Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Widening Gap between Education and Schooling in the Post 9/11 Era

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Widening Gap between Education and Schooling in the Post 9/11 Era

Article excerpt

Mwalimu J. Shujaa likens the educational tensions of the post 9/11 era to those of the Viet Nam war period. He argues that education is a process of culture and identity transmission while schooling is intended to ensure that status quo power relationships are maintained. For persons of African descent, education, unlike schooling, means consciously developing knowledge bases grounded in the culture and history of the African world and concomitantly interpreting reality through those knowledge bases. In the post 9/11 era, educators who take the moral initiative to interrogate the interests of the powerful and evaluate these in the interest of the African world are at risk of being attacked as subversives.

My thoughts about the education of people of African ancestry in the United States in the era following September 11, 2001, have drawn me spiritually to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the courageous stance he took in opposition to the United States' war against Viet Nam. The speech he delivered called "A Time to Break Silence" continues to pervade my consciousness. Here is some of what King said at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, exactly one year to the day before he was assassinated:

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. (1967/1986, p. 231)

The "war on terror" that U.S. President George W. Bush has declared is a context in which conformist thought is given sanction under the banner of patriotism. King's words and actions in the Viet Nam War era are sources of inspiration and guidance. In this post 9/11 era, we face similar challenges in speaking truth to power and, more to the point, speaking among ourselves about power and how we are affected by its uses and abuses. The incredible technologies of surveillance and near absolute authority to use them produce a climate that is unfriendly to dissent. It is a time when those who control the media of mass communication have circled their wagons against dissenting voices. Fearing ostracism, many find it prudent to speak softly about the social contradictions that limit the life chances of people of African ancestry. In times such as these, when those with the power to do so spin and distort truth to suit their interests, education can be perceived as subversive.

In the post 9/11 era, an honest discussion about the education of people of African ancestry must address the manipulation of schooling to create conformist thinking and the role of such thinking in maintaining existing power relationships. The tendency of conformist thinking is toward inaction when action is needed. It produces resignation to the status quo when change is needed. I contend that "education" and "schooling" are different processes and that, while it is possible for them to overlap, most people of African descent in the United States receive more schooling than education, (see Shujaa, 1994).

GROUNDING ASSUMPTIONS

My thinking about post-9/11 education is grounded in four assumptions about the social order that exists in the United States. First, the United States is a nation-state in which multiple and differing cultural orientations exist among the members of its society. Second, unequal power relations exist among the culture groups within the society. Third, the elite members of the politically dominant culture strategically impose their knowledge and worldview priorities. Fourth, despite incredible efforts to manage information and produce mass thought and predictable behavior in the United States, there is no perfect form of cultural imposition. Throughout human history, truly educated, critically conscious people emerge who demonstrate the capacity to see through nonsense, grow in wisdom, and share knowledge with others. …

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