The Struggle to Remember Ali

 

ali

The recent passing of Muhammad Ali got me to thinking about how the legacy of highly politicized figures are co-opted by dominant institutions. America has a tendency to co-opt what they cannot defeat. Once a person’s image is co-opted, it is sanitized and watered down for public consumption. If they cannot, outright choose our leaders, then they take control of their image, sand down the rough edges and give us back some ‘Santa Claused’ version of our heroes.   Often times, their more radical or particularly troublesome politics are buried and the image becomes alienated from their own ideas. This usually happens after the person’s death, sometimes before.

In the brief aftermath of Muhammad Ali’s death, we see the dominant institutions, the same ones that despised him for his activism and his voice during his prime singing his praises. In his later years, after his health began to deteriorate and his voice silenced, he became a darling of mainstream America, a frail grandfatherly figure. The conflict in Vietnam has become universally unpopular over the years, even among the ruling class, and thus, ok to criticize. However, the Ali that refused to support the war must be compartmentalized because his analysis of the war and why he refused to participate, extends to war in general and is just as applicable today. He was not just against the war in Vietnam; Ali was an anti- imperialist. However the co-opting of his image requires that, that Ali remain separate from ‘grandpa’.

His current image has effectively been separated from his anti-imperialist politics of the late 60’s. How would Ali be depicted if he maintained his vocal anti-war stance throughout his life through every ensuing American aggression? He’d likely be a pariah or faded into oblivion like John Carlos, who, during the same era raised his fist at the ‘68 Olympics in Mexico City. Muhammad Ali’s silence is what made him a figure that mainstream America could get behind.

The process of depoliticizing him is well underway. Just look at who spoke at his funeral, Bill Clinton, Billy Cristal, Bryant Gumbel. His image is being thoroughly brought into the fold of non-threatening American hero. What did these folks think of his public stance against war when he took it? Probably not supportive. Why not have Kareem Abdul Jabar, Louis Farrakhan, or anyone else closer to his experience speak. The interfaith funeral is an attempt to separate him from the teachings of the Nation of Islam. There may be a time when we do not even remember the Muhammad Ali the draft resister and anti-war proponent who put his livelihood and freedom on the line in the interests of freedom and justice. We may just think of a nice old man with Parkinson’s who was once a great boxer.

Who remembers Nelson Mandela, revolutionary founder of the armed wing of the African National Congress? Who remembers Helen Keller, radical Socialist and labor activist? The radical elements of their history and character have been systematically removed in order to make them more palatable to the system and given back to us. They will go down in history without all their complexities, but as carefully crafted images.

Perhaps the best example of this is Dr. Martin Luther King, who’s radical dimensions have been tailored for public consumption. We do not know the King who criticized racism, militarism and individualism as inextricably linked, who questioned America’s brand of capitalism. His life, speeches and writing after 1965 have all but disappeared. School children generally do not read King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech in 1967, but they know “I Have a Dream”. This is not an accident. Some heroes like Ali and King are so huge, they cannot be put back in the bottle so their images must be co-opted because the personal example of principled people so loved and admired is dangerous in and of itself.

Sometimes the most subversive thing we can do is to simply remember, remember what we are encouraged to forget, remember that the institutions that shower platitudes on radicals when they die are the same ones that marginalized and tried to kill their image, if not their physical person when they were alive. Let us never forget that young, dashing, charming, man who called Ervin Terrell and Uncle Tom for referring to him as Cassius Clay, who told a room full of white college students, “If I want to die, I’ll die fighting you, you my opposer when I want freedom”. It is no mystery why the image of a prominent black athlete standing up and willing to put his fortune, image, championship on the line on principle is threatening. The youth need his example today more than ever. In these times, young folks don’t even understand the rationale for such a stance, being bombarded with materialism and nonsense all day, every day. Let us be subversive in our classrooms and not only remember, but teach our students to do the same. Ali Bomaye!

Teaching as a Politcal Act

 

I do not care for this post-modern, reductionist attack on objectivity that is quite fashionable these days. It is my view that teachers should value objectivity. This is the only way to understand the world as it is. Part of the problem is that objectivity has been mistaken for neutrality, or non-controversy. In the interest of this false concept of objectivity, we often water down our content to avoid controversy or stirring emotions. It’s history, if people aren’t rubbed the wrong way from time to time, ‘you ain’t doing it right’. We should want our students at times to feel confused, emotional, angry, curious, helpless at the state of the world because there are lessons waiting at the other end, when they come to terms with those feelings. Above all, we want to inspire and empower them to change the conditions and challenge the oppressive legacy that history has left them. . If we want to change our current society we must realize the historically oppressive roles played by every American institution (economic, education, health care, social service, housing etc.) and view them today as a culmination of that history, not something separate from the history that produced them. We cannot teach them that our institutions are neutral when they are apart of a legacy of race and class oppression.

Once students gain an objective analysis of history, they can then find their subjective place in challenging it. We must do away with teaching history as some feel good, slow and constant struggle for progress, culminating into this great, equal, pluralistic democracy, one big happy family with all our problems left ‘back in the old days’. We must help them to draw a line between oppressor and oppressed and know where they stand, then and now. It is harmful to teach about the ‘founding fathers’ as collective heroes of the nation, this is a falsification of history and psychologically damaging to youth of African, Indigenous and even European backgrounds.

The struggles against white supremacy, patriarchy, capital, between oppressor and oppressed are not stale events in history that happened a long time ago and must not be taught as such. It has to be framed as an ongoing, protracted, struggle, a struggle that they themselves are engaged in on one side or another and to an extent to identify with one is to abandon the other. School culture with its police, administration, teachers represent one side of the struggle. It represents a continuation of European, capitalist domination just as all establishment institutions. They are the institutions of the ruling class and thus their purpose is to promote and protect their interests. The collusion of black, brown and poor people with these institutions does not change this fact; it only complicates it.

Our students are behind enemy lines and so are we if we engage in true education for liberation. The goal of succeeding in those institutions without any critical analysis places one on the side of this historically oppressive establishment. The students themselves and their oppressed communities are a legacy of the historically oppressive nature of American capitalism. The goal of the school system is in part for the children to accept as normal the ideology and program of a system predicated on their marginalization. This is the gap that has to be bridged, so of course students of oppressed nationalities often do not perform well, many recognize a schism between their communities and the school system (and justice system, which are currently merging) but cannot articulate it. We must help them find their voice that this system is constantly trying to bury that finds expression in “misbehavior”.

School and instruction are not neutral. Teaching social studies is a political act. The instructor can perpetuate the status quo, thus supporting the continued oppression of students or actively engage students in challenging what they have been taught by modeling through questioning and dialogue the fundamental paradigms and assumptions undergirding American society, culture, economy. We do not want to promote the swallowing whole of a basically colonial style education.

A History class should encourage students to view their world in a historical context, instead of viewing the present as separate and divorced from the past that produces it. The student of oppressed nationality should be equipped to view their relationship with present day institutions such as the criminal justice system, school system, economic systems, etc. in the context of a history of oppression that has ebbed and flowed over hundreds of years to culminate into the present conditions. After sitting in a history class and being taught the brutal history that produced them, they still often identify with the same oppressive institutions. This is a cruel miracle of the educational system to be able to teach history and still alienate students from their own history and simultaneously bind them to the same historical institutions that have so damaged them.

Black and Brown students often refer to ruling class, White America’s exploits in the past as what “we” did. “Our country expanded westward” or “We conquered Mexico” , “Our Constitution…” etc. represents a psychological disconnect from history and identification with one’s oppressors, a Stockholm Syndrome of sorts. History, if taught critically places the oppressed in opposition to the traditions and exploits of the oppressing culture. They should be challenged recognize their place in history and be able to say, “No, the imperialist, white supremacist, America conquered westward. This is not my legacy. My legacy is in opposition to racism and imperialism and this relationship remains so today”. The schools have created and maintained an unhealthy psychological identification, among oppressed students, with their own oppression. There must be a separation from the actions of the dominant culture by the oppressed, the latter, who were actually victimized by these phenomena. The effect of not doing so, teaches the oppressed to view history and themselves through the eyes of their oppressors, which teaches them to view themselves as deficient.

Critical pedagogy should also place students of the dominant culture, White Europeans in a historical trajectory as well. This psychological separation from history allows White students to separate themselves from history and not see themselves and their privileges as part of a historical process, thus encouraging a disengagement from the world today and their responsibility in either dismantling or maintaining this position. They should be challenged to either continue and support the traditions of white supremacy, reaction and oppression or join in another tradition of freedom fighting and standing with the oppressed; they can be aligned with the traditions of John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman and the like. White people are probably more alienated from their own history than those who have been oppressed by it. They take no responsibility because “I wasn’t there”. White students, in order to combat their relative alienation from people of color should be encouraged to see history through the eyes of the oppressed as well as oppressor. It is imperative that they be put in a position to “choose sides”. It is important for all students but perhaps even more important for white students. Their lack of identification with their history is also a psychological sickness perpetrated by school system.

The propagation of the idea of America as this meritocracy, or land of opportunity can be potentially crushing to youth of oppressed nationalities, particularly African Americans. It perpetuates the idea of black inferiority, as if it is deficiencies in their own devastated communities that made them poor and lacking, when it is the working of American capitalism that has caused such deprivation. Whatever dysfunction that exists among the oppressed flows from their oppression which shapes their experience, culture and values. The assumption that “everyone can make it in America” grows from the experience of middle class, Euro Americans and is thus the default point of view in America, and by extension, the educational system. It takes a level of critical struggle to deconstruct this myth, to actually look at the operations of this system and its effects on poor and oppressed people. To repeat this line and encourage students to blindly accept it is to promote a sort of psychological warfare, where some people view success as separation of oneself from their community, from their roots, instead of standing with them in opposition to oppression. This cannot be done if they don’t know they are oppressed.

We teach and learn America’s economic history, and history in general as divorced from the realities of today. Students should be able to link “deindustrialization” to decrepit conditions in inner cities. Students should learn about how drugs come into their communities, or the effects of job discrimination up to the present day. These things are directly tied up with their everyday realities. American oppression is not something that used to exist and it should not be taught that way. This is done to maintain an asymmetrical balance of power and ruling class domination.

Historical traditions and ideologies have present day manifestations. Somehow, the way history has been taught has separated the present from the past giving students the impression that everything wrong with the world “back then” has been all fixed somehow. We have not equipped them to recognize how the problems of society did not go away, but have simply morphed with the times. They are not unrecognizable to the student who has been taught critically. Today’s students have to recognize that institutions and practices can be traced back to earlier times. They are not new.

 

Police and Probation Officers in School

  One afternoon, working at a high school, I opened my classroom door at lunch to get some air. Near my classroom, there was a line of disgruntled students standing outside of the on campus probation office, checking in with the probation officer, a mandatory chore that must be done before students can take their lunch break. Dozens of students walk in and out of this room every day. I do not know how long public schools have been equipped with their own probation officer, but I thought it was a strange sight. After some investigation, I learned that even some middle schools in this area now have them as well.

This little experience began to open my eyes to how much the educational system and correctional system are beginning to merge. I saw the huge black gate that surrounds the school before, but now see it in a different context. There is an armed sheriff that stands in the middle of the lunch quad everyday; I hardly noticed him before. There was one at my high school 19 years ago, so I always thought it was normal to be policed at school. Now he seems so menacing and intimidating. Why do we need a guy walking around with a weapon in plain view, if not for intimidation? Is this the way we want to coerce our students into behaving?

The oppressive containment policies used to criminalize youth on the street are being extended onto the school campus with all the accompanying dehumanization, racial profiling and even physical violence and threats of violence. The presence of cops and probation officers changes the character of school culture as it pertains to student disciplinary policy into one of containment and control. Students are naturally seen as potential criminals in such an environment, especially minorities, and African Americans in particular. The historical view of African Americans in particular as dangerous and unruly plays a part in this phenomenon as well. They are viewed as less innocent, less capable and treated that way as well. They are punished more severely than white youth for the same infractions, suspended and expelled at higher rates, starting in pre-school.

This not to deny the real threat of student violence and poor behavior threatening the learning experience of other students. The problem is that just like in the larger society, our social problems are dealt with punitively instead of proactively and the traditionally marginalized students, poor, African American, Latino and Native Americans get it the worst.  Many of our students come into school with issues that the school system is not equipped to deal with. Using cops, threats of probation and criminal records to contain our students is easier than actually dealing with the problems our students bring into the classroom.

Perhaps more staff trained in mental health and behavioral dysfunction, such as counselors and psychologists would be more helpful to the students than law enforcement. Conflict resolution skills and mediation implemented widely starting at a young age are better tools to ensure appropriate behavior than busting them for fighting or truancy in secondary school and placing them on probation. Why should school misbehavior set students up with a record setting them on the road to juvenile detention or jail before they are old enough to know what’s coming down on them?

There have been times in the past few years that these matters have been discussed in the classroom It is obvious that this punitive school culture goes beyond the cops and influences other security staff as well. I have heard stories from students about being berated by administrators and threatened to be sent to the sheriff for not stopping to pledge allegiance to the flag during morning announcements in the front office. Students are searched without consent. A youth was reprimanded for an altercation with another student on the third day of school, the first thing he was asked is if he were a ‘blood’. This same student reported being forced by security to stand still or he will be slammed. One white student reported how he wanders the campus during class time with out a pass carefree and notices how African American students are harassed and made to dig their passes out of their pockets.

Students of all ethnic groups and backgrounds agree that students are racially profiled and some students are treated with more regard than others. There were also comments made like, “I’m an athlete so I ain’t gotta worry about all that”. Apparently all students are not subject to the same rules and regulations, some are more prone to be reprimanded in a harsh manner.

I’ve known students that don’t know how to fit into the box they are expected to for some reason or another. Some have real problems at home and act out. Very little is done to address the root problems of the students besides piecemeal step programs meant to be more of a paper trail than an actual intervention.

They are simply penalized for their failure to conform until they are expelled or end up in court. This is the school to prison pipeline in action. I have had numerous students doing relatively well, showing up regularly or semi regularly, trying to keep in line with the dictates of their probation and getting violations and sent to court and sentenced for smoking cigarettes in the bathroom or defending themselves. One can even get busted for carrying a lighter on probation as a minor.

The general criminalization of oppressed youth in society has parallels in the educational system. Police patrol the schools with the same biases that they carry in the streets, leading to a massive school to prison pipeline. The most vulnerable of our young men and women are being caught in a system that leads from the classroom to juvenile detention. Minor infractions that would once land a student in the principals’ office such as fighting, truancy or minor vandalism can now land students on probation, in juvenile hall and with criminal records.

They end up with a record for misbehavior at school. The school to prison pipeline is part of the system of mass incarceration. Youth are already being accustomed to being treated like criminals before they are adults. Presumably, most adults in the penal system spent time in juvenile institutions as adolescents, there is no mystery as to where this pipeline will lead for many of the students that get in trouble in school.

This has to be viewed in the context of the history of injustice in the education system, unfair police targeting and social oppression of minorities in America. It is a continuation of an old policy in a new form, not some new thing that just popped up because of student misbehavior. Students must be able to connect these realities to the history of this country and oppose it the same way they did other forms of oppression in the past, as an injustice and part of a system that is as hostile to them as it ever was.

On the Flag Salute and Patriotism

 

Every morning in America, school children stand up to pledge allegiance to the American flag. By the time I meet them in my class, they are 15-16 years old and have been doing it for years. In the past I have asked my students, “Why do you pledge allegiance to the flag?” Most simply respond that they are expected to, or they may get in trouble if they don’t. Many have said they do it out of respect for the troops that have died for the flag, but there is nothing in the pledge that says anything about the military. Somebody has obviously told them this. I ask, “Have you ever thought about what it means?” Most students haven’t thought twice about it. “Why do you think you’re expected to do it?” They all have some kind of response related to showing respect. They have had this drilled into their heads that it’s disrespectful to America or the soldiers protecting our freedoms, not to pledge allegiance to the flag. I ask my kids if they even know what it means to pledge allegiance to something. Many do not.

There are words for slogans repeated over and over without critical thought like jingoism, propaganda, and indoctrination. There are even teachers and administrators that berate children publicly for failing to stop and say the pledge mid stride in the halls, the classroom or administrative buildings. I personally know of one student who was threatened by an administrator with calling in the school sheriff on her. Never mind the Supreme Court says that she doesn’t have to recite it. Why is this done?

What’s interesting is how clear this is to us when we characterize others. Our World History book discusses Fascist Italy during the 20’s and points out quite clearly how young students were taught to recite slogans to glorify the state as part of fascist indoctrination. I say this not to assert that America is full blown fascist because students pledge allegiance to the flag, but there is a parallel, and the goal is the same, to develop a blind, unthinking devotion to the state. I think the popular word is patriotism.

What does it mean to be patriotic? Patriotism means, “devoted love, support and defense of ones country”. I love my country if that means the neighborhoods I lived in, my family and the people I grew up with, I had a great childhood in America. The natural land and the people I have met here for the most part are worthy of love, support, loyalty and all that. But that’s not what it means. It means America’s institutions, laws, government and economic system. In this case, hell no, I don’t love America.

According to the pledge of allegiance, the flag represents the American republic. Should the citizenry pledge allegiance to its government? Absolutely not, that is fascist in nature. Such an act is contrary to common sense. If anything, the republic should pledge allegiance to its citizenry.

What patriotism means in practical terms is support for the ruling class’ institutions whether they are right or wrong. The military, the business class, American mythology, exceptionalism and the belief in the idea that god somehow favors Americans. If the criminals in charge of this system blow people up in far reaches of the world, rob the public, jail as many Blacks and poor folks that they possibly can, exploit the poor of the world, I should still offer them my dying loyalty. That is what most people mean when they say patriotism, I think. If that is patriotism I am not patriotic. Perhaps nationalism is a better term to use. The whole concept of the nation state is loaded with ideas that support bourgeois rule. Patriotism and nationalism are basically loyalty to the ideas, institutions and rules, of the ruling class.

The more you scrutinize all this, the more you see that it is all empty rhetoric and bullshit. Who has been unpatriotic according to the ruling class? Abolitionists, slave rebels, civil rights activists, black panthers, Vietnam draft resisters, the labor movement, communists, socialists and plenty of others who fought for justice against the so-called patriots who want to enslave and oppress. I want to be on that side of history. Patriotism in America means collusion with white nationalism, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, racism and a bunch of other things I don’t wish to be identified with.

Do we even live in, “one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all?” What a joke. There is no such thing as an American, “one nation”. Particularly class, race and even gender divide us. There is no liberty and justice for the poor in general, particularly black and brown youth, while the wealthy can do whatever they please to whomever they please because they run the joint. We should cease to pledge allegiance to the flag in class without some healthy discussion as to why it is done and if it should be done. Use this time as a way to discuss the larger issues of nationalism, patriotism, propaganda and whatever else you can connect to it.

Propaganda in Social Studies Curriculum

 

Social Studies is political in nature. It is not the same as Mathematics or Science. Two hydrogen molecules and oxygen will always make water. No two ways about it. History, on the other hand is subject to bias and interpretation. Mainstream education is far from objective; there are certain lies, omissions, interpretations that support the status quo. Michael Parenti used the term “unanimity of bias” to describe what is often mistaken as objectivity, but is really giving a pass to the agreed upon bullshit perpetuated by ruling class interests. To really be objective is to detach oneself from the evidence and view it on its own merit and come to a conclusion. The problem is, the texts that are used as the backbone of most social studies curriculum are full of loaded language and propaganda, particularly in regards to our quasi state religion, anti- communism and towards radical social movements. There are many examples but there are a couple that demonstrate the problem clearly. One is the democracy vs. Communism dichotomy to explain the Cold War. Another is the selective use of terms like ‘aggression’ and ‘violence’. True objectivity includes unpacking all the nonsense and propaganda packaged as education. Though objectivity is paramount, it is also necessary to encourage our youth to take a stand based on their objective and subjective conclusions. They have to find their place in history and know what traditions they are continuing and what side of history they want to stand on. We, as educators must do the same.

The Cold War was basically the capitalist world, led by the American ruling class, attempting to maintain their newfound power in the post WWII world by containing the spread of communism or any radical idea or notion that threatens capitalist interests. Of course the capitalist world, was dubbed the ‘free world’, regardless of how free the people actually were. What makes them ‘free’ is their domination by capitalist interests. The point is for us to assume that whatever the US or its allies is doing is in the interests of freedom, no matter how gruesome the results.

This era is defined in mainstream US education as a competition between competing ideologies, Capitalism vs. Communism. The term capitalism is often swapped out for democracy. Democracy vs. Communism is a false dichotomy. Democracy is a vague term to describe a system in which people have some say so over policy either directly or indirectly through elections. Democracy has nothing to do with capitalism, a system in which, the means of production are owned by private interests for profit. In fact, their only correlation is a negative one. Objectively speaking, the more capitalist a society is, the less democracy there is, because power and wealth is concentrated, giving the ruling class more power and control over institutions and leaving masses with less. This is the case of many of the societies the US supported during the Cold War. The point of this ideological manipulation was for people to associate whatever the US was doing at the time with defending, supporting democracy, when in fact it was capitalism they were defending, most times against the actual democratic forces who were threatening capitalism.

Communism is a political, economic, social movement, ideology and method to understanding the world primarily through a class analysis. It goals are to create a society with no classes, public ownership of the means of production and the dissolution of the state, using socialism or the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition from capitalism to communism. This process can be democratic or not, but capitalism, cannot be democratic by its very nature. The goal of the whole Democracy vs. Communism framework is to paint this episode in history as some battle between good and evil. Who are the good guys? Us, of course. This persuades people to associate communism with the opposite of democracy, tyranny. If the US is fighting for democracy, Communism must represent tyranny, this is especially important if the communist forces represent the democratic interests of the people in that society. Even if the movements were not communist, the very fact that they sought to change or reform the social, political, economic order can alone put them in the crosshairs of Washington’s deadly foreign policy.

Language is used to mystify the nature of American institutions and to distort history. In the current textbook used at my school site, there is a subtitle labeled, “Axis Aggression Goes Unchecked” in the chapter covering the buildup to WWII. This in itself is no cause for alarm. The problem is that no textbook would ever refer to anything done by America or its allies as ‘aggression’, no matter how aggressive it actually is. Indian wars, imperialist expansion, slavery, invasion, none of these crimes is described as aggression in educational resources. The term ‘communist aggression’ surfaces as well, however there is no such thing as ‘capitalist aggression’, not because it doesn’t exist, it is simply not acknowledged by mainstream doctrine. The term does not fit the ideological framework quietly being forced upon students and teachers alike. Only ‘enemies’ of America can be labeled aggressive.

This was done domestically as well, painting any movement that sought to empower the poor as socialist or communist, thus demonizing them and positioning the ruling interests as democratic and giving them a pretext to repress popular movements. The term ‘violent’ was used to discredit freedom movements as well. Groups like the Black Panther Party and figures like Malcolm X and Robert Williams were deemed violent simply for advocating-self defense. The police would never be described using such language, even though it is much more fittingly applied to them than any radical social movement. I’ve brought up the Black Panther Party in class and had students ask if they were racist, or killed white people? This has systematically been planted in people’s minds, because the actual history is so different. We are meant to view freedom fighters as violent and the agents of repression as somehow on the defense. We have to flip the script.

All this serves to legitimize the illegitimate, to give cover to crimes against humanity perpetrated by this system that we are educating our youth to fit into. It is crucial that we help our students point out propaganda techniques and model how to challenge them. As educators we are in part, expected to transmit the values of this society to the youth. This is collaboration with a system based on lies. If we want to help students develop a tolerably accurate view of the world, we actually have to teach against our textbooks and other educational resources, meaning we have to actually know our shit and teach with some political clarity. We must position ourselves against the dominant narrative being advocated by the system we work in. We must model how to challenge mind numbing, manufactured consent and encourage students to do the same. A historian has no country, and it is best that we reject building a simple historical narrative that fits into a narrow nationalist, patriotic framework. Our students should think like human beings, not Americans.

academic underachievement of oppressed nationalities

 

Academic underachievement among historically oppressed people in America is not just an academic matter, the problem does not stem from lack of adequate instructional techniques or vocabulary strategies. It is rooted in the very dna of the American social order. It grows naturally, it is a seed that was planted and the roots of injustice nurtured it throughout American history. This is but one symptom of the general oppressive conditions that people have been forced to live in. The historically oppressed sectors of the population will make up the bulk of the bottom end of most social indices from services provided from American institutions (education, health care, law enforcement, etc.), rates of disease, infant mortality, homicides, prison statistics, wealth and income an of course academic performance, in category after category, African American as well as Native and some Latin American groups are disproportionately represented at the bottom.

To view the same minority groups at the bottom of educational achievement statistics as simply an educational issue in the glaring presence of a similar trend that spans every measure of living standards is willful ignorance. The intelligent question to ask is, “Is there a pattern of systemic oppression undergirding all these issues- particularly among African and Native Americans- that could explain this trend?” The dominant narrative would have us believe that the very ethnic groups that were terrorized, traumatized and psychologically attacked for generations by this American ‘democracy’ are at fault for their failure to collectively succeed under that same system.

There is supposedly no connection between the centuries of violence, exploitation and imposed ignorance heaped upon the African and indigenous people on the one hand and their underachievement in the very society that committed the crimes against them on the other. If we are educators, we should encourage our students to ponder on these connections and question the prevailing ideas that help to oppress them and question the legitimacy of such a system that promotes them.

Many educators are unaware how much historical baggage African American youth carry into the classroom. The social studies curriculum does not help, but exacerbates the problem by mystifying the connection between the relative wealth of white people and the poverty stricken condition of African people in America and throughout the world. These two scenarios are projected as totally unrelated. The condition of Africans in the world is treated as just something that happened. Somehow Africans are at the bottom of society in America and the world and in need of perpetual help while the legacies of white supremacy, slavery, capitalism and imperialism, which created such stark inequality are glossed over as something that happened in the past and has no bearing on the world today. There is a clear connection to anyone who bothers to investigate.

What conclusion are students supposed to come to in regards to their intellectual capacity, when they are bombarded with images, even in school, that flaunt their perceived social, economic and educational inferiority, completely divorced from the conditions that created it?  No explanation is given as to why oppressed students live in substandard condition compared to folks in wealthier white communities. It is treated as if present conditions are not linked to any historical process. ‘It just is the way it is, because some people are industrious, thrifty and hard working’, the eye level analysis is, if one lives in a poor community they must be just the opposite, lazy, content and shiftless.  In order to be like the folks who live well, one simply has to take on the proper characteristics and attitude.

That’s the line; there is no attempt to connect the historical theft of resources, exploitation, racist policies, de-industrialization, and a bunch of other things to current present day conditions. The youth are usually left with the most obvious, eye level conclusion, that something must be wrong with them, especially if  they are told that they live in a democracy, and  we can all be whatever we want if we try hard enough, without any historical analysis to explain the unequal conditions. They aren’t going to spontaneously  provide a historical, class and racial analysis, they just look around and judge the world based on what they see.

The intellectual inferiority of non-Whites has been a hallmark in the belief system of America since its inception. It is a myth that has been institutionalized and propagated by every American institution. It is an idea that has shaped American culture and history. The culture thar black and indigenous people, have been socialized in has systematically taught them to believe this myth, and creates an inferiority complex in relation to whites, especially in the classroom. This has been a cancer passed down generation to generation.

For those psychologically traumatized by America, it is necessary for their collective mental health and self-image to be able to learn the causes of their current condition and not be left to ponder on their inferiority. This is where teaching becomes political. It is our job as educators to bring these youth to health by encouraging them to realize, the conditions among the oppressed are not due to their cultural dysfunction, but to an oppressive system that has victimized them for centuries. We do this not because we simply want to build up oppressed youth and make them feel good at the expense of the dominant system, but because it is true that the so-called shortcomings of oppressed populations in America are largely a legacy of institutionalized racism, oppression and the mechanisms of modern capitalism.

The schism between oppressed students and the educational system was fabricated by the educational system itself. African American students are more likely to be suspended by a large margin as early as pre-school. Study after study confirms that teachers prefer white students to non-Whites. Black youth are also viewed as being older, thus more threatening and less innocent and thus receive harsher consequences for similar behavior as White students. Teachers, according to studies begin to feel threatened by black students as early as the 4th grade. This creates an adversarial relationship between the school system and the student. The student may not even be able to articulate the problem, but may be more likely to act up in class. It is strange how this information is not considered in inquiries into the underperformance of students from oppressed backgrounds.

The problem of educational discrepancies among the oppressed is not an educational problem it is a deeper societal problem linked to all the other discrepancies. The general view in society of black youth as potentially threatening, less intelligent and unrepentant is also prevalent in schools. The same oppressive forces acting on black youth and other oppressed nationalities in other spheres of life are in motion in the educational system. They are criminalized and punished disproportionately just as in general American society. They are assumed culturally deficient and in need of civilization. The educational system is one arm of oppression in a matrix of an entire system based on class and race oppression. So, we cannot simply fix the educational system without changing everything else, it is attached to an entire system of capitalism, racism and imperialism which reproduces inequality. If we want a different outcome, we need a different system. We need a revolution.

Introduction

Greetings,

Welcome to Rebel Teacher, a blog that explores how the educational system works to perpetuate society’s status quo.  It encourages everyday teachers, students, parents and community members to challenge the  dominant paradigms of capitalism, imperialism, racial and gender oppression. The job of the educational system in any society is to reproduce the values of the ruling class. These values are always harmful to the historically oppressed classes and nationalities at the bottom of the social pyramid, the poor, women, descendants of African slaves, indigenous nations and immigrant communities. They are also harmful to the oppressed masses of the planet who are bled dry to make a comfortable life in the imperialist countries.

Nowhere, in any high school social studies textbook that I have ever seen, is there any fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of the global conquest and rule of the imperialists or even a realistic depiction of the genocide and enslavement that brought them to power.  As a result, the oppressed are taught to revere the historical murderers and enslavers of their ancestors, the so called ‘founding fathers’, and ‘pledge allegiance’ to the symbol of that oppression every morning. This psychological, mind fuck creates a situation in which the oppressed view their own people and communities as somehow deficient and instead of fighting this system -that is guilty of every crime they toss the oppressed in jail for- they seek to join it. It is our responsibility as educators and stakeholders to be able to recognize the subtle and overt messages that legitimize capitalist, imperialist oppression and encourage our youth to question them.