I am blessed to have received a great education. Maybe it was a time in U.S. history when educating our nation’s children was a priority, but I don’t feel anything was lacking in what I was taught. I distinctly remember my education beginning in kindergarten—and not just in name only. I was able to use my head as well as my hands, and was prepared for grade advancement. I fear my daughter may not have the same experience of school as I did, despite us doing our best to find her an educational home.
My baby girl enters kindergarten this fall. After an exhaustive search, my wife and I decided on a school that (while costing a Midwest mortgage) mirrors our values: strong academics, family involvement, experiential learning, respect for a child’s learning style, second-language acquisition, and a global focus. Why didn’t we go to the public school we were assigned to? I visited the place and two parents got into a fistfight in the parking lot because one parent’s kindergartner pushed the other’s. Yeah… that was a bad look.
When I was in school, my mom was never involved more than attending annual conferences or picking me up when I got suspended. She was a firm believer that it was the school’s job to educate me, and her job to parent. For some reason, she didn’t see these as being one and the same. I do. I’d guess that my compulsory education was 70% academic, 20% social/cultural and 10% environmental. These numbers will be wildly different for my daughter.
Reading, writing, mathematics and rudimentary science were the bulk of my education. “As long as you are literate, that’s all that matters,” my mother used to drill into me. That was great back then, but the ideas of literacy have expanded, and the idea of the bulk of a child’s education happening in the classroom is out with the eight-track tape. I’d argue that there are a host of new literacies we need to teach to our children. While everyone will have his or her own ideas about this, these are what I feel are most important:
Tech Literacy: There’s a digital divide, and Black folks are on the wrong side. We are, usually, the earliest adopters and users of technology. Remember beepers? We were so clever, we created a whole beeper language. But how many of us knew what binary Golay code or 5/6 tone signaling was? Another example: We’re almost overrepresented on Twitter and we’ll #scandal all day, but do we know how to build a Twitter? Our children need to know how to compete and excel in the digital world. If they can read and do math, they can code.
‘As long as you are literate, that’s all that matters,’ my mother used to drill into me. That was great back then, but the ideas of literacy have expanded. I’d argue that there are a host of new literacies we need to teach to our children.
Food Literacy: We should not be okay with our children consuming Takis corn chips and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos all day. Kids should be as well-versed in nutrition as they are in celebrity gossip. If our kids know whom Kanye is dating, or have gone hoarse screaming over some musical group, they better know how to identify a vegetable.
Hell, I’d go a step further and say our children should know how to grow and maintain some type of crop. There are urban gardens popping up everywhere, and I don’t think I need to point out that these new urban farmers don’t resemble us too much. Just ask Big Momma or Gramps, I’m sure they’re just waiting to tell you how to get back in touch with our land. We have this knowledge in our families.
Making/Fixing: The ratio of consumption to production needs to be reversed. We buy way more than we make. We need to teach our kids how to create. Contemporary education teaches our children to be cogs in the machine. But we should be teaching them how to build machines, starting with praising and encouraging their creativity. I learned how to sew in home economics class, and I’m still nice with a needle and thread. I was ill on the Skil saw in shop class. Most of our children are purchasing culture, not creating it. Why buy someone else’s vision of you, when you can make your own?
There are so many more new-millennium literacies, and my wife and I will be exploring these with our daughter. She’s already shown an interest in everything above. Our children are born into a world of infinite possibilities. Let’s give them the tools to shape it.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.