November 23, 2014

Education for Black America: Home schooling leads the way

School’s Out

You know what’s the difference between a jobless African American and a jobless white American? There’s a higher chance of the white person being educated and therefore he is more likely of the two to get employed. This isn’t just about racial discrimination; rather it’s about the actual disparity in literacy amongst blacks and whites.

Recent studies have indicated that the gap is bound to increase due to social and economic concerns about the welfare of children and the increasing cost of education. The biggest change instigated by this is the growing number of home schooled African Americans.

The A-B-C-D of home schooling

Traditionally, home schooling has been considered a rich and successful way to educate our children. The intensive and dedicated efforts of parents have made kids more aware and attuned to their surroundings and current events. But for black families, this is turning into a necessity rather than an option. They are the fastest growing population group in the home schooling segment and one estimate puts the number of black children being taught at home to well above 200,000. As mentioned, social and economic issues are the biggest factors in building this trend. African American families still think twice before enrolling their kids in public schools as lack of sensitive education about respecting different cultural groups still makes racism a valid concern. The whole school experience can be demoralizing and even devastating for minority populations which can leave them scarred for life. Colored kids are picked out for bullying and they usually retort in a similar vein, forcing parents to turn to home schooling as viable alternative.

Economics, as a factor, cannot be underestimated. Education costs have skyrocketed in the last decade or so and people are hard-pressed to find the requisite cash. Interest rates for educational loans have also been steadily climbing up and have in fact become the last resort for educational funding. Even if the parents do want go for this option; getting a loan approved is a lot tougher and lengthier if you are not white. Public schooling, as you can clearly see, is not the best overall option a black family has and this been the driving force behind the increasing number of home schooled individuals. There is one genuine concern raised about kids that study at home: they don’t get to interact with people of other cultural groups or heritage. This is only partially true as the kids have their neighborhoods and playgrounds to interact with other children and actually have the benefit of being a part of a more conducive environment.

Verdict

Is it the way forward? Well the idea looks to have its heart in the right place. Parents, who teach their children at home, can make sure that adequate attention is being paid to the quality of learning and the child can grow in a healthy, risk-free environment. A specific incentive for black families is that they are able to teach their kids about African American history which is generally neglected in public schools apart from a cursory look over the life of Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X. Religious education is another point in favor of home schooling as parents can decide the way a child develops his or her beliefs. Simply put, the student is able to learn the things that actually make a difference.

One cannot ignore the fact there will always be teachers who believe that students from minorities don’t have the requisite intellect to grasp technicalities. This type of biased, 18th century mentality will no longer be a concern with proper education at home. But what about the positive student-teacher interaction? In a class of 50 students, a child will be lucky to even have 5 minutes of healthy interaction with their teachers. This is ridiculous compared to the constant attention a child gets at home. No more worries of racial abuse, no more bullying, no wasted talent, no exorbitant fees and no senseless subjects: If this isn’t a ‘win-win’ situation then I don’t know what is.

The flexibility you can have is mandated by the local state laws which determine what subjects are to be taught and how the student is supposed to be assessed at home. This is meant to introduce a curriculum and order in the home schooling process, which only serves to make it more lucrative. Parents need to sit down and think hard if this is exactly what their child requires and if so; they shouldn’t hesitate.

Slave for a day, free for a lifetime.

Have things changed?

People in the United States of America have gradually formed two camps in the last 4 years. One half still considers Martin Luther King Jr. as the turning point in African American culture and believes that his efforts are essentially responsible for the way black people are treated now and have been the ultimate catalyst for a change in the social order. The other half considers Barack Obama’s presidency as the pivotal moment in black history within America and the one single point that has changed how African Americans are perceived today.

But there exists a small minority which believes that all these developments are nothing but superficial changes in attitudes, and issues are still exactly the same as they were 40 years ago. If you look at everything objectively; they do have hit the bull’s-eye.

Slave for a day

To understand the issues that African American face today, you have to consider the fact that changing half a millennium worth of stereotypes within half a century is a daunting task indeed. Slavery might have been abolished a long time ago by law, but there is no legal piece of paper that can govern the mind of an individual. Many people still categorize African Americans based on the redundant views held by their forefathers and the issue has come to boiling point once again after the controversial ‘Slave for a day’ program by Hampton National Historic Park, which caused outrage and sympathy in equal measure.

According to the authorities, they intended this ‘catchy title’ to attract people to the event. The event itself consisted of working in fields with scythes and hoes and other duties that a slave normally carried out like transporting water buckets. The intent was to create awareness about black history and the issues African Americans faced during these dark ages, ending with a commemoration ceremony dedicated to black history. But people across the country have responded to it with enough acid to stock a school lab for a year. One commentator summed up the outrage by saying that ‘It is too serious an issue to playact’. While the intent on the whole was admirable, the title and related advertising were considered insensitive and the program has since been renamed. Angela Roberts-Burton, the organizer and an African American herself, has defended the whole situation by stating that the activities were meant to give a glimpse of the hard work and atrocities that the slaves endured and the event wasn’t trying to combine and display the whole era in a single day for marketing purposes.

Verdict

The political ramifications are huge and the whole issue has already rocked Washington with many senators condemning the whole situation. Many support groups and NGO’s have come out in vocal opposition and are threatening to boycott any further activities. But there is another section of the public that has come in support of the Park authorities, as they believe that the whole situation is being blown out of proportion and the organizers should in fact be commended for their efforts in bringing to light the plight of the slaves. They are absolutely spot on.

The American population, fed on popcorn and prejudice, has surprisingly become more insensitive than it was two or three decades ago. Racism is still rampant and the only solution mainstream America has come up with is to make fun of it through TV and Hollywood. Masking racism with laughter isn’t correct as it tends to encourage wrong beliefs and misconceptions, that black people are ‘cool’ with comments and racial attitudes which make fun of their history or color. This immature outlook stems from an inadequate knowledge about African American history and culture and is in fact the most fundamental problem through which these stereotypes emerge. The Hampton National Park authorities should be congratulated on their efforts to get to the root of the problem and show the average American what being a slave actually felt like. This will help broaden one dimensional views and will better equip them to deal with issues of racism. This was the only program that took the issue seriously and castigating them for ‘improper advertising’ is extremely harsh when you consider the fact that these same people have no issues with insensitive advertising on TV or improper portrayal of black people in visual media.

The political class needs to show some spine by supporting the idea behind this event, or any other that take place in the future. They have to educate the electorate about the real issues that plague American society today and to convince them that being a ‘Slave for a day‘ is definitely not a problem; it’s actually a giant leap towards finding a permanent solution.

Crimes against criminals: The right to vote

Criminally insensitive

Being a criminal is a crime in itself. It doesn’t matter if you have served your sentence; in the minds of the general population, you’ll always be an offender. The social stigma associated with criminals and their families, never truly leaves and in most cases they are shunned from society and left to fend for themselves. This apathy is understandable and even the felons can sometimes accept this treatment. What keeps them going is the support of their loved ones and the fact that at least the United States Government doesn’t discriminate people based on their past. Or do they? You only have to look at one of Florida’s draconian laws to burst the bubble- Ex-offenders have to go to bizarre lengths to get back their right to vote.

The Offender’s Dilemma

In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott passed the HB 1355 bill into law and brought Florida back into the controversial political limelight. The law not only makes the early voting and new voter registration process extremely complex and risky; but it also appears to be unconstitutional. This law has served as the starting point for countless other unpopular directives and laws, with the recent mass removal of felons from their voting lists being a very ugly political move.

Within the first quarter of 2012, more than 7000 voters have had their rights revoked due to recent convictions. With the presidential election race heating up, this will only serve to add fuel to the fire. Over 96% of the African American population in Florida voted for Obama in 2008 and most of them had registered through voter drives and church meetings that encouraged participation in order to elect the first black president. This was also a great way for felons to be accepted back in society and the perfect chance to reclaim their full citizenship rights. But the new legislations are a step backwards, as they are effectively meant to decrease the voter base by hitting out on all fronts. The voter drives have started to fizzle out as the registration process demands that the drive initiator first needs to get registered himself, and any new applications that they receive must be submitted within 48 hours or they will be considered invalid. Secondly, offenders convicted with non-violent felonies must wait for five years after release to even be considered for reinstatement of voting privileges and must have no new offences registered during that time frame. For violent felonies, the time limit is 7 years. This is just the beginning of the torment as the process for re-registration is extremely tough with miles of bureaucratic red tape that effectively kills any chance of rehabilitation.

All this has caused a dramatic decrease in clemency petitions for voting rights reinstatement and this year has seen a more than 50% drop in petitions and applications.

Verdict

It makes you wonder if the Florida administration is actually serious about rehabilitating felons, many of whom belong to the under developed black neighborhoods scattered throughout the state. If serving sentence isn’t enough to consider an individual as reformed, then serious doubts can be raised behind the whole point of convictions. Recently, dozens of African American ex-offenders turned up at a local church to demand reinstatement of their rights. Many had minor convictions like video piracy, while most where drug related. Some even had completed educational courses and had acquired degrees from reputed universities and yet here they were, pleading to be considered as normal US citizens.

This amounts to infringement of civil rights as it is unconstitutional to bar the freedom to vote, after citizens have served their sentence. The lawmakers and diplomats need to show some empathy with their fellow Americans, as it is hard to imagine that the land of liberty and equality can be so insensitive towards their own subjects. It has even been categorized as human rights violation by some and they are not that far off the mark. These felons have paid for their sins with precious years of their life which were vital to help their families and loved ones. This discrimination, even after settling their debts with society, is the biggest crime of them all. The political class needs to wake up and realize that like healthcare and education, voting is a fundamental right and these nonsense laws need to changed or abolished in the shortest timeframe possible.