Let’s take a look at how we are educating black kids. This is a national issue, but I’ll focus on the place I live, Oakland. Oakland is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States and with the expansion of Silicon Valley the
cost of living is rising at an incredible rate. You know what’s happening: Rich white folks are essentially pushing less rich white folks out of San Francisco and now Oakland has taken the overflow. I have a great job. I make a relatively good salary. I only have to take care of myself. And even for me, buying a home in this city is difficult. It’s just not cost-effective. I say all of this to say that the way we currently talk about education doesn’t translate to real life. We talk about higher standards and test scores, but I want to translate that language into real life. Sixty percent of our students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, which means that the majority of students we serve live in poverty. A vast majority of these students are not reading at or above grade level, which means that we have a significant amount of children that are on track to functional illiteracy. So what are we doing? Who are we preparing our kids to be? How do we expect these kids to grow up here and live in this city if they are so far behind? What jobs are we preparing them for?
Are we expecting these children to just magically transform into adults that make more than $100,000 a year without a strong education base? If we continue at this rate, we are essentially preparing our children to be
serfs—an agricultural laborer bound under the feudal system to work on his lord’s estate. In other words, we are preparing our black kids only to be qualified to serve. Ummm, in case you’re wondering, that’s not okay! We are also setting our kids up to have to move out of this city because, let’s face it, these folks—and you know what folks I’m talking about—aren’t afraid of the ’hood anymore and they’re buying it up. In 10 years, you’d be hard-pressed to even be able to afford the slums in Oakland. Let that sink in for a minute, more than 50 percent of the children in our public schools today will not be able to live in Oakland, and the ones that live close enough to work here are being set up to serve the needs of the upper class. We are effectively replicating a feudalistic system. People say they want change, but every time folks try to make a difference, it’s a battle.
The truth is: There are people that gain from our kids being illiterate. There are people that convolute the conversation on purpose—and we let them! We have to do whatever we can to make sure our babies can read. That means show up at board meetings. Support initiatives that raise standards for our students and teachers. That means stop accepting the status quo. It means pull up to a school and volunteer, mentor. We have to
Charles Cole III is an educator and media producer focused on the advancement of all youth of color, but more specifically Black males. The passion comes from his own experiences growing up without proper support. His life’s goal is to better the communities he grew up in through his work. He has served as a social worker, a director for Teach For America, the vice chair of the ...