Don’t Talk To Me About The Good Old Days

Jose Vilson Education, Jose, Race

Violent techniques used on peaceful protesters in 1963. (Look how good it was back then.)

As recently as last month, I saw someone tweet that cops always made their whole city feel safe, and #OccupyWallStreet inspired a distrust of the executive branch unlike any other. It’s probably not the first time a Black person had to say, “I told you so.” It’s also not the first time a Black person had to say, “Are you serious?” to someone, however well intentioned, riding on the surfboard of their privilege. It’s amazing that, even after seeing a history of the boys in blue stomping horses over Negroes, pushing them off the sidewalk when White people walked across, and turning on hoses against children of color, people can still claim everyone in their city has never felt intimidated by law enforcement. Some say people of color commit the most crimes, have lower academic achievement, and generally have nothing better to do so getting arrested happens to the idle.

As long as it fits into our mold of what we believe America stands for, they make it work. In their minds, not in real life.

The same thing happens in current education discussions. It seems like we’ve reached a point where every “solution” involves Finland, a schoolhouse, and a vision of these good old days. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I don’t believe the people corporatizing the education system are completely at fault for what’s happening in education. Actually, they’re just continuing the not-so-secret tradition of trapping our kids into their socio-economic castes. The only reason why so many people have started to pay attention to this is because the idea of social mobility and prosperity has come to a standstill.

An education certainly helps, but, if you go by the research, even that’s no guarantee. The school-to-prison pipeline continues to undermine federal efforts like Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. People still try to dilute our most disillusioned kids’ anger about their own experiences with the isms with a “I went through that, too! … kinda …” They were barely learning about their own culture and history as is before this Arizona fiasco. If the student of color can make it out of the 12-14 years of “normative” (read: dominant culture) education and make it to college, governors and other pundits have begun the offensive against people realizing their true history here.

In some pockets, the meme that the good old days were better for children of color rings true. For one, there were more Black teachers (men AND women), and because of this, our kids got the underground education they so desperately sought. Not having a curriculum gave some teachers the ability to get into pride for their own culture while still giving them the tools to succeed in a world that wasn’t inherently theirs. Because of these teachers (oh to be one of them!), administrations across many districts started to fire and replace these types of rebel teachers in favor of teachers who taught the normal material with no real connection.

Honestly, many people of color get that this education is not really for them. Funding issues aside, Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children implies how children of color prefer learning how the “master’s tools” work so they can succeed in the dominant world while still retaining the parts of themselves. Little do they know that so few of us actually have the capacity to teach them in that vein. With less time and more high-stakes, sticking to one “viable, normalized curriculum” inevitably means the dwindling of a chance at any in-depth conversation about race in K-12 where it’s so desperately needed.

But alas, when people make arguments against edu-deformers about the status quo of the day by highlighting times when a Black man like me would get thrown out of their high-brow institution, I have a hard time not tuning them out. It’s easy to relegate the discussion of race to euphemisms like “poor kids” and “kids in need” and only in a tight corner as an after-thought to listing the latest noisemaker.

Gates this, Duncan that, Obama this. Yes, yes, all true. But if you’re still teaching children about our country’s history as a history unexaminble, you’re complicit in the edu-deform as well.

Jose, who keeps it way real before Black History Month …