.
The part people miss about this man is that the schooling may have given him the basic elements of literacy and computation, skills he used in the revolutionary and the austere parts of his various careers. However, the education came when he took those skills and learned the hard life lessons that accompany using those skills. How does the legend of him reading the entire dictionary happen without those skills? How does he speak so well and tell stories the way he did without understanding metaphor or emphasis? How does he manage to create his own organization outside of the Nation of Islam, becoming the head of a multi-national organization without a little numeracy?
If we look at our students carefully, no matter what color, we may think that they’ll go to college, and learn everything there is about life there, but no. It happens in those teachable moments, like the ones where you tell them they can or can’t do something.
When you reaffirm their identities and whether they deserve the knowledge you hold … and the knowledge that has yet to be found …
Jose, who uses “we” in the sincerest way possible …
p.s. – In no way am I saying that Mr. Shabazz would advocate for our kids to drop out of school. He probably wouldn’t. However, this should give us educational evangelists a little pause …