Educate 8:46 Episode 1

Education as an Act of Self-Determination

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On the debut episode of Educate 8:46, Miami University Professor Dr. Denise Taliaferro Baszile explains why education is ultimately an act of self-determination that can lead us to a more equitable society.

The purpose of education, in a revolutionary sense, she says, is to seek to know better. So that we might be better. So that we might do better. So that we might collectively breathe forth a new, more just world.

Additional Resources:

Mwalimu Shujaa, Too Much Schooling, Too Little Education

Anna Julia Cooper, Voice From the South

Carter G. Woodson, Mis-Education of the Negro

Ava DuVernay, 13th

Read the transcript


Denise Taliaferro Baszile:

Hey, hey good people. I'm Denise Taliaferro Baszile, and this is Educate 8:46.

8 minutes and 46 seconds is the amount of time that officer Derrick Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd, draining the life from his body. This image has forced this country, this world really, to reckon with how its history of anti-black violence and racism continue to impact Black lives. While we certainly want justice and now, justice is not enough. So the premise of Educate 8:46 is simple -- what can we teach and learn in 8 minutes and 46 seconds that can support the struggle against white supremacy and anti-blackness and all inter-systemic injustices. I asked this question of colleagues and comrades all over the country, whom I know to be fierce warriors for justice through education, and they responded.

So each week, we drop knowledge -- short stories, powerful revelations, controversial perspectives, strategies, and freedom dreams all in 8 minutes and 46 seconds.


Denise Taliaferro Baszile:

Today on Educate 8:46 I'm offering up the first lesson as a way to set the tone for the series, and I want to begin with my favorite quote: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

This quote is often attributed to Malcolm X, and his struggle to activate a revolutionary politics rooted in black self-love. The quote however actually originates from Stephen Biko, the South African anti-Apartheid revolutionary. I first heard the quote when I was in college at UCLA in the late 1980s, thanks to my South African comrades Ronnie Durbin and Abner, who turned me on to the news of the African National Congress. There I had access to knowledge that I was not likely to find anywhere else on campus, especially not at that time when campus was heating up with anti-Apartheid protests and calls for divestment.

Access to this underground knowledge, if you will, reminded me of what my family had always been telling me. We can't rely on school for the truth of who we are, for the truth of who we have been. Or for the truth of who we are becoming.

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” This quote has grounded and guided my own process of becoming truly educated. Not schooled so much. But educated in a way that puts me in pursuit of the revolutionary not yet. In pursuit of a time-place where we can live outside our investment in human hierarchy. In the politics of lovelessness it perpetuates.

The idea that education puts us on the path to liberation is a powerful idea in black radical thought. In fact there is no instance of black radical thought not powered by the idea of education. We hear it, for instance, in Frederick Douglass’s 1845 narrative, where he proclaims that education makes a man unfit to be a slave, and I would add a woman too. We hear it in Anna Julia Cooper's Voice From the South published in 1895, where she insists that black women also be engaged in education to advance the condition of all black people. We hear it in Carter G. Woodson's Mis-Education of the Negro as he reminds us that if we do not know our history as black people, we cannot be self-determined.

Education was the modus operandi in the freedom schools that powered the civil rights movement -- In the Black Panther Liberation school in Oakland, in the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta, Communiversity in Chicago, Forums 65 and 66 in Detroit, the Schomburg in New York, and too many more efforts and places to name here.

And today, this dedication to education is the path to liberation, as a kind of radical truth-telling, is what brings us projects like Ava DuVernay's 13th, Nikole Hannah-Jones's 1619 Podcast, Jeffrey Robinson's the Truth About the Confederacy, and Ta-Nehisi Coats’ re-articulation of the long-standing argument for reparations, and the work of many organizations like the Education for Liberation Network, Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Movement, and so many more.

This might be surprising to many of you who when you think of black people in education you think about the achievement gap, you think about at-risk learners, you think about parents who seem not to value education, and you assume that we have no dedication to education. Others of us will balk at that idea because we know we have fought, and continued to fight for access to quality education. And yet, what we receive does not measure up.

In both cases, the idea of education and schooling are conflated. And this is a common and yet dangerous misstep. In fact, I would argue that it is detrimental to black well-being, to the well-being of all disenfranchised people. And certainly to the vision of a more just world. So the crux of today's lesson is to understand that schooling and education are not the same thing. And Mwalimu Shujaa expounds on this important delineation in his text, Too Much Schooling, Too Little Education. What he emphasizes is that schooling is an institution of the state meant to maintain the existing social order. And as such, what it offers is an “education” limited in scope and possibility for radical transformation toward more justice.

School is a mechanism designed to socialize students into the world as it is - injustices and all. Now this is not to say that there aren't important moments of education happening in school. I am grateful for all the educators who keep the walls from crashing in on the students. You will hear from some of them throughout Educate 8:46. But their work is often limited, hindered, aborted, refused because it challenges the very notion of schooling that powers anti-blackness in other forms of systemic injustice.

In fact, consider that the only hope for a more equitable and just model of schooling lies in the education we seek and cultivate outside the confines of the schoolhouse. The education that challenges us to confront some harsh realities about the ideas of democracy, equality, and freedom that undergird the school curriculum, and that often hide in disguise more than they reveal.

The purpose of education in a revolutionary sense is to seek to know better so that we might be better. So that we might do better. So that we might be other than that which is not good for us, or to us. So that we might collectively breathe forth a new more just world. Once you commit to this notion of education, an education that wrestles with power, that reveals the absence, misrepresentation, manipulation, and hegemony inherent to a model of knowing, a curriculum authored and propagated by the few, and not always in the interests of the many. When you know education in this way, you will be able to see the injustice, and you will be compelled to find ways to be otherwise.

Education is ultimately an act of self-determination, which means you have to pursue it. You have to go get it. You have to be a relentless seeker of the knowledge that is strategically forgotten, or simply ignored. You have to open your ears to the voices struggling to breathe under the knee. You cannot allow schooling to hold your education hostage. So the goal of Educate 8:46 is to point you precisely in this direction.  

Denise Taliaferro Baszile:

Thank you for listening to Educate 8:46 in memory of George Floyd, and the thousands of others whose lives have been so violently and unjustly ended.

Please tune in next week for a short history and definition of white supremacy. This podcast is a production of the College of Education, Health and Society at Miami University.