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A Moment of Clarity

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

There are certain dialectical moments (Nkrumah, 1964), that can be traced to important changes and developments in my personal philosophy, achievement philosophy and philosophy of education. The dialectical moment refers to a point in which there is a critical organization of quantity which results in a qualitative transformation (Nkrumah, 1964). These moments can be described as a culmination of knowledge, while concurrently, a gradual sheading of layers of naiveite. These dialectical moments occurred throughout critical developmental periods of my life, yet I anticipate more dialectical moments as I continue to live and learn. It was 1979 in Brooklyn, NY and life was great. Black people wore afros and dashikis and raised Black power fists.  I was Black and proud, however, my parents were immigrants, so I couldn’t really say it out loud. I declared it one day, on the playground “Black is cool!” A white schoolmate, turned to me in disgust and said, “What’s so cool about being black? Black people were slaves, and even worse, you come from Africa.”  Racially insensitive chants bleated out ‘African booty scratcher’ over and over until I screamed, “I’m not African! I’m American”. I was devastated. All I knew about Black people came from Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’. I asked my parents about being Black, but I was quickly hushed; immigrants were not allowed to have an opinion. At the age of six, I understood that it was undesirable to be an African, I had never learned anything contrary in class. I remember every teacher I ever had, the teacher that instilled a love for reading- 1 st grade Mrs. Churtoff; the 1 st time I experienced racial microaggressions from a teacher- 3 rd grade Ms. Notaros; the 1 st teacher that challenged the district curriculum and taught from a culturally responsive methodology- 4 th grade Mrs. Moats. To this day I love Ms. Moats for what she instilled in her students. I am still in contact with many of the students from that class an they agree that she changed their life. I have attempted to contact her via social media and professional data bases but I have not yet been successful. Mrs. Churtoff was a kindly older white lady that encouraged me to join the story telling contest. Winning 3 rd and 2 nd place in the story telling competitions firmly cemented my love for oratory, drama and competition. Mrs. Notaros was a mean sort with pale skin and a short red bob, who seldom smiled and rapped the black boys on their knuckles with her ruler. One time a talent scout came to my school in Brooklyn and wanted to audition a 3 rd grader to be on the Archie Bunker show and even though we raised our hands too Mrs. Notaros only selected the white girls to go to the auditorium to audition. Danielle Brisebois was cast from my class, she was Archie’s adopted daughter. This experience made me feel invisible I did not understand why she looked right through me and didn’t select me. Mrs. Moats was tall slender dark-skinned woman who wore her hair natural and dashikis and rows of silver bangles that jingled when she wrote on the board. She taught us that it was ok to love ourselves, we experience a true sense of community in her class- we never had pizza parties, she always had the students’ parents bring covered dishes. She taught her students how to set a table and table manners, to respect the elders and serve our parents first. She personified African Queen and she told us stories of Harriet Tubman and Ananse the Spider, the trials of slavery and the triumphs of the civil rights. She tried to pour as much information as she could into our fragile little minds. Mrs. Moats taught me that school can also be a rich and rewarding experience. She taught me that Africa and Black culture, Black households, and Black communities were good, positive places. Ms. Moats made it a point to visit the home of all her students to build rapport, I couldn’t wait to become a teacher so that I could show up at their doorstep and scare my students the way Ms. Moats had us shaking in our boots. Ms. Moats was a singular example of a teacher who effectively used culturally responsive pedagogy, while I have had a handful of outstanding teachers there were a paltry number that employed culturally responsive pedagogy. Thus, outside of 4 th grade, the “education” that molded me, taught me that Africa was the worst place on earth. I learned that white people saved everyone: Asians, Native Americans and most importantly Africans. I learned every great scientific, social and philosophical discovery came from white people. I eventually learned to worship an image of God that strangely resembled Mr. Hirsh, my white eleventh grade history teacher. My love for oratory pursuits grew and in high school I was the captain of my debate team, model congress and mock trial participant, student government, senior council, yearbook and drama and fashion club. I thought I knew everything there was to know, I was an outspoken, cheerful and celebrated student both white and black teachers liked me and encouraged me. I also worked part time at the local mall, Kings Plaza. On my way to work one day I was in a maxi taxi, an illegal mini bus that transported people along the bus route, and two men were arguing about the variations in skin tone in black people and the cause of it. One man said it was due to the rape of the black female during slavery. I was in shock, I had never heard such a theory the other man acquiesced and said indeed lighter skin can be traced back to the rape and torture of black females. I was enraged how dare they categorical summarize my complexion, my blackness to rape. I was forced to join the conversation and express my glaring disagreement. The men on the maxi taxi that day broke down biology, genetics, slavery, the treatment of men, women and children during slavery, the blacks that “pass” and the introduction of the mulatto into the black race, all in about a twenty-minute bus ride. My mind was blown. It seemed nothing that I knew equated with this new information, I wasn’t sure when it fit into my existing knowledge base. This twenty-minute conversation nagged the edges of my consciousness through the remainder of high school to graduation. I matriculated to college with steadfast determination to love myself and be proud of my blackness. When I arrived at college I was a social advocate for the abolishment of Apartheid and had attended several marches and protests against the oppressive system of Apartheid in South Africa. This move toward social justice opened up a wide range of reading materials of authors that I had never heard of. In classes I learned about Aristoteles, Plato, Socrates and Kant and in my student organizations I read, Douglass, X, King, Kondo, Kunjufu, Carmichael and Nkrumah. The overload of information had me questioning everything. I argued at every, and I mean every opportunity that presented itself in class. When the professor spoke about Alexander the Great I spoke about Hannibal, when we learned about Plato and Aristotle I discussed the Egyptian mysteries that their philosophies stem from. I was so “clever” I wanted to force my instructors to recognize the contributions of black people but all I did was frustrate my classmates and instructors who cared very little about my agenda and knew way less about Africa than I in my blooming stage. The 1 st book I read that was designed to address the needs of black student on a predominantly white campus was called The Black Students Guide to a Positive Education By Zack Kondo (1983). This book changed my life I felt vindicated, validated, and for the first time I could identify on a very visceral level with the words written in a book. I wanted, no needed more information. Upon graduation, I set out to change the American education system by becoming a teacher. With unbridled passion, I taught my students it was ok to love themselves, because their African ancestors were kings and queens, and they developed the concepts for all political, social, spiritual and economic systems in use throughout the world today.  Floating on a high of cultural pride, I entered my classroom each day eager to enlighten the minds of my students. Until one day, a shy seventh grader raised her hand, and said, “My momma told me to tell you that we ain’t no African booty scratchers, and stop telling lies.” I was devastated.  How could it be, 20 years later, my students are reciting the same self-loathing epitaphs that devastated me as a child? The answer was simple, I realized that a systemic problem can only be resolved with a systemic solution. allow me an opportunity to gain advanced knowledge of current research in curriculum and instruction. Through rigorous doctorial course work, I will be able to conduct research that focuses on the development of curriculum that incorporates best practices in teaching and learning within diverse ethnic populations. I will hone my research skills by incorporating a variety of research tools and methods to develop a curriculum that presents a systemic solution to an education system that currently mis-educates students. I believe the development of productive and responsible individuals can only happen through holistic education rooted in qualitative core academic instruction combined with an ethical and cultural foundation. I have always worked in urban schools with special populations, which are mostly black and brown children and I have seen firsthand the effects of education disparities in America. During the late 90’s when I began my teaching career I was shocked that middle school students were unable to grasp basic academic skills or attend to tasks for longer than 10 minutes. I noticed the challenges the students faced were exasperated by lack of self-identity and self- determination. African American students are reminded with each lesson and assignment, that they do not belong to the intellectual history in which the University philosophers are such impressive landmarks. Yet African American students, like myself, can be so seduced by attempts to give a philosophical account of the universe using white male ideology and perspective, that she surrenders her whole personality to this thinking. The current education system requires African American students to surrender their personalities which is akin to losing sight of the fundamental social facts that she is an African American in an oppressive society. To lose sight of self, skews the students’ perception of social justice, community and ethical behavior. Consequently, students who matriculate without knowledge of their history and self, fail to draw from their education anything which he might relate to the very real problem of mass incarceration, poverty, health disparities, achievement gap- which are all conditions that emerge in the immediate life of every African-American. As an educator I am determined to change the narrative for some students so that the dream of stronger more progressive African American communities emerge.

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