Written 4/2/2000
All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

TEACHING OPPRESSION

FROM MUMIA ABU-JAMAL

For millions of youngsters in America, schools are places where nightmares become bitter realities, and where the stuff taught and promoted by teachers might as well be the utterings of aliens.

For poor and alienated youth, the lives they lead are frighteningly different from the so-called "normal" lives portrayed in school books. In essence, schools teach many things, perhaps most of which is not on its formal curriculum. It teaches the young how they are perceived in the larger world, what their place in it is, and instills in them a sense of worth. For the poor, such schools teach the exact opposite. They teach them that there is no place in this world for them, and that they are of little or no real worth.

The late professor Murray Levin did something remarkable several years ago when, retiring, he opted to spend a few semesters in one of the poorest schools in the Boston area, and tried to teach history, and political science. Levin used the widely acclaimed work of Boston University's Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, but the students, many of whom read with great difficulty, remained unmoved by this work. Levin, angry and irritated at their rejection of his attempts, later came to the conclusion that it was he who had to learn from them, and he began by the simple act of listening. The result was a remarkable book, Teach Me! Kids will Learn When Oppression is the Lesson (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998), which featured transcripts garnered by hours of recordings with students, who either ignored his presence, or spoke truths that they wanted him to know. In any case, their words are the highlight of the work, for it reveals the brilliance of youth, who are on the margins of a commercial society, where their futures are grimly marked in stone. Here are some excerpts from Levin's text:

People are what they know. That's who you are, all you've learned. Well, we've learned sh-t, and it's not all our fault. The schools, white teachers, you know, Irish and Italian, they hate us. Don't teach us. Don't help us. It is planned. It is on purpose to keep us stupid and weak. We know where things are going. We know what the cops have in mind. They would like to destroy us and so would Washington, then they don't got this problem in mind, no ghetto, no crime, no drugs.... They don't want to help. They can't fix it up, too expensive. So they don't tell us the truth about our history. They purposely teach us wrong, and it's all in preparation to get rid of us. It's the best solution for them. [pp.20-21]

Have you ever read any words uttered by youth that are more an expression of pure alienation? Throughout his book, Levin intersperses his observations with such acidic comments from young people, who see themselves as outsiders from the larger world. Nor are teachers the sole targets of their enmity, as this excerpt reveals. The President is the cause of these crimes. He and the IRS mastermind the plot against the minorities, which is executed by Congress, mayors, and the police. Not educating minorities is the first part of a preparation plan to destroy black and Hispanic culture. Congress, for example, oversees school education and approves the books and curriculum that distorts black history. [p.21]

Teaching at the Egleston Square high school in Boston, Levin found kids who were presumably stupid, but really quite intuitive, and insightful. His fellow teachers thought of these children as largely apolitical, as they rarely expressed any interest in electoral politics. Levin found they were in fact, intensely political, in that they saw their whole world circumscribed by political forces that were hostile to them. The Willie Horton case, raised by the Republican presidential contender, George Bush, against then-Massachusetts governor, and Democratic contender Michael Dukakis, brought out interesting insights. A boy named Robert (a pseudonym) analyzed the political advertisements and consultant's comments thusly: Bush is trying to make whites anxious about blacks and Dukakis, and he is using this very big emotion, this very big fear, to get votes. This is about black men frightening white men. This is about getting people to change by making them frightened. This is about using racism for politics. [136]

How could anyone who made remarks of this type be seen as apolitical? This youngster was usually one who sat silently in class, and rarely discussed things that were percolating in his mind. Once asked, he revealed insight and brilliance. Another student, named "Shavon," made a similar observation about the nature of politics in America: This whole business is based on fear, fear of a big giant black man, fear of his sexual might. Murray, this man understands that fear and love rule the world, and if you can't love, you'll get fear. I think people don't think so good when they are afraid [p.136].

"Out of the mouth of babes..." It is impossible that this kind of depth, or this clarity of insight, is to be found solely at Egleston, and at no other school around the nation. The youth are alienated from their surrounding environment because that environment is antagonistic to them, and has little regard for their lives or worth. This is a national reality that must be transformed.

İMAJ 2000

 

* The legal struggle to win a new trial * Supporters' alerts * Warnings* Worldwide support * Labor * Other notables* Fill out the form to join the effort
* History of Mumia's case* Flyers * Pictures * Buttons * T-shirts * Links* Calendar of events

Send your comments to webweaver@mumia2000.org