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Talk to teachers Let's begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time. Everyone in this room is in one way or another aware of that. We are in a revolutionary situation, no matter how unpopular that word has become in this country. The society in which we live is desperately menaced, not by Khrushchev, but from within. So any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible - and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people - must be prepared to "go for broke." Or to put it another way, you must understand that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom but in society, you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance. There is no point in pretending that this won't happen. Now, since I am talking to schoolteachers and I am not a teacher myself, and in some ways am fairly easily intimidated, I beg you to let me leave that and go back to what I think to be the entire purpose of education in the first place. It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I'm the child's parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now, the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purpose of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this; that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education finally, is to create [in] a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or white, to decided for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with these questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it - at no matter what risk. This is the only way societies change. Now, if what I have tried to sketch has any validity, it becomes thoroughly clear, at least to me, that any Negro who is born in this country and undergoes the American educational system runs the risk of becoming schizophrenic. On the one hand he is born in the shadow of the stars and stripes, and he is assured it represents a nation which has never lost a war. He pledges allegiance to that flag which guarantees "liberty and justice for all". He is part of a country in which anyone can become President, and so forth. But on the other hand he is also assured by his country and his countrymen that he has never contributed anything to civilization - that his past is nothing more than a record of humiliations gladly endured. He is assured by the republic that he, his father, his mother, and his ancestors were happy shiftless, watermelon-eating darkies who loved Mr. Charlie and Miss Ann, that the value he has as a black man is proven by one thing only - his devotion to white people. If you think I am exaggerating, examine the myths which proliferate in this country about Negroes. Now all this enters the child's consciousness much sooner than we as adults would like to think it does. As adults, we are easily fooled because we are so anxious to be fooled. But children are very difficult. Children, not yet aware that it is dangerous to look too deeply at anything, look at everything, have the vocabulary to express what they see, and we, their elders, know how to intimidate them very easily and very soon. But a black child, looking at the world around him, though he cannot know quite what to make of it, is aware that there is a reason why his mother works so hard, why his father is always on edge. He is aware that there is some reason why, if he sits down in the front of the bus, his father or mother drags him to the back of the bus. He is aware that there is some terrible weight on his parent's shoulders which menaces him. And it isn't long - in fact it begins very early - when he is in school - before he discovers the shape of his oppression.
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|Contributing institution||Special Collections, McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi.|
|Digital repository||University of Southern Mississippi Digital Collections.|
|Digital collection||Historical Manuscripts and Photographs.|
|File size||871998 Bytes|
|File name||mus-ellin047.01_Page 1.jpg|