Education for Global Justice
The Child Who Is Not Embraced by the Village Will Burn It Down to Feel Its Warmth (African Proverb)
Seventy years ago, while in elementary school, I remember a conversation that our teacher had with our class. At that time, integration, although supposedly the norm, was actually at an experimental stage in my city. There were very few African-American students in my school. On this particular day, we were discussing the meritorious aspects of American society — it being the melting pot for people from many nations.
She pointed out that Italians had contributed so-and-so to America, the Germans have contributed so-and-so and pretty so the Negro will contribute something. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, you mean we haven’t contributed anything?” Although well intended, she did not realize that teaching from her myopic, educational experience was effectively marginalizing one of her students: Me!
It was Horace Mann who said that education was the great equalizer of mankind. If true, we would expect the content of schooling to be an honest discussion of events relevant to human history. However, that is not the case. The curriculum of public schools in the United States has traditionally presented history from a perspective that effectively partitions ethnic and racial minorities. Although that European-centered approach is changing, there still remain the crumbs from years of social and economic oppression.
I recently learned that one of my former students, currently enrolled in a public school, was participating in a class in which his teacher said that there were never any Black empires in history. He challenged her and asked about the Moors in Spain. She replied that they were not Black; they were Brown and Tan, people. Here is yet another example of a myopic education crippling young minds. Preoccupation with skin color overpowers the need to articulate the contributions of a homogeneous collective of human minds and ideas.
Education for Empowerment
We have a tradition that says that in the sight of The Almighty, all human beings are as equal as the teeth on a comb. Can you imagine how this perspective could change the content of the curriculum? Students would be exposed to the good and evil, strengths and weaknesses, as well as the honor and disgrace of all nations, worldwide. They would be exposed to the causes of wars: avarice, power, land, and religion. They could study the causes and effects of apartheid, colonialism, segregation, and genocide.
Today we face global challenges. Our planet is warming, creating major shifts in weather patterns. Our industrial vs. developing nations paradigm accents our inequitable use of natural resources. This phenomenon was apparent when the availability and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine became problematic.
I too, agree with Whitney Houston, “The children are our future.” Global peace and justice can only be achieved when we cooperatively learn to appreciate our common humanity and respect our unique differences. Youngsters who have internalized these valuable lessons are positioned to lead our future world community. Education that perpetuates the marginalization of students will produce unfulfilled youngsters who would burn down the village to feel its warmth.