The Makings of Modern Mis-Education

By Ezrah Aharone:

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month and second Black PhD to graduate from Harvard, wrote the acclaimed The Mis-Education of the Negro way back in 1933. In the 1940s, psychologist Kenneth Clark’s “Doll Test,” demonstrated that Black children were being psychologically conditioned to yearn and favor the looks of White people at the expense of self-dislike. His critical findings were cited during Brown vs. Board of Education when theSupreme Court desegregated schools in 1954.

Here we are, decades removed and Dr. Woodson’s book is still widely sold and studied, while Black children are still predisposed to view White dolls as “prettier and nicer” with hair that’s “better” than Black dolls. Educationally, we face ever-dismal challenges where Black children enter kindergarten a full year behind Whites; by high school the gap extends to 4 to 5 years; and 58 percent of Black males don’t even graduate high school.

Princeton researchers recently published a 7-year study, concluding that a 20-year “Manhattan Project-effort” is necessary to close today’s education and economic gaps of racial inequality. Just so you’ll know, the original Manhattan Project was a massive pursuit, costing the equivalent of $22 billion and comprising thousands of scientists who developed the A-Bomb in 1945 to nuke Japan into a crisp. So, to infer this same category of endeavor, speaks to the comparative enormity of the challenge.

There’s good reason for skepticism since Black kids who dropout commonly say “classes aren’t interesting.” And as far back as my childhood in the 1960s, “Acting White” has been a tagline used by Black kids to ridicule those who academically excel. Naturally, adults respond by saying, “there’s nothing White about being smart.” Although this is absolutely true, it absolutely misses the point and fails to address the sociopolitical and mis-educational factors that confound young minds to misconstrue smartness with Whiteness.

Children worldwide learn that the earth is round and 1 + 1 = 2. These are universal facts that are neither Black nor White. However, the functionsand end-uses that nations apply such facts to educate kids are neither neutral nor universal. Hence, “Acting White” is a troubled way that youngsters express something that we have lacked the power to change – Which is that the functions and end-uses of America’s “System of Education and Intellect” are based on skewed purposes, processes, and interpretations that place European images, ideals, and institutions as the central and supreme frame of reference and relevance. This lack of intellectual and institutional equality, encapsulates the essence of the mis-education identified by Dr. Woodson.

Our mistake is that we consider it sufficient to simply insert Black people into existing White institutions, and then paste tidbits of sanitized versions of “Black History” into America’s larger body of education. By contributing without properly correcting the end-uses and known partialities withinAmerica’s “System of Education and Intellect,” we have allowed “the problem to masquerade as a solution.”

Ask yourself – To what end-use is our current system of thought being applied, and who are the ultimate beneficiaries and end-users? With our 4 centuries of collective intellect and institutions, we can’t stop our youngsters from shooting and killing each other. We can’t even stop them from cursing in front of elders. We have communities nationwide being held hostage to Black-on-Black crime. Mis-education is making us intellectually and functionally unfit to “rescue ourselves from ourselves.”

Black leaders and educators have convened for decades to debate and decipher “what’s wrong.” But here’s a hard truth – The very psychological inducements that trap Black children to idolize and overvalue White dolls, mutates into sociopolitical mindsets that induce Black adults to idolize and overvalue European ideals and institutions just the same . . . its one yoke with two levels of shackles.

Centuries of mis-education won’t simply evaporate, yet the purging process would undress America’s character and historiography in ways thatAmerica would find uncomfortable and unwilling to concede. So unless we mount ample intellectual and institutional capacities, The Mis-Education of the Negro will not only be the title of Dr. Woodson’s book, it will be an accurate description of a permanent reality.

Ezrah Aharone is the author of two political books: Sovereign Evolution: Manifest Destiny from Civil Rights to Sovereign Rights (2009) and Pawned Sovereignty: Sharpened Black Perspectives on Americanization, Africa, War and Reparations (2003). He is also a founding member of the Center for SovereigntyAdvancement. He can be reached at

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  • Chicago-Midwest
    I have been thinking recently about our "struggle," and this article adds another layer to the challenge before us. Since I was introduced to the writings of Woodson and Du Bois in my youth, I have observed the evolution of "Black thought leaders." We keep revisiting the same issues -- mis-education, lack of unity, acting White, self-hatred -- hoping for some Nirvana to escape to. It reminds me of the line from Humpty Dumpty -- we will never be able to "put Humpty back together again." Not here. Perhaps not even in Africa. So, perhaps we should stop trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together, and embark on a new pursuit -- more appropriate to the realities of the 21st century global village that we all live in.

    So, what education would we pursue that would not be "mis-education" in the current context? What we are struggling with is the robbery of our identities through conquest, slavery, and racism in places where we are supposed to be free. I have observed a twist on an old adage -- "When you don't know where you are going NO ROAD WILL GET YOU THERE!"

    The efforts of the writer of this article, and many others, seek to "educate" us about our past, in hopes it will help direct our future. Not even funding the size of a Manhattan Project will close the gaps, unless we are prepared to put forward the kind of effort such a project requires. There will always be "functions and end uses" to serve the self-interests of those who manage the mainstream education systems. There have to be "functions and end uses that focus on the needs of the Black community" to counter any mis-education that we encounter. We have to solve the problem of saving us from ourselves if we are going to close any gaps. Otherwise, we are our own worst enemies.

    As the "acting White" problem reveals, everything about the education system isn't "white." Our children must be able to read with comprehension, use math and technology to solve complex problems, and master critical thinking to develop our potential for "our interests." Any education system that doesn't equip our children with these skills is an exercise in futility.

    I wish we would throw away the crutch that "European images, ideals, and institutions as the central and supreme frame of reference and relevance" is the root of our problem. We live in the Information Age. There is more information about Black cultural heritage than ever before. As the writer observed, "contributing without properly correcting the end-uses" is the challenge for Black Educators. There are no mythical "Black Leaders" who are going to make those corrections. We must do it ourselves at the grassroots level.

    Finally, here is the real challenge. We must do both -- instill in our children a correct self-image, AND close the achievement gap. Anyone who says we cannot, is already defeated. We need to quit blaming others, and take charge of our destiny. Those who are unable or unwilling should be left behind.

    We need to move forward with a new Black consciousness of excellence and achievement in the 21st century built on pride in the Black achievements of antiquity.

    Roger Madison
  • DMV
    Excellent article, Ezra. I love your book, "Pawned Sovereignty" , by the way. I'll have to purchase the other book as well. Baba Olatunji
  • West
    This article truly speaks to the mass consciousness which is the current reality. I will definitely be reading your books.
  • hetep,

    you must clearly understand that if they won't treat you right, what makes you think they will teach you right? if it were in my best interest to maintain something that i deemed vunerable at the hands of a threat, i'd do the same damned thing oprress that which i see as a threat. therefore, why would you expect them crackas to teach our children what you so foolhardedly expect of them, when it is all about the maintenance of white supremacy? or do you not understand what that is? what is so amazing sometimes, if it is really an amazement at all, is that the black folk who profess all the different types of skilled degrees and intellectual prowess haven't the slightest clue of what os really going on. they are some of the most naive and foolish black folk in the united snakes of amerikkka. or maybe you think white folk are gonna wake up one day and do a three hundred and sixty degree turn and start treating and teaching our children the same as their own. look! get your wrecking ball or move aside!

    uhuru sasa (freedom now)!
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