Education

What history?

education-1959551_960_720What a difference a few sentences can make. I just finished listening to one of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasts for his series “Revisionist History.” In this episode, “Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment,” Gladwell explores the fallout from the 1954 Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education.

The Supreme Court found that “separate but equal” was unhealthy for Black children, that being segregated was fundamentally “bad” for their psyche and self-esteem. But that was not what the NAACP had been fighting for.

From the mouths of two Black parents who took part in the court case, Leola and Oliver Brown, they had no complaints with their daughter’s school (Monroe School, shown below). They loved the teachers, thought the education was “fantastic.” They just wanted all Black parents to have a choice of where to send their children to school.

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From Gladwell’s podcast:

So what does the US Supreme Court do in 1954 in the Brown decision? It buys into the southern way of thinking about race. Leola Brown and the other plaintiffs say, “We have a structural problem. We don’t have the power to send Linda to the school down the street.” The court says, “No, no, no, it’s a psychological problem. Little Linda has been damaged in her heart.” That may seem like a small distinction, believe me it’s not. We’re still dealing with the consequences.

Those few sentences by the Supreme Court made a huge difference to children across the segregated South. What do you think happens when Black schools and Black teachers are ruled to be inferior? What happens to teachers and students deemed “deficient”? The fallout is huge. Listen to Gladwell’s podcast, or you can find a transcript of it here.

The New York Times published an excellent, related article earlier this year: “Where Did All the Black Teachers Go?”

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Embracing Creativity

Is it better to be right, or true?

This morning on the news, a cartoon that many people will find disturbing flashed onto my television screen at least two times. Wednesday’s front page of the Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo, attacked by terrorists last week, will show the very kind of cartoon that purportedly spurred the attacks.

Many will say the newspaper is irresponsible, adding fuel to the fire and could lead to more attacks. Others will say (as London’s mayor Boris Johnson did) that the only way to demonstrate that open societies will not bow down to terrorism is to print the cartoon. This debate got me thinking about the power of an image.

The controversial cartoon undoubtedly has power. The thought of adding a link to it on this blog fills me with dread, I’m ashamed to admit. But where did that power come from? And can that power be transferred into something that could heal instead of create more hate?

From what I can gather (these are my own views, obviously), the attacks highlight two conflicting beliefs:

  • Religion is the “truth” and must be held sacred above all else. To deny this is to deny existence.
  • Religions are not “truth” but are the creation of different cultures and societies; therefore, they are not sacred but are open to criticism and debate, just like everything else.

The aforementioned cartoon has become the mouthpiece for the second message — there is no one “true” religion. Printing it on the front page of a newspaper and then republishing that image over hundreds of news outlets across the world is basically blasting out that message loud and clear. Should Charlie Hebdo do this? As a newspaper, especially a political and satirical one, it’s obligated to shout out its editorial viewpoint. It has every right to do this.

On a moral level? Personally, I would have preferred to see photographs of the people who lost their lives in the attacks last week. I think making the victims “human,” rather than political mouthpieces would do more to stem violence than continuing the argument about fundamental beliefs. We’re not going to change terrorists’ minds my shouting back, “You’re wrong! And we’re right!” But connecting their actions to real people who have sons and daughters and mothers and fathers, showing how all people are fundamentally the same, THAT might make a few extremists pause for thought.

The power of one cartoon comes from all we attribute to it — freedom of speech, blasphemy, East versus West, right versus wrong, religious society versus sectarian society … Right now, that cartoon is being used to send a message, a message I personally agree with, but not the most important one at the moment. How can the media (and governments!) convey a broader, more crucial ideology — that all lives are valuable? I think that’s what the media should be working on.

George Bush and Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama
George Bush and Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Taken on 23 May 2001. Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/05/images/20010523-3.html