African Americans under the historical conditions of slavery, segregation and state-sanctioned discrimination had been summarily denied the right to read and write and formally educate themselves and their children. This predicament has had direct impact on every sphere of black existence. One of the most significant blows against this historical problem was the Brown versus the Board of Education decision in 1954, which ruled against segregation in public education. Consequently, America has come to face the fact that receiving a quality public education is a civil right and underpins the very core of our ideals as a nation and the principles and promise for which it stands. As of today, despite our previous efforts, receiving a quality education and closing the achievement gap thereof is the biggest civil rights issue of this century. It goes without saying that, as citizens, all, we want to live in a nation as good as its promise and wish to provide the most vulnerable populations with an education worthy of the name.
On May 1st, 2010 an attempt to tackle this problem was made by twenty-two political candidates at Oak Park United Methodist Church. Among these were: Ryan Chin, Candidate for Sacramento City Council, District 7; Leticia Hilbert, Henry Harry, Terre Johnson, Jay Schenirer, and Patrick Kennedy, Candidates for Sacramento City Council Dist. 5; Cliff Cottam for Yes on 17 Campaign, C. T. Weber for No on Prop 14 Campaign, and Candidate for California Lieutenant Governor, Yvonne R. Girard, Candidate for California Lieutenant Governor, Diane Lenning and Grant McMicken, Candidates for CA Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jackie Levy, Candidate for Sacramento County Board of Education, Area 3, Adam Sartain, Lauren Hammond, Kevin McCarty, Roger Dickinson, and Rick Redding, Candidates for CA Assembly District 9, Erik Smitt, Candidate for 5th Congressional District, Efren Gutierrez, Candidate for Sacramento City Council, District 1, Steve Cohn and Shawn D. Eldredge, Candidates for Sacramento City Council District 3. Each candidate gave an excellent showing.
Yet, the presentations given by the above mentioned candidates raised dilemmas associated with public education, which occasion our concern for the following essential questions: What is public education meant to educe? What mode of educating might draw out or develop that quiet, consistent, cultivation of critical consciousness necessary for good citizenship? What is the role of race and class in shaping the structure of the Achievement Gap? How do we democratize a democracy where an obscene number of African American males are introduced to the penitentiary over the university, prison over Princeton, jail over Yale, and incarceration over education? How do we undermine the selection and connection of Black boys to the criminal justice system? How do we dismantle a system wherein - because of its financing apparatus - a youngsters life chances are determined by a zip code?
The candidates gave their best. Solutions were proffered. However, the problems remain. We still, as a society, face a repressive state mechanism in the form of public education; thin constructs of accountability riddle the system inadequate to achieve its most precious goals, the old pedagogical models we once relied upon are no longer efficacious, providing safe and secure environments for learning is still a stultifying issue, identifying every functional piece of this matrix has still to be achieved, and the urgent hope of the African American community is that within the scope of the present campaigns for political offices, these questions and concerns will not be ignored or forgotten once the selected candidates finally take their seats.
by Lawrence Brown