Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Word from Brotha Dinizulu On Education...

NOTE: from time to time, I will be publishing some comments/analysis from my Miami Brotha- Dinizulu Tinnie. He is a powerful Black artists and community activist as well as a great thinker who often provides soem very good insight into our Black Liberation efforts-- SEA

Re: Effect of Culture-Based Teaching Challenged
Of course, Sam, we know the implicit irony of this whole discussion. This article might be called a study of studies done on the effectiveness of culture-based teaching. It evaluates past studies and questions their conclusions, based, logically enough, on the presence or absence of "empirical data" or, even more incisively, on the designs of the studies themselves. (One of the great scientific insights, or philosophy-of-science insights, it might be more proper to say, is the awareness that the data produced by experiments [studies] is very much conditioned by the design of the experiment; as in journalism or any other investigative field, the quality of the answers one gets depends on the quality of the questions one asks.)

Is it not quite ironic, then, that this whole evaluation of culture-based teaching seem not to address two fundamental assumptions (which might be one and the same). One is the lack of recognition that ALL teaching is culture-based; the only reason that this is even a question or a category of thought is that there has been a healthy and growing awareness that there are different cultures within the national polity, and that each deserves to be respected equally. Or, more specifically, the cultures of "minorities" needs to be given the same value, as a foundation for the education of the children who share those cultures as the culture of the [putatively WASP] majority or "mainstream." The second assumption is that this evaluation in itself is somehow objective, neutral, scientific and not, in itself, culture-based.

Ever since I have been involved with these issues (going back to the matter of Black English Dialect being used, or at least recognized in schools as a valid basis upon which further learning can be built), the same devious discussion has been with us. Yeah, yeah, you can prove that more respect for a child's home culture will engage the child more effectively in the school experience, but can you prove that these children are really learning more of what they should be learning, which, ultimately, is the S.O.S.: the same ol' stuff of arrogant, white supremacist and self-congratulatory discourse, with the implicit assumption that the purpose of education is to produce "productive citizens" who are capable and willing to contribute to that agenda, i.e. corporate profits and the bourgeois/capitalist values that are required to generate the viability of this unquestioned and unexamined social order.

True enough, that is all a gross oversimplification, but it is none the less factual for all that. My Guyanese journalist friend once stated the matter in a forthright way. As he said, "In the rest of the world the purpose of education is assumed to be to learn how to live and t live with. In the United States, the purpose of education is to get a job." The very hysteria which our government and our society in general exhibits when their unquestioned superiority gets questioned (one is "unpatriotic," perhaps even a "communist" or a "terrorist" at worst, and at best "ungrateful" for all of the blessings that American citizenship has showered upon one) has marked us as a pariah state in the world community. Where else in the so-called "civilized" world (another assumption: that there are places that are NOT civilized, by our standards) is access to such vital and universal necessities as education, health care and justice contingent upon one's possession, or not, of money (with few questions asked about how one got it, unless, of course, if one is Black or otherwise identifiably of color)?

If "education" is considered, by the powers-that-be, to be the process by which another generation is turned into effective supporters and sustainers of this status quo, then it is very plain why culture-based teaching will be questioned. Back to my allusion to the days of the Black English craze of the 1970s (which saw a misguided and confused resurgence under the rubric of "Ebonics" in more recent times), the discourse then had the same devious character as we see now. We might note that the terminology here refers to "culture-based" rather than, say, "culturally-oriented." The assumption is that respect for and evocation of the home culture in the classroom can serve as a "base" for launching the child into the mainstream. Hence the critique of studies which measure and evaluate student engagement in reading without measuring the success of "outcomes." I suspect that Hawai'ian children learning to read and being exposed to books about King Kamehameha or the greatness of their ancestors will show quite different "outcomes" than if their enthusiastically acquired reading skills, once firmly in lace, got shunted over to the drudgery of the S.O.S.

What is at the heart of this debate is the unquestioned (at least as far as I could see in my perhaps-too-casual reading of this article) is the definition of education itself. That is obvious enough, but the point here is that the definition is not being made or settled by a process of scholarly and rational discussion, but rather by a political agenda. Schools are, after all, regulated by an accreditation process, which wields life-and-death power over their very existence. If "standards" (I won't even go to the standardized test fiasco) require a "knowledge" of George Washington, Shakespeare, and Mozart, but not of Kamehameha, Dunbar or Tupac, then are we educating, who are we educating, and for what are we educating the few (certainly NOT the majority) who pass the tests and meet the standards? THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH LEARNING ABOUT WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND THOSE OF EUROPEAN DESCENT WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE QUALITY OF LIFE THAT WE NOW EXPERIENCE. Why shouldn't all children know about that? But then, why not also know about all those, of ANY descent, who have detracted from our quality of life, and certainly why not know about one's own Ancestors? As it is, much schooling around the world follows this very model. The glaring exceptions are in the White-Supremacist world, of colonies, former colonies and in dealing with subjugated and formerly subjugated populations of different ancestry, and nowhere is this more evident than in the U.S. today.

With all the polite and fashionable rhetoric about "cultural diversity" and "multiculturalism," with wonderful analogies to salad bowls and mosaics and tapestries and the like, the underlying concern is with the maintenance of power and a social order that was corrupted and unnatural from its outset, and has only ever been maintained by an unrelenting regime of physical and psychic violence. Indian Removal and slavery were but the most glaring and visible examples. No less horrific, and maybe even more so by some reckonings, has been the brutish manipulation of the working and the "middle" class, playing on fears and myths ("race" being paramount) to maintain divisions and isolations that have ironically turned some of the most "successful" into the most enslaved. (One might need only consider the typical scenario of the upwardly mobile exec shopping his or her resume, who is judged more on the depth of need -- married? car/ house/ obligations?-- than on stated qualifications and experience because what is really wanted by those doing the hiring is control, not competition for their positions.) That violence continues today in the obvious form of a de-facto empire, with the largest arsenal of mass-destructive (or any other kind, for that matter) weaponry ever amassed in human history and an uninvited armed presence all around the world, and, more importantly, the actuality of using those weapons. But the violence is no less in its non-obvious forms, like the lockdown control of "education," despite its guise of "academic freedom" and the illusion of informed discourse. This article has the appearance of being a part of the established tradition of scientific peer-review and objective evaluation, but that tradition is in fact only one tribe's culture-based ritual, and that culture itself has been compromised to serve a psychopathic political agenda that, the ritual now dictates, must not be questioned or examined.

We got work to do..


No comments: