What We Are About

“We have closed every avenue by which light may enter their minds.  If we could only destroy their ability to see the light, then our work would be complete.”

 (Henry Berry, Virginia House of Representatives, Browder, 1996)

These were the sentiments and beliefs about enslaved Africans that prevailed in the 19th century and some believe, exist today in the minds of many decision makers hence the reason why today’s schools are what they are. Woodlawn Community School takes this statement very seriously because we believe there are people who have these same sentiments about educating people of color, particularly, children of African descent. The plight of the urban American schools has been documented by numerous writers and researchers, Hilliard, Akbar, Kozol, Gatto, and many more.

In view of the above, we dare to ask: What is the purpose of schooling today? More specifically, what ought to be the purpose of education for people of African descent globally? Many of our children Kozol suggests “have no feeling of belonging to America” because they have “tuned the schools out.”

Dr. DuBois has suggested that: “Education must not only teach work. Education must teach life.” We subscribe to that concept for school must indeed teach life. We are teaching life through the Virtues of Ma’at and the Nguzo Saba.

We believe that a truly educated African American should not only know the prescribed “core curriculum,” but must also have a clear understanding of self as a human being as manifested in the virtues of Ma’at. This person must fully understand and appreciate our ancestors’ contributions to the world’s civilization and cultures. Such a person will also subscribe to the Nguzo Saba, Odu Ifa, SBA and all other concepts that go to make life a fulfilling experience. This must not be construed to mean the exclusion of enlightened Western (Eurocentric) education but rather, an important addition to the global knowledge base. As Kwame Nkrumah noted: 
“We have made our contribution to the fund of human knowledge by extending the frontiers of art, culture and spiritual values.”

For us to have “a truly educated African American, we have to change the way we teach. We have to redefine “teaching.” At Woodlawn we view teaching metaphorically as sculpting, where, “by subtraction of irrelevant or excess material, an image already locked in the stone is enabled to emerge.” Teachers at Woodlawn have an obligation to unlock the genius which is natural to all children. They understand that their responsibilities include “enlarging our children’s power and not to diminish it.”

As educators, we understand that meaning and not disconnected facts are what we human beings need and constantly seek in order to make sense of our world. We therefore, educate our children about the natural order of the universe and their personal mission in it. We educate them to understand that they are important in the scheme of the universe – that they have a right to be here – that their presence is in perfect harmony with the universe and that their actions must justify and illuminate the past, the present, as well as the future.

This places additional responsibility on educators of African-American children for, teachers who have “no sense of where African people are in the world, and no sense of African culture will be limited in their ability to understand their students. Such teachers see the history of the students in mere episodic terms and are unable to place students in proper context. This results in varying degrees of alienation of students from school experiences; the impairment of communication, a reduction in motivation and effort, and low achievement.” 

Our goal at Woodlawn is to change course by making our teachers, students and parents, conscious of the problem in order to effectively combat it. In other words, for us to change our present condition as a people, we must decolonize our minds. To reach our fullest potential mentally, physically and spiritually, as African people, we must wake up and take on the lifetime responsibility to unlearn and critically examine what we know. As Ayi Kwei Armah rightly put it, “…whoever wants to be a healer must first take leave of the world he’s grown up in before his mind is freed for learning.” We at Woodlawn Community School, believing that education is about truth, will continue to do just that. Hotep!