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Jan/Feb 2004 Vol 1/Issue 1

baobab.gif

One of the longest living trees on Earth, the Baobab of the African savannas, is a sacred symbol revered for its long life and many uses which have sustained African peoples since the beginning of time.

The Tree of Life, as it is often referred to, grows 75 feet tall with an enormous trunk 60 feet in circumference. Some of these noble giants are 2000 years old, and for generations have served as meeting places for villages to discuss community matters, relate the news of the day and to tell stories.


African-American Autodidacts

An autodidact is a self-taught person and throughout the history of Africans on these shores, the legacy of self-learning has been an integral part of African-American culture. Historically, African Americans had to rely upon God and His ability to water and nurture the seed of genius within, for there were many written laws and customs restricting access to resources based on race, skin color and gender. However, what was meant to be a stumbling block was used by God as a blessing in disguise and sparked the creative genius of many African Americans. African-American Autodidacts, outside of traditional schools and curriculums of the day, were able to acquire various bodies of knowledge, expand on them and create something new.

January and February are the traditional months when our diverse nation reflects on the contributions of African Americans, but many of us are learning to celebrate our heritage on a daily basis. We are realizing that the pursuit of the American Dream must be redefined to ensure our children are spiritually healthy and whole. Writing in 1933, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the annual celebration of Black History, warned us even then, that
"The educational system as it has developed both in Europe and America [is] an antiquated process which does not hit the mark even in the case of the needs of the white man himself. If the white man wants to hold on to it, let him do so; but the Negro, so far as he is able, should develop and carry out a program of his own."

And more of us are doing just that, as African Americans represent the fastest growing segment of the homeschooling community. Like the African-American Autodidacts of the past, many today find the status quo, no longer acceptable, and realize as Dr. Woodson foretold,
"The Negro will never be able to show all of his originality as long as his efforts are directed from without by those who socially proscribe him. Such friends will unconsciously keep him in the ghetto...Those who take the position to the contrary have the idea that education is merely a process of imparting information. One who can give out these things or devise an easy plan for so doing, then, is an educator. In a sense this is true, but it accounts for most of the troubles of the Negro. Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better, but the instruction so far given Negroes in colleges and universities has worked to the contrary."

As our nation celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and Black History Month, let us remember the words of Dr. Woodson, "The education of any people should begin with the people themselves" and take courage and encouragement from the examples of the lives of those who went before us. The African-American Autodidacts of the past all had important people in their lives that blessed them along the way, sharing their knowledge, their encouragement as well as emotional and financial support. Likewise, this can be a model for modern parents to encourage our children's God-given talents as they explore the world around them.

America owes gratitude to many lesser-known African Americans who have, despite obstacles placed in their way, followed their gifts and were uniquely used by God to contribute to the quality of life that we are blessed to enjoy. African Americans such as:
Alexander Miles, who patented the elevator;
Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the first successful open heart surgery;
Meredith Gourdine, who invented a method of converting gas into electricity for everyday use;
Garrett Morgan, who patented the automatic traffic signal;
John Standard, inventor of the refrigerator;
Clarence Nokes, inventor of the lawnmower;
Harry Hopkins, who patented the hearing aid; and
W.B. Purvis, creator of the fountain pen.


It's a good time to reread, or read for the first time, the American Classic written over 70 years ago...

Mis-Education of the
                                       Negro
Mis-Education of the Negro



Study questions from Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu:

1. What is the difference between training and education?

2. What must be done to convince African-American youth to associate being smart with being Black?

3. How can we eliminate the achievement gap between African-American and White students?

Jan/Feb 2004 Vol 1/Issue 1

S. Courtney Walton lives and learns in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and four children. An advocate of Unschooling, Courtney is the founder of African-American Unschoolers, serves as the Unschooling Advisor for the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance and writes frequently about her family's unschooling adventures in her column Real Living...Real Learning with S. Courtney Walton for The Good News Herald in St. Louis, Missouri.