Fixing Education (Through an old-school Africana Studies lens)

Looking at politics as well as education from a community-oriented, inner growth rather than competition, and social responsibility perspective is vital to repairing the education system. We would do well to take a cue, or a few, from this vintage approach.

The values of the academy reflect the values of a colonial culture, serving its stratifying and privilege-based ends by looking smart and claiming food, instead of offering insight and nourishment to others. Changing the education system will both help us do away with these counterproductive structures, like the current testing, and reorient the purpose of the pursuit to higher goals that benefit the community and society. It’s about what is taught/told/programmed, how it is taught and by whom. Simultaneously, the fruition and application of that education is an integral aspect of its value.

Hare connected education to politics because he understood that education is both the root programming and the expression of the forthcoming society. It should reflect our values in all areas of life. Political conditions and goals are an important aspect, especially for Black Studies given the then and current circumstances. Not only do these two systems interact with each other intimately, but the current challenges of each on their own are parallel, and apply as well to other systems in our society.

The old system values regurgitation of one (usually white male) person’s notions for mass production, and ineffective testing that thins the herd for conquering. It keeps “them” (most of us, not just black communities) in their place on a steep pyramid under the ‘power players’. But our lives are not a game. It is eating away at our civilization. This need for a new way, a new view is present in both politics and education, as well as the health system, economic system and many other systems that have been compartmentalized and contorted in that way.

A new system must empower each individual, offer co-development of a holistic view (in one’s topics and between participants in the pedagogy itself). The entire process in both (and all) systems would benefit from a creative mode – sharing and learning from and being inspired by each other. Listening, not just hearing, sharing not just speaking, and with curiosity to hear the truth, and not the spoon-fed version that’s been watered down, tainting every facet of American life. These systems can and should be more holistic, empowering and creative.

This same vein of thinking is integral to Black Rights movements, Africentism and would also benefit a wide array of types of suffering in the American and world population as a whole. The solution and erasure of black/other culture can be mitigated by “black-washing”, redirecting and correcting the path of these systems. It is about a pursuit of balance in a culture that has been heavily imbalanced.

Hare wants to see an education system that enriches the Black community as a whole, rather than plucking and priming and dividing. He doesn’t want to see Black youth enculturated, assimilated, blending into white society to the point of identity dilution and disempowerment. He doesn’t want to see them internalize the whole slew of unrighteous and diminishing thoughts and feelings offered to them by the institutions. Hare wants them to be taught by people who look like them, and identify home like them, and know what it’s like to experience being Black, the challenges and their causes, and the inherent beauty and excellence of who they truly are. At the core, he wants the education system to be structured to benefit the race and local community as a whole, from their own perspective, promoting involvement and engagement. He recognizes subjectivity for what it is, inseparable from  science or any study; and the need to direct it for a higher good. “Thus education is made relevant to the student and his community, while the community is, so to speak, made relevant to education.” (Hare, 1969)

Hare also wants to spread this awareness and the wisdom such restructuring brings to other communities, embracing the presence of others. He focuses on African American because it’s his domain. He advocates restrengthening the Black community, delineating it only enough to do so, not segregating it entirely from the wider society. It is a zero-sum political history of colonization which led to this imbalance on every level – for most races, cultures and groups. In contrast, Hare’s goals are win-win. This problem is not just a Black problem.

It so happens, Black Studies in particular is a perfect example of the damages caused by this colonial system, the legacies of disempowerment and suffering caused by the History Against Blacks, and its expression in the education system. This can be understood by looking at the issues at SFSC and Hare’s proposed solutions to them.

Hare’s suggestions for the program include the abstract notions of pride, self, community, shared destiny for Black students; and deracicizing whites. Pragmatically, he suggests community involvement and practicing. Hare courageously suggests Black-centric revamping of courses, with micro-macro lenses; including psychologies, sociologies, history, each artistic medium, anthropologies, sciences, counseling, economics, philosophies, and even Math! These are both heartfelt specific suggestions, and intentional attention bringing to the biased versions of these courses in the regular white academy. This will also entail changing qualifications and credentials processes. These should be based on inherent, qualitative experience and knowledge rather than pieces of paper and checklists. Hare also stresses the need for coursework, field work and empowerment over research funding for biased organizations.

Hare felt that entry should prioritize, but not be limited to black students. However, he stressed the need to seed these changes in the whole system and address the many faces of the issues which occur outside of, but are directly affecting, the Black community as well. (Which is the stated purpose of Hunter’s P&D requirements for US groups). To this point he embellished the comparison of separatist versus nationalist. To this point, he advocates the presence of departments rather than Negro colleges; but highlights the importance of increasing the presence of black professors everywhere. Hare goes on to recommend the need for white professors who are on board with the agenda and support Black self-direction; who can integrate the work for the white students in the department and share it with the white community outside of it. (Without betraying the provision of black role models or allowing this to seed white colonialism from within.) Hare wishes to promote these inclusive 1nd universalizing  ideals while reclaiming Black self-sovereignty and specific culture.

The goals of the SFSC demands are strongly derived from this outline. They demand a Black Studies department that issues a degree, harnesses the current black presence and structured by the black faculty who are on board with the agenda. They demand black role models and self-sovereignty; imbuing the department with black perspective and empowerment. They demand protection for strike/protest participants, George Murray (a role model) and for all Black Studies programs in the system. They also demanded the admission of all black students interested in attending the following year, and allocation of 20 full-time teaching slots to the department. (Of the 47 open at that time!) They also have economically specific demands which enable the above to take place, mitigate the problems and begin to rebalance the campus. Fair and full-time pay for Black professors, specifically a raise in pay and recognition for Hare, the admission of black and third world students to the unused spots deprived them, and the replacement of the racist, oppressive and hostile Financial Aid Officer.

Hare was absolutely successful in describing the needs of the black and third world students, outlining the structure and co-creating the new department. Reviewing the current structure, using Helene Whitson’s document charting the success, most of these demands were implemented. Even though there was no statement for limitless admission of black students the following year, a substantial number were admitted in fall and outreach was pursued for more.

The unsuccessful demands of note are that 12.3 rather than 20 positions were opened for faculty; reprimands (though relatively limited, whatever that means) were in fact distributed; that black programs can still be dissolved by the California State College Trustees; and retaining the power of the advisory board to dismiss or maintain the employment of Murray and other role models. All in an attempt to assert the administration’s power.

    Contemporary Black Studies is a direct outgrowth of this poli-educational, economic, social history. We can see the institutionalized requirements for diversity awareness in various colleges through the development of African, Latino and Ethnic Studies programs, integration into general requirements, and even in the presence of these theories, ideals and scholarly works from this discipline being spread to other departments and ideologies. This event, and the work done for Black Studies in this period, have deeply and vastly changed the education system, Black lives, American lives, for the better. Yet, as more and more of us are able to understand because of these protesters and strikers and their legacy, there’s still much more work to do towards these goals.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

  • Whitson, Helene. “Outcomes of the TWLF Strike at SFSU in 1968”. Wikipedia, 2014, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Outcomes_of_the_TWLF_Strike_at_SFSU_in_1968.pdf&page=2.
  • SFSU Faculty. “Africana Studies Program Information”. San Francisco State University, 2018, http://africana.sfsu.edu/content/programs.
  • Hare, Nathan. “What Should Be The Role of Afro-American Education in the Undergraduate Curriculum?”, in New Perspectives on Black Studies. (Liberal Education LV, March, 1969): 42-5.
  • Hare, Nathan. “Questions and Answers About Black Studies”, The Massachusetts Review: Directions in Black Studies. 10, no.4 (Autumn 1969): 727-36.
  • August Meier, Elliott M. Rudwick, Francis L. Broderick. “The Era of Black Power”, in Black Protest Thought in the Twentieth Century, (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1971): 528-35.