The Educational Development of Malcolm X

Article excerpt

"I am a simple African man, doing my duty in my own country in the context of our time."

Amilcar Cabral 1924-1973

Introduction

Malcolm X was simply an African man, doing his duty for his people in the context of his time. He was a "reluctant leader" (Cone, 1991, 301) and "what set [him] apart from most was the consistency with which he sought to learn from his mistakes ..." (Burrow, Jr., 1996, 104). He was a human being, endowed with the human affectation of imperfection and, if he were still physically on the planet, he would reject the notion of being romanticized as icon, messiah, or transformational leader. He was just one human being seeking to have his people recognized, respected and treated as human beings. At the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) Founding Rally, 28 June 1964 in New York City, Malcolm declared this mission:

We declare our right on this earth ... to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary (in Breitman, 1970, 56).

Very little is written about the educational Malcolm, or the genesis of his educational development, his educational philosophy or, further, his influence on African education in the United States and Pan-African thought. The lack of information and treatment of the educational influence of Malcolm suggests, perhaps, first, that he did not possess an educational philosophy; second, that neither he nor his life affected, effected and infected the educational process of African people from the United States; and third, it suggests, as with much of the prevailing educational and political discourse, that he was an ahistorical nonentity. Indeed, since Malcolm's life reflects much of the African experience in the United States, lack of information on the educational Malcolm could be interpreted to mean that people of African descent from the United States are void and incapable of having an educational philosophy and are ahistorical entities. Apple (1990) writes:

To a large extent [U.S.] society as it exists ... is held together by implicit common-sense rules and paradigms of thought, by hegemony as well as by overt power. [Educational] materials ... contribute to the reinforcing and tacit teaching of certain dominant basic assumptions. One could also point to the by now apparent presentation of black historical material where those blacks are presented who stayed within what were considered to be legitimate boundaries of protest or progressed in accepted economic, athletic, scholarly, or artistic fields. Usually one does not find reference to Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, or others who offered a potent critique of existing modes of economic and cultural control and activity (97).

Subsequently, to fully understand the nature of Malcolm X's educational philosophy, pedagogy, and influence on educational discourse and its process, the nature of his educational development must, it seems, be explicated. Carew (1994), Cone (1991), DeCaro, Jr. (1996), Sales, Jr., (1994), Strickland, (1994), and Vincent (1989) suggest that the educational, transformational, and spiritual Malcolm began long before his involvement with the Nation of Islam (hereafter, The Nation). Therefore, to provide a clear picture of Malcolm the educator, it seems that the genesis of his life, his parents, and some of his educational experiences are contextually applicable. Clarke (1990) wrote that "any honest attempt to understand the total man must begin with some understanding of the significant components that went into his making" (xiii). Malcolm, who is best at speaking for himself, stated that:

People are always speculating why I am as I am? To understand that of any person, [their] whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All our experiences fuse into our personality. …