Seeing With a Rigorous Sight: A Review of Fugitive Pedagogy, Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching – Chapter 3

SUMMARY: In order to provide students with what they need in the classroom, teacher must acknowledge the realities of their experiences outside the classroom. Chapter 3 serves as a helpful reminder that educators best serve Black students when they position their pedagogy to center on the experiences and history of Black people. Teaching Black students absent in acknowledgment of who they are is educational malpractice.

Dr. Woodson once said, “There would be no lynching if it didn’t start in the schoolroom.”

According to Dr. Jarvis Givens, Woodson was referring to the idea of anti-Black curricular violence, which is the use of curricula to manifest impoverished perspectives of Black culture, history and life; diminishing the role of Black people in American history and American cultural formation.

Sadly, this same anti-Black curricular violence keeps happening to Black children in the American public school system today.

However, when I look around, I see Black culture and Black history all around. There are an untold amount of Africanisms found in the words we say, the food we eat and the expressions we give. I see Black history as I ride through Germantown on the way to Uncle Bobbies to “steal a meetin,” or anywhere in Philadelphia for that matter. Certainly, the latest social media trends are engineered by Black genius.

In the words of Langston Hughes, I, too, am America.

Thus Dr. Woodson was concerned with the miseducation of Black people. Dr. Woodson asserted that “The chief difficulty with the education of the Negro is that it has been largely imitation resulting in the enslavement of his mind… [and that] the education of any people should begin with the people themselves.”

With that thought in mind, chapter 3 is where Dr. Givens introduces us to the notion of rigorous sight in Black education:

“A central objective of education must be to support students in thinking critically about their social and historical realities. This required a conceptual engagement with Black Americans’ lived experiences, a practice of study that developed a disciplined and vigilant mode of intellectual inquiry into power and anti-Blackness, as well as the life and culture of Black people” (p100-101).

Black people were miseducated because education was meant to cause one to “become blind to the Negro.” Rigorous sight was to illuminate the humanity of the Negro so that he/she could recognize their oppression, their condition, their history. Rigorous sight is about Black children seeing critically to think critically that they may come into the knowledge of truth.

Dr. Givens asserts that students need to have an awareness of the injustice surrounding them and be informed that these things were systematically and historically derived. What white supremacy does is facilitate the conditions of Black oppression that maintains the lie of Black inferiority. For example, the belief that Black people experiencing poverty do so because they failed to work hard.

White supremacy works the opposite way as well, to say that white children who can afford private tutoring is because their parents work hard – this was recently said by the British Prime Minister, but I digress.

Woodson, and Givens by extension, are providing educators with a pedagogy and praxis that is rooted in the Black Radical Tradition. Classroom content must be utilized in such a way that Black children are exposed to the truth of the African American experience, and not merely to know it intimately but specifically to as James Baldwin said, to help America become a nation.

We should all take heed.

What do you think?

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