However, there is one problem. Education as we know it the United States was never meant to make anyone “Free.” It was not designed to give the disenfranchised the tools to overcome their oppression. Frankly, that is probably quite the opposite. From its earliest inception, mass education has been shaped to model and support industrialism, strip culture, and promulgate neoliberal ideology. It does not encourage curiosity or divergent thinking. Instead it teaches students to memorize and regurgitate facts. Furthermore, education relies on the smokescreen of neutrality-as if knowledge and the construction of knowledge is not socially, culturally, and historically situated and as if it does not send subtle and not-so-subtle messages about what and who is/is not valued in our society.
How is it so that education as we know it is an oppressive institution, but those in power have long desired to keep it away from certain people? That is the paradox. First, I think that we must make the distinction between schooling and education as many scholars have done. What I described earlier is schooling. However, education is something radical in the sense that the outcome of it is unforeseen. What would happen if black students learned about their history before bondage? Or if they learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s staunch anti-racism? Or if Stokely Carmichael and The Black Panther Party were not always subtly vilified in school textbooks? What if black students were taught to situate themselves culturally, historically, and politically in society so that they understand the context that they are operating in? What if we saw it as our mission to help black students understand that their conditions are not fixed- rather they are mutable and subject to infinite possibilities? Imagine what these black students might do. That is precisely the issue for those that are invested in maintaining inequitable systems of power. Who knows what revolutionary acts students may commit when they are given access to a true education?
As black people, this means that we cannot and should not place our reliance on schooling as a means to get free. We need to use these institutions for our benefit and help other black people navigate through these spaces. We still need to operate in this society and schooling definitely provides the credentials to do so. However, we must disabuse ourselves of the idea that these formal institutions of education will lead to our liberation as a people. Schools will continue to operate as they were intended to do so, but this does not foreclose our possibilities to create a new reality for our people and other marginalized populations.