Integration: Devaluation of Spirituality in Education
Spirituality: Cornerstone of African American Education — Chapter 5
On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Civil Rights Act became law. With it came the legislative end of segregation in America. Practically, discrimination continues until today. Nevertheless, this legislation allowed the descendants of slaves to interact with the majority culture.
In schools children were taught that America was a meritocratic society; that opportunity in America was a level playing field and that every person could achieve their individual goals if they worked hard. Gradually the Africans in America’s cultural perspective changed. Once keenly aware of the importance of community life and shared responsibility, these young people internalized a concept of individualism. In a meritocratic society the success of the individual was more important than the collective community responsibility.
All that white America flaunted as important was denied blacks. So with integration came the opportunity to participate in the forbidden culture. African Americans developed a parrot mentality — imitating what had been traditionally white. Men grew their hair long and processed it (a method of straightening). Icons like Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. exemplified this attitude. Davis later changed his hair style to an “Afro”. Women straightened and permed their hair. There was once a product known as a bleaching cream sold in neighborhood stores. It was used to make one’s skin lighter in tone.
Skin complexion determined one’s inherent value. An often-repeated jingle in African American communities was, “If you’re white, you’re right. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re black, get back!” This imitation of Whites permeated every aspect of the lives of African Americans.
In schools where faith in the Almighty had reigned supreme, a new spirituality permeated education. This new spiritual perspective, known as Secular Humanism, replaced unquestioned faith in a Divine Being with faith in the human potential of individuals. The African, who had always seen spirituality as the cornerstone of their existence, were subjected to an ideology that put man at the center of existence.
The Council of Secular Humanism describes their beliefs in “Beyond Atheism, Beyond Agnosticism, Secular Humanism” (secularhumanism.org).
- They object to the idea of a Supreme Being: Creator of everything in the universe, in favor of the view that creation and human existence can be explained through scientific inquiry.
- They declare themselves religious skeptics and assert the following in their declaration:
- They “are doubtful of traditional views of God and divinity”;
- They believe “the universe to be a dynamic scene of natural forces that are most effectively understood by scientific inquiry”;
- They “find that traditional views of the existence of God either are meaningless, have not yet been demonstrated to be true, or are tyrannically exploitative”;
- “They reject the idea that God has intervened miraculously in history or revealed Himself to a chosen few or that He can save or redeem sinners”;
- “They do not accept as true the literal interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, the Koran, or other allegedly sacred religious documents, however important they may be as literature”;
- They argue that they “have found no convincing evidence that there is a separable “soul” or that it exists before birth or survives death” and conclude that the ethical life can be lived without the illusions of immortality or reincarnation”;
- They believe that “Human beings can develop the self confidence necessary to ameliorate the human condition and to lead meaningful, productive lives.
Warren Nord has made a significant contribution to this discourse in his book, Religion & American Education: Rethinking a National Dilemma. He points out that the Supreme Court of The United States has been liberalizing its concept of religion over the last fifty years and cites two instances in which justices referred to Secular Humanism as a religion.
The foundation of his argument is that “Public schools systematically teach students to think about the world in secular ways only.” He goes on to say, “public schooling discriminates against religious ways of making sense of the world.” For African youngsters, spirituality — faith in a Supreme Being — was an integral aspect of their cultural experience. When plunged into an educational system that discriminates against this basic belief, the results have been problematic.
Traditional African Values
The views expressed by Secular Humanists are juxtaposed to those of traditional African cultural values brought to America in the hearts and minds of the slaves. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 many African Americans were educated in an environment that was sensitive to traditional African cultural norms and values: faith in The Almighty and the importance of family and community life and responsibility. Both teachers and students shared these values and transferred them from generation to generation.
After the 1964 legislation, America meritoriously moved toward a non-partitioned society. Although some would argue that there are still examples of de-facto discrimination, most of the legislated forms of partitioning were disbanded and the descendants of the former bondmen were given the opportunity to compete with those in the majority culture. With this initiative the spiritually conscious African American came in contact with a new ideology — Secular Humanism. This alternate spiritual paradigm challenges traditional beliefs. Faith in The Creator as the absolute authority was challenged by faith in human ability to reason and that the creation could be explained through science alone.
I believe that the undermining of traditional spiritual values is partially the cause of the dysfunctionality that many in the African American community are currently experiencing. The concern for the well-being of a community was replaced by a concern for “What’s in it for me?” The spiritual impropriety of pre-marital births was replaced by an often short-lived, physical pleasure. The responsibility of fatherhood was replaced by collecting one’s conquests among the young women in the community.
All of these attitudes focus on human rationalization of what is best for a single individual. When the human soul is not satisfied, domestic violence is frequently the outcome. The spirituality of Secular Humanism has permeated education and left its indelible mark on today’s young people.