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Feedin’ our children miseducation…” –Dead Prez, “Propaganda”
Most of us pursuing a Masters’, Ph.D., or Psy.D. have at least a minimal interest in our own educations. But just what is this education, at its essence? We have likely defined it in a number of ways throughout our years, and here I would like to briefly offer some of my thoughts on the matter. First: the definition of the word itself. I came across its etymology in Ra Un Nefer Amen’s (1990) work on Ancient Kamitic religion and spirituality, and was immediately struck by the simple yet profound nature of the word. It is derived from Latin and means ‘to draw out’ (see Rineberg reference below for more). In other words, education was viewed in the ancient world as a process of bringing out from within oneself what was already present. I began to reflect on this definition in relation to my own educational experience and that of those around me. For those of us who are in the midst of our graduate studies, the consideration of such issues may seem like a luxury. Most of us have spent a lot of time making our way through a school system that is a far cry from the idea the above definition provides us with. As Friere (1970) states, education is generally viewed as a process of depositing information within a student, rather than one of bringing forth the knowledge that is already present. For most of their educational careers, students take tests and simply regurgitate the information without developing many critical thinking skills, a larger sense of their culture, or personal identity. Indeed, history books give faint mention of the contributions of people of African descent. Furthermore, instruction often focuses on the negative aspects of our past as a people. But what good has any of this miseducation, as Woodson (1933) so eloquently put it, done for students? What good does this do for teachers, who are supposed to help students actualize their intellectual potential or for our evolution as a people? What have our own experiences with education been, by and large? Did we have to find meaning for ourselves, did our teachers or parents help us construct it, or did we leave it by the wayside? Perhaps we have had some combination of these or other experiences, but the fact is that most of us would not be pursuing a graduate education if it did not give us a ‘sense of self’ or have some intrinsic meaning or purpose behind it. As Black psychologists-in-training, we often seek answers to questions pertaining to deeper personal, social, cultural, philosophical, and spiritual issues in our studies, or we intend to do so in our careers. For many of us, it is these questions that our prior schooling experiences did not raise or address at all. Of course it could be argued that the very neglect of these issues is one of the reasons for the persistence of the academic achievement gap between Black and White students. But that is just the surface of the problem. There is something deeper that needs to be cultivated within the minds of students: the will to equip them to acquire more enduring and transformative skills. One idea scholars have explored that exemplifies this will is ‘meaningful learning’. While the concept has proved a bit difficult to operationally define, it is a powerful instructional tool in that it draws on the variety of students’ prior competencies and lived experiences (Boykin, 2000; Rogoff, 1990). Concerning its implementation within the classroom, a number of cultural and
The Seeds of Education developmental foundations can be built upon. However, in considering this very construct we must pause momentarily: the very use of the term ‘meaningful learning’ assumes that ‘learning’ – at least as it is defined traditionally – is itself not meaningful. Interestingly, Bruner (1992) argues that meaning is the concept most central to the study of human psychology. By extension, it could be stated that an understanding of our psyches is a process of self-education. This present train of thought thus brings us to a brief discussion of the ancient axiom “Knowledge of Self”. If education seeks to ‘draw out’ that which is already present within us, then could not a proper act of education bring out self-knowledge? Furthermore, why not start this process with students as soon as they are developmentally able? It has been said since time immemorial that “Knowledge of Self” is key to our understanding and appreciation of life. Perhaps our pursuit of the ever-elusive meaning of life - something that is both universal and at the same time unique to every individual’s time and place in this universe can provide a rationale for acquiring such knowledge. Various academic disciplines - from psychology to philosophy - have sought to tackle different aspects of this issue, and have taken their respective approaches to it. Various religions and spiritualities have offered explanations and principles to provide meaning and purpose to the pursuit of this knowledge. What is this “Knowledge of Self”, and how do we achieve it? “Knowledge of Self”, among other things, can be a skill that must be developed over time. Such knowledge could pertain to more practical and immediate issues – such as understanding what one’s academic and career interests are – to more spiritual and philosophical issues, like contemplating one’s potential or unfolding the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of our behavior. The idea is that such information could be of a transformational nature, and could at least lead to healthier, more well-rounded students. Those who are already self-aware could lend a helping hand to others. Schools should consider the development of methods and techniques that would assist students in acquiring this important learning tool. Some educators may believe that schools are not the place for such teaching, and that learning of this kind should take place in the home. However, most children spend more waking time at school than they do in the home, and when students begin college they often live at school as well. The fact is that school plays an extremely important role in development; therefore, this role must be fully embraced and accepted by all those who are involved in the educational process. Within our particular discipline, Black psychologists are in an especially unique position to bridge the apparent gap between science and spirituality, seeking both practical and theoretical answers to some of these issues. Perhaps we as Black psychologists in-training must make education meaningful and define this meaning for ourselves, regardless of the demands of the educational system. Maybe the meaning is in the education itself; it could also be found in what we do with this education. As a friend of mine stated, it is the opportunity and choice education creates that is important. Maybe it is the quest to find meaning that is central to this theme. Whatever it is, most of us would agree that, at the very least, we pursue our educations to make a difference, and that this is what motivates us. Perhaps one purpose of our meaningful education, and a bit of that “Knowledge of Self” we may seek is this: towards the cultivation of that initial seed of motivation, of desire, to attain something that is for ourselves and yet at the same time for our families, our friends, our communities, ancestors, and our futures. If nothing else, I hope this brief discourse is a simple reaffirmation of that planted seed, a regeneration of our fruitful
The Seeds of Education endeavors, our most exciting collaborations, a reminder of the power education holds in helping us reach our highest potential. In closing, I hope that we continue to reflect on the principle of Sankofa: may we move forward into the future while we learn from the past. May we keep cultivating those ideals which are dearest to us, and hold them in our hearts and minds throughout our years learning and growing. A truly meaningful education of self awaits all those who seek it, and it is this very seed that must be planted to more fully liberate our spirits.
By: David S. B. Mitchell M.S. Candidate, Developmental Psychology
References Amen, R.U.N. (1990). Metu Neter (Volume 1): The Great Oracle of Tehuti and the Egyptian System of Spiritual Cultivation. New York: Khamit Media Trans Visions Inc. Boykin, A.W. (2000). The Talent Development Model of Schooling: Placing Students at Promise for Academic Success. Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk, 5(1&2), 3-25. Bruner, J. (1992). Acts of Meaning: Four Lectures of Mind and Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury. Rineberg, G. (2008, November 27). Word Power: Education. http://www.babeled.com/2008/11/27/word-power-education/ Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context. New York: Oxford University Press. Woodson, C.G. (2000). The Mis-education of The Negro. Chicago: African American Images.
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