Commentary

Equal citizenship rights still a struggle

As it turns out, Abraham Lincoln’s “firery trials through which we pass….” is a prophetic statement. 1865 marked the end of the Civil War, and the end of the institution of the legal enslavement of African people. Four million African Americans… As it turns out, Abraham Lincoln’s “firery trials through which we pass….” is a prophetic statement. 1865 marked the end of the Civil War, and the end of the institution of the legal enslavement of African people. Four million African Americans were liberated from bondage after this, the most devastating of all wars up to that point in human history. The victorious North established the program called Reconstruction. Its stated aims were to create a new democratic society in the defeated South, in which Black Americans would be treated as equal citizens of the republic. As alluded to earlier, Reconstruction, a short-lived era in which some African American progress was made, ended abruptly, thus setting up the continuing struggle for equal citizenship rights, in the 20th, and 21st Centuries. Reconstruction lasted –it was a hopeful and enterprising time for the recently freed slaves. The field of education is the part of life in which Blacks made their greatest leap foreword. Beginning (in 1865) as an almost completely illiterate population (unacquainted with the printed word) to a mostly literate population in one generation (by 1900) is unequaled in human advancement in the modern world. This was a spectacular achievement. The unfinished work of Reconstruction will continue to retard the progress of American democracy until the Nation faces squarely the background and causal effects of what we are facing today.

It often happens that Black people –adults and children– are not aware of the sustained contributions Blacks have made on their own behalf. A greater awareness of this role should serve to enhance self-esteem among Black people, which should encourage future generations to continue their time honored quest for and participation in education of their children. Teachers, administrators, and others involved in the education of Black children are largely ignorant of this history. This ignorance also affects how Black children are viewed, treated, taught, encouraged, or discouraged in the process of acquiring an education in this society.

It is generally agreed that parental participation in the education of their children is a key ingredient to academic success. There has been an almost universally held belief by educators, and in other circles as well, that Black parents and Black community leaders are less interested in the education of their children than other groups. I thoroughly reject this notion. The rejection is based in part on professional, personal and research experiences.

As a professional consultant to public schools for seventeen years in several states since the Brown Decision, I often heard White teachers and White administrators say that Black parents “don’t care about their children’s educators”. This accusation is often directed at poor Black parents or Black parents who did not visit their children’s school. However, my conversation with Black parents and personal experiences with my own children lead me to reject that accusation and draw different conclusions. As a professional working with these Black parents and their children, I heard Black parents say in a number of different ways that they wanted their children to be educated. They encouraged them to “work hard in school and to study hard”. In most cases Black parents gave their teachers permission to “make my children learn”. These parents believed that education was the vehicle for “getting a chance to be somebody”. Some would say education was the way for their children to have a better life than they had. They saw education as a way of getting out of poverty.

In my personal life, the significance of education was reinforced on a daily basis where I grew up. My parents, grand parents, and the community at large placed high value on education. The history of the Black Community is replete with sterling examples of Black families, no matter how poor

April 5, 2004
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