As Americans brace for the new Secretary of Education under the Trump presidency, educators in urban school districts, where the majority of students are African-American, must safeguard young impressionable minds from what they fear could be even worse times ahead.
When Donald Trump asked African-American’s what do you have to lose if he is elected, the answer would be over 60 years of progressive educational reform that finally allows children of color to see themselves in a positive light in the curriculum.
Would life under a Trump presidency mean a return to social Darwinism despite recent social and cultural advancements for African-Americans in our nation’s schools?
According to The Education Trust, 7.9 million African-American students attend public schools and 46 percent attend schools in urban areas. In the Mt. Vernon City School District, 5,881 African-American students make up 73% of enrollment.
Despite advancements in multicultural education and culturally–responsive teaching and learning, disparities continue to exist in shaping a positive cultural identify for African-American children. African-Americans drop out of high school at higher rates than their white counter parts. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) from 1990-2014, the dropout rate declined from 9.0 to 5.2 percent for White youth; from 13.2 to 7.4 percent for Black youth; and from 32.4 to 10.6 percent for Hispanic youth.
Studies show that prior to beginning school, African American children learn to develop a negative self-image. Beginning in 1939, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted interviews with young children and found that many Black children had already subscribed to negative social norms that cast doubt on their self-image. Prior to beginning school, children had already been subconsciously conditioned of broad societal views that were widely exposed in the mainstream media.
That was over 11 years before there was a television in every American home.
Another study conducted by Ruben Gur and Harold Sacheim in 1979 found that even adults are unaware when they are being deceived.
When asked to identify their true beliefs, participants quickly and incorrectly identified the voices of others as their own.
More recently, journalists have documented how the new president-elect does not value truth. We have gone from a president who championed citizens of all races to one who uses racists and divisive language in the media on a regular basis. Leaders in education must re-think how they will address issues of credibility, authenticity, and raise standards of excellences when teaching impressionable children how to distinguish between fact and opinion. Determining truth under this new presidency seems to take us back to an era when African-Americans had to eloquently articulate and justify our truth to the world.
Does our truth matter in today’s America?
In the 20th century, top scholars such as Dr. W.E.B. Dubois and Dr. Carter G. Woodson paved the way for African-Americans today by debunking white supremacist publications that cast a negative image of African-Americans. European scholars of the 19th century used skewed data as evidence in their reports of Africans as mentally and socially inferior to whites. Theses “pseudo-scientific” reports shaped public opinion and were used as a means to justify the enslavement of Africans based on race, and later to sterilize the Jewish race and other European ethnicities. It also enabled Europeans to cast Blacks in a negative light in the mainstream media; which included books, periodicals, advertisements, and entertainment.
This Eurocentric worldview also crept its way into American school textbooks. In a paternalistic fashion, African-Americans were indoctrinated into an all white worldview; being nearly invisible in the curriculum except for when learning about the Transatlantic slave trade, a gross misrepresentation of the contributions of African-Americans to the world.
Being able to tell our own stories through literature is one of the greatest accomplishments of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 30’s and the Civil Rights movement 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. As a result, mainstream publishers began to demand that books be written and illustrated by African-Americans.
The New York Public Library lead the way in 1957 by publishing its first annotated bibliography of African-American books entitled Books About Negro Life for Children The title was changed in 1963 to The African-American Experience in Children’s Books. This helped to legitimize the need for African-American voices in children’s literature.
Then, in 1965, a landmark study entitled The All White World of Children’s Books further changed the subjective attitudes and opinions of mainstream publishers. The report, which appeared in the Saturday Review, outlined the disparities in the positive images of African-American children’s books.
The Coretta Scott King Award for African-American authors was initiated in 1970 to recognize authentic, reputable stories for African-American children.
The demand for quality, authentic literature by and about African-Americans continue is ever more relevant today, at a time when the change in American leadership does not look so inclusive for all stakeholders.
Instead of building a wall, Donald Trump’s cabinet members should focus on building a bridge between literacy and a positive worldview for all children; especially young, African Americans.