Malcolm X [An Awesome Case Study For The Difference Between Schooling and Education]

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose7 Comments

Young Malcolm X

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 …

Comments 7

  1. generally speaking I don’t really get into case studies that often but they are decent cautionary tales for those who care to listen. In my personal view, I see education and school as pretty much the same thing. I think the back drop of progression in life is how one learns and how those learned lessons are applied thus i generally speak of learning as something that can happen inside or outside of schools or the education system. regardless of my parsing of semantics here your point is well made.

    piece and blessings..

  2. I was just saying to someone, as we passed within shouting distance of the site of Malcolm X’s childhood home, that school may have introduced me to a number of things – and that was good – but it had very little part in my education. School is all about time limits and someone else’s interests and pace. It is never about being a place to involve yourself in your educational passions and learn. And its funny, I’ve often done worse in courses where I was most interested – you can’t resolve an interest in a semester – than in courses where I wasn’t interested at all – where I might give in and do some minimum thing.

    I have seen learning places. I know they are possible. But very few schools I have seen can call themselves that.

  3. I’ve often wondered what road Malcolm X’s life would have taken if his junior high had a decent counselor. I bet he would have become a wonderful lawyer and possibly ended up in politics.

  4. I must say Malcolm was definitely an enigma. I myself am on a journey, I dropped out of college and am in the military. I also write which is something I think I was born to do. A lot of my friends have since graduated from college and I feel that I’m doing better that a lot of them. I think it comes down to drive, how bad that person wants to make it. Roadblocks along the way are mere learning experience in this life.

  5. John Dewey wrote a book entitled, Education and Experience, which discussses how experience can be a powerful factor in the development of a person. Each of Malcolm X’s experiences, whether the result of schooling or education, shaped him into becoming who and what he eventually became. That said, what one gaind from an education is richer and more enduring, because one wants to acquire it, but not necessarily more important.

  6. Post

    Well, this is very much a chicken-egg argument (and I always think the egg wins in this one). I mean, do we really credit his prior schooling for planting the seeds for him to become so eloquent or do we look towards his experience in jail for that? Which one is which? To give credit to one would be discrediting the other.

    With that said, I believe the education differentiated him from Malcolm Little, or even Malcolm X, a transition to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Those metamorphoses come as a result of his continued education, way after his schooling stopped.

    As you can tell, I’m still playing with these ideas.

  7. Brother Malcolm was destined for this trajectory. I believe that. He came from a cemented God-Centered family that was grounded in Pan-Africanism. Had his father not suffered a suspicious death and his mother institutionalized — Malcolm’s brain may not have been re-wired to adjust to all this trauma over and over and over again. He mastered “GRIT” or “reslilience” as Charter proponents might like to describe tihs type of tenacity…. NOT to mention the original terror his family experienced from the HOODS – KKK growing up. He was being taught at home to interrogate a white supremacist system and to think critically. School gave him the basic foundation and his Father gave him the key to his liberation. Going to jail was a detour — but damn, coming out of that Jail was the ultimate Rebirth of a Prophetic Activist. His life cycle was a true metamorphosis, one that butterflies only dream of.

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