Tag Archives: education

HBCUs and the Current Administration

Yesterday the white house played host to presidents of historically black colleges and universities. You may have seen the picture. It is the one with our nation’s president at his desk, a smiling Amarosa at his side. The office is packed with black people in dresses and suits, and of course Mrs. Conway kneeling on the couch.main-bldg

I wasn’t there. I don’t really know what happened and I can only guess at why.

But Dr. Walter Kimbrough, the President of Dillard University was in that room and he wrote about it. Oddly enough just last week three freshman were in my office asking me questions about student support and I printed out two different peer reviewed articles written by Dr. Kimbrough to help them.

Here is what he said about yesterday, “…the goal was for officials from a number of Federal agencies (about 5 were there including OMB) and Secretary DeVos to hear about HBCUs. That all blew up when the decision was made to take the presidents to the Oval Office to see the President… there was very little listening to HBCU presidents today- we were only given about 2 minutes each, and that was cut to one minute, so only about 7 of maybe 15 or so speakers were given an opportunity today.”

Today is the last day of Black History Month. The image I saw online had the potential to communicate some hope for these institutions. Sadly, as is the precedent, it fell far short.

Then I saw the Education Secretary’s statement following their meeting.

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”front-gate

This is the kind of statement you make if you aren’t listening. But again, I wasn’t there so maybe she did listen, or maybe she didn’t get a chance to hear them, or maybe it is worse. Maybe she listened and then still chose to release the above.

It should be clear that Black colleges did not start because of too few choices, they were founded because of exclusion. There was a system in place that was working for white people, and those people fought hard to keep this benefit exclusive.

Once these schools were founded they did not represent an additional choice, or even an alternative, they represented the only option.

Had the Secretary chosen to listen to Dr. Kimbrough, the president of one of these lauded schools, here is what he would have said (which we know he would have said because he published it today),

“Fifty years ago a philosophy emerged suggesting education was no longer a public good, but a private one. Since then we’ve seen Federal and State divestment in education, making the idea of education as the path to the American dream more of a hallucination for the poor and disenfranchised.”

1 Comment

Filed under events, people

The White Side of Black History: the cow jumped over the moon

Peter Tosh had a song with the lyrics, “We teach the youth to learn in school, that the dish ran away with the spoon. We teach the youth to learn in school, that the cow jump over moon. So you can’t blame the youth (when they don’t learn), you can’t fool the youth.”

It wasn’t exactly a hit single but he was making a point. Our children are not stupid, but we often treat them as if they are, and even worse, sometimes we make them that way. For instance, when my oldest was in 1st grade and just learning about holidays, which were very exciting since they included lots of activities in class, and days off from school, she asked about Martin Luther King Day. Her teacher explained that a long time ago black and white people weren’t allowed to be together. Martin Luther King Jr. thought this was wrong and helped get those laws changed so we could all be together. It was a nice age appropriate story, except is was horribly misguiding.

It was misguided not only in this instance but also in that this foundational error rarely gets corrected throughout the entirety of most American kid’s classroom education.

The soft pedaling of lessons on American racial history is damaging because we do everything we can to remove perpetrators. There are great injustices in history, and those who suffered through them did some amazing things in overcoming thanks to remarkable leaders like Fredrick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln. But somehow, these injustices just were. No one did them, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just the way things were. When contrasted with the Revolution caused by King George and Redcoats, and world War II caused by Hitler and the Japanese, it is silly to think Jim Crow was created by a cow jumping over the moon. Yet that is pretty much how we explain it.

So we can’t blame the youth when they don’t learn.

But kids grow into adults and we often hang on to what we learned when we were little. It is important for people to know, and not just in light of current political atmosphere but because it is the truth, that those laws were made by white people. Those Jim Crow laws were made by white people who at best were trying to protect their own position and possessions with complete disregard for black people, or at worst, with the intention of hurting and repressing black people. The makers of those laws represented and were what made up “America”. That was us.

My eight year old understands this. She is old enough to get it. She is also old enough to understand, but still be shocked by, the knowledge that when Martin Luther King, and a whole lot of other people, started working to change those laws, it was the police who tried to stop them. She got a new respect for MLK once she realized how dangerous it was to stand up for rights. After seeing photos of police dogs and fire hoses my little girl paused for a minute, thinking. She looked sort of sideways at me, her white father, and asked, “was it dangerous for white people too?”

Great question.

I told her about a young white man named Jonathan Daniels who tried to help black people register to vote in Alabama. He was shot by a Sheriff in the middle of the day with witnesses. The Sheriff didn’t get in trouble. We talked about how it was safe for white people if they just left things the way they were, because the police were on the side of the white people, but anyone, no matter their color, were in danger if they tried to change things. I also explained that black people were in danger no matter what they did.

She understood that. She didn’t like it, which is appropriate, but it made sense.

It is important that we as a society understand that problems, and especially laws, are never “just the way things are.” We make things how things are. All the high minded ideals of the American experiment rely upon us as a populace participating. That is what makes our nation remarkable. Despite our flaws and imperfections, we have built in mechanisms that allow change and have held us intact despite violence and horror and centuries if injustices. We actually CAN do something. Of course it might be dangerous- but so is roller skating.

So, on this first day of February, Black History Month, I write about these things, and urge us to learn about these things, not to foster anger or hatred or “dwell on the past”, but to simply understand the truth. We were taught that the dish ran away with the spoon and consequentially we don’t understand how we got to where we are… and we can be better. We need to learn about our history so we can be better.

Happy February.

Leave a comment

Filed under history

When a College is Historically White, Then Black, Then White Again: Black History Month

The University of South Carolina was founded by a state charter in 1801 and was the 23rd college founded in the United States. It was only for white people. When South Carolina started the Civil War, the students went off to fight for the South and the school closed, then it was occupied by Northern forces. After the war (1865) it was reopened under South Carolina’s reconstruction government.library reading room

They, the reconstructionists, made the school open to Black people. And it wasn’t just the students. One of the new professors they hired after the war ended was Richard Theodore Greener, America’s first Black professor at any state run flagship university (he was also the first Black person to graduate from Harvard). By 1875 ninety percent of the student body were Black.

When reconstruction was abandoned and democrats retook the state government (1876), they quickly closed the school down. Then in 1880 they reopened the school, but only to White people. After the passing of Brown vs. the Board of Education, which outlawed segregation, USC became the nation’s first college to require an entrance exam. That was 1954. The school did not admit any Black students till 1963.museum

Mind you, Professor Greener (who left the school when the democrats closed it down) graduated Harvard back in 1870, almost 100 years earlier.

History is not a straight line ascending up and up eternally. It weaves a drunkards path, back and forth, forward and back. Forward progress is not, and has never been, natural or inevitable.

Leave a comment

Filed under history, places

Where Your Fortune is Created:Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

It wasn’t till after we left that it occurred to me that for a couple bucks they probably would have let me write my own fortune to have stuffed inside a cookie. Tip to anyone considering a proposal of marriage; visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory located in a tiny alley in San Francisco’s Chinatown.IMG_5998

In Ross alley is a little shop about the size of my living room, where dreams are created. Well, maybe not dreams, but rather the little cookies you get with your sweet and sour chicken. I had never considered how these little treats are made, just as I have never really considered how my iPhone or a kazoo are constructed, but when confronted with an opportunity, why not?IMG_5991

There ya go. That’s pretty much it. A circular conveyor belt with a hundred Forman Grill like hot plates spins around spitting out hot pancakes that are peeled off the press and the folded around a slip of pre printed paper  into the shape of a croissant. You walk in, go “huh.” Then buy a bulk bag of cookies and go on your way. That is my style of learning.IMG_5736Going there is worth the trip and being there is even better. I find it incredibly American. American in that it is very much IN America, but in a place where a large number of people have come from somewhere else in hope of a better life. That is American.IMG_5990

What is also very American is gawking at the the culture of others without any real back story or true cultural understanding. That was my part in the whole visit. I played my part well and I am through and through American. Below I present exhibit A:IMG_5993

I appreciate drying your laundry the cheapest way possible and I don’t mind dried fish, but combining the two displeases me. I would guess that were it otherwise I would displease most of the people who might sit next to me on a bus.

But that is my opinion and this is America where we are each entitled to our own opinions… and smells.IMG_5997

 

6 Comments

Filed under places

Childhood Wonder: Dana Point, CA

When you are small the world is bigger. When you are young everything is new.

Everything being big and new can be both wonderful and terrifying.

That’s what being a kid is, terrifyingly wonderful. Dana Point was wonderful.beachwithafilter

 

We only went to the beach as an afterthought. Our main intent was to visit the Ocean Institute. That was “our” intent, my intent was to see the tall ships. To me tall ships are wonderful. They stoke within me a primal wanderlust that I am finding increasingly hard to placate. But the institute and the two tall ships it operates, are not for me.

Its all for them.

And they love it.

I love that.jellyface

On weekends it is open to the public and the weekend we went they made us feel welcome. I love to observe others doing things they love and the Ocean Institute appeared full of people doing what they love. What they do there is teach oceanography to kids.bubblekids

A grey haired man walked us around a whale skeleton, another showed us how they practice driving underwater robots. A young woman showed us the tank where she was raising a colony of young jellyfish and another woman helped my kindergartner dissect a squid.squid

Make no mistake, this isn’t an aquarium or a museum. They don’t just show things here they facilitate doing things. It isn’t just to help people do things, its to teach kids how to do things. Big, new, terrifying, and wonderful things.

We as a generation would do better if we dedicated ourselves more to teaching our kids to do big new terrifying wonderful things.

But still I stare at those tall ships…tall ship

3 Comments

Filed under places

Bryn Mawr: the Big Hill

Ten miles up the mainline from Philadelphia is Lower Marion Township. Driving up route 30 rowhouses give way to stone houses and trees. I pass St. Joe’s, the French International School, then after Haverford I take a right. There not quite all the way to Rosemont or Villanova, is Bryn Mawr.ImageQuakers founded the school in 1885 but the board soon decided the institution would have no religious affiliation. It is the first school in America to offer a PhD to women.ImageBryn Mawr is one of the seven sisters. It brings to mind images of knee high socks and plaid skirts I saw none of that when I visited. I did see a chemistry lab filled with glass tubes and DNA models.Image

Image

Image

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized