Why Black Children Can't Wait for Schools to Be Fixed

Spoiler: There’s no fixing something that isn’t broken.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of abolition is the act of officially ending or stopping something. When you research abolitionist, you’d find that the definition alters slightly to mean a person who favors the abolition of a practice or institution, especially slavery. See: the abolitionist movement

Abolitionism, whether by movement or individual, is about liberation.  

I feel this goes without saying as this is an alternative education initiative, but I’m pro-education. I’m pro life-long learning. And I’m insatiably curious about the connection between education and liberation for Black people. 

As such, I spend a lot of time in education spaces. Immersing myself in understanding how learning works, the function (and imposed responsibilities) of teachers, dissecting the issues in schools, and listening in on conversations between educators both within and outside the conventional systems. And while I often feel like an outsider -- because those conversations tend to center conventional school -- I’ve found it helpful, as I navigate my own feelings and beliefs, to have as much context as possible. 

And what I know for sure, as does anyone who’s done even a minimal amount of research about schools, is that they are failing millions of Black children every single day. To be clear, when I say failing I’m talking about something much deeper, much more sinister than a test score or grade. I mean, the lifelong failing that pushes Black children through school with beliefs about their inadequacy and minimum expectations/efforts for them. A failing that crushes the spirits, that ignores, disempowers, and views them negatively. That doesn’t provide them basic health and safety within their walls and sends a message that children who don’t look like them deserve better resources, opportunities, and learning environments. A failing that supports and feeds a school to prison pipeline and that has seeped into the corners of even your most progressive, diverse, and liberal schools

When I enter these spaces, these conversations, and all the issues about schools are confirmed and amplified, my first inclination is to feel like there’s so much work to do. Immediately followed by: and we -- Black people -- can’t wait for schools to be fixed. But it’s that second point that isn’t quite accurate. 

Let me make it plain. The issue with using language like reform, change, or fix when it comes to schools (and the systems that support them), is that it implies school is broken. But the truth, especially for Black children, is that school is working exactly as designed.

In November’s essay, I quoted Glenn E. Singleton, founder of a racial equity consulting firm as he said: “We sit in a country that really hasn’t decided yet that it wants students of color to succeed at a high level.” But I’d venture to double down on that and say we live in a country that absolutely does not want Black children to succeed, one that resists Black ambition, audacity, success, and...survival.

I can think, today of all days, of no better comparison and confirmation of this truth than to look to the last 24 hours in America. What we witnessed, and what we have always known, is that there is no reform, no change in training, no fixing a system that kills Black people for far less than an attempted coup (see: sleeping, running, playing, wearing a hoodie), but stands passively by when the people in question, are white. 

One more time, so we’re clear: the system, the institutions, and yes, the schools are working as designed

So no, Black children can’t wait, Black people can’t wait for schools to be fixed because they aren’t broken. We can’t wait for them to figure out race and cultural responsiveness. Not when erasure and ahistorical curriculums are at their very foundation. We can’t wait for them to create a supportive and empowering environment for Black children, when their success was never part of the plan. We can’t wait for equal and equitable schools when the very process that created the imbalance is what fuels the inequality today. We can’t wait for them to shift to a model that favors creativity, critical thinking, or collaboration when that would ignite the very spark they’re meant to extinguish.

It feels radical to say that reform, change, and fixing aren’t the answers. Because the question then moves to, then what is? Perhaps, as the definition for abolition tells us, it’s stopping or ending altogether. Perhaps it’s replacing it with something else, something better, something that works for us. 

To Think About

Learning Pods, Microschools, & Co-ops: During the height of the pandemic last year, a concept many folk in alternative education are familiar with went mainstream. Microschools, learning pods, and co-ops are a common way families who choose to opt out of conventional schooling can access community, support, guidance, and childcare. Over the summer when these kinds of learning environments started, the big story was about the possible widening inequality gaps between families who had the ability to form pods and those who could not, with the general assumption, per usual, that families of color existed in the latter. 

In September, I challenged that assumption writing “while there’s been concern about pods widening inequality and equity gaps, there’s also a large portion of people -- my family included -- that are using learning pods to decentralize education and create a learning environment that empowers them and their communities.”

As we think about what could replace conventional school as we know it, of course, my attention turns first towards homeschool. But within that construct are many ways that we can come together, create learning pods or microschools, that give Black children the education they deserve.

Liberated Young is an initiative for Black parents, educators, and communities of color seeking liberation through learning. Subscribe for insights on homeschool, self-directed education, and getting freeLearn more about our work at: www.liberatedyoung.com.