Almost every Blackademic I know is figuring out how to address the reality that #BlackLifeMatters. Some are participating in local protests. Others are writing their political representatives. I am doing what I do best–teach.
I am currently teaching a course entitled The Tradition of African American Education and the Black Bourgeoisie. While the title is long, it really embodies what I am attempting to do in this course. First, I want students to understand that education and schooling can and do look differently to different people. Second, I want them to recognize the purpose of schooling as determined by those for whom the school exists. Third, I want them to learn the history of education as dismissive, segregated, and unequitable. Finally, I hope they leave this course knowing that our current educational system insists on dividing people based upon social characteristics, and that sometimes, that division is positive.
But I couldn’t do all of that without giving students historical and contemporary context, hence the inclusion of the Black Bourgeoisie. When it comes down to it, the Black Bourgeoisie was borne in concert with Historically Black Colleges and Universities because in the mid to late 1800s, one could not exist without the other. In fact, in the beginning, the Black Bourgeoisie defined themselves by their level of education and consequent professions. HBCUs in turn, defined themselves by the success of their alumni. For many decades it was a symbiotic relationship.
And then came desegregation. I wrote a piece a while back that referenced what happened to the Black teacher work force when schools became desegregated. More than decimating the work force, desegregation whitened Black children’s education. Not only did Black children rarely see a Black or Brown face in their schools, they never saw themselves represented in their textbooks. The history of Black life was erased with the bang of a gavel. And we still haven’t fully rewritten the tale.
But HBCUs remain storehouses of the Black narrative. There is where you find murals painted by Black hands; words written by Black authors; pictures taken of Black faces; conversations borne of the Black experience. HBCUs are where we find the history policies and people tried to take from us.
So I decided to conduct my course off-campus, AT a Historically Black College or University. Fortunately, many members of my family attended HBCUs, my father works with HBCUs through his small business, and about half of my friends claim HBCUs. I therefore was able to make an informed decision about the best place for my students to engage Black history and Black life: Fisk University.
If you’ve never heard of this school, do yourself a favor and look it up. If you are nodding your head affirming my choice of Fisk, I am nodding back at you. In only 72 hours, my students have experienced more than I can give them in a traditional on-campus course. We are living in Fisk dorms (yes, me too). We are eating in Fisk’s dining hall. We are attending Fisk events. We are visiting Fisk classes. We are meeting Fisk people.
But that isn’t enough.
My students are also spending time at Tennessee State University. I wanted to create a multi-perspective course so I was fortunate that TSU and Fisk are neighbors, and that both were willing to partner with me in this endeavor. While we live at Fisk, we will be taking classes, sitting in on club meetings, and attending other events at Tennessee State University as well. My students have Fisk and TSU student hosts whose academic and extracurricular schedules they will follow for two weeks.
Another week of the course is spent in coursework with me. We began this morning by participating in the annual MLK march in Nashville. Tomorrow is when we start to review texts by E. Franklin Frazier, Carter Woodson, and Lawrence Otis Graham. Class also includes heading 3 hours west to Memphis to visit the Civil Rights Museum before spending the following day at the public library in the Civil Rights Room. My class is where they will be held accountable for the synthesis of experience with content. After class is when I treat them to lunch or dinner at a variety of restaurants, all serving soul food.
I have no idea how this is going to go. I can tell you that it’s 9:09pm on Day 3 and I am exhausted. We are settling in, making friends, and preparing for what should be a life changing experience. Just as all learning should be.