The Students Got Something to Say A Review of Fugitive Pedagogy, Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching – Chapter 6

SUMMARY: Students are a product of their learning or unlearning. Chapter 6 shows that for Black students, Black schools with Black teachers teaching truth from the work of Black scholars directly impacted the work of those Black students; many of whom were key activists during the civil rights movement. Black students, with Black teachers and curricula rooted in truth from Black scholarship can fuel the next civil rights movement led by this current generation of students.

I’ll never forget that fateful day when Andre 3000, one-half of the now iconic group Outkast, stood before a bewildered and booing audience at the Source Awards in 1995 and told the world that “the South got something to say.”

Like Andre 3000, Black students stand before an anti-Black society that levees charges of incompetence and negligence against schools and classrooms led by Black educators and yet those Black have something to say in the face of those attacks. What they have to say is that they credit Black educators with their progress and with helping to instill within them with a sense of identity and pride about being Black.

Research backs that up.

This no different from decades before when Black students and Black teachers engaged in fugitive education thanks to the efforts of Dr. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

Like Black students and educators today, those students and educators held a shared vulnerability, that each were bound by the collective goal in achieving freedom by rooting themselves in the fugitive struggle of teaching and learning.

Dr. Givens shares the account of James Weldon Johnson who described the concept between he and his students in Georgia in the 1890’s, “In an instant’s reflection I could realize that they were me, and I was they; that a force stronger than blood made us one.” Dr. Givens shares the account of John Bracey who, with his peers, participated in his teacher’s subversive pedagogy – singing both the Star-Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice when white folks appeared at their school and only singing the latter when no white folks were around.

In chapter six, Dr. Givens spoke of the Black learning aesthetic formalized by Dr. Woodson in his textbooks, journals, and magazines that challenged the master narrative of Black humanity and Black existence while equipping both students and teachers with the tools to analyze the condition of Black people according to history.

Dr. Woodson’s work played out in real-time as shared in the testimonies of the late John Lewis and Dr. Angela Davis. The former Congressman remarked that his teachers were “unbelievable” and would instruct him to “cut out photos of great African Americans for Negro History Week.” Davis remarked how Negro History Week themes “was always, whether explicitly or implicitly, that of resistance to the status quo of racism.”

At the end of the chapter, Dr. Givens speaks to the heart of the meaning of what Black student witness and participation in fugitive education within the nexus of the Black experience:

The fugitive learning of Black students was a dress rehearsal. It was preparation and training for the ‘mission of Negro children.’ Student participation in the subversive politics of Black children during the 19th century up through Woodson’s program on ‘Negro life and history’ anticipated and prefigured Black students’ active involvement in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the horizon.”

Instilling pride and identity within Black children by way of the classroom is instilling purpose of innovation within them by way of confronting an anti-Black world. That only happens with a fugitive education. Such an education facilitated the emergence of change agents in the form of activists, politicians, and educators.

Black children certainly do have something to say about issues such as police brutality, economic inequities, and the impact of COVID-19—all within a white supremacist social order. Our role is to provide them with the tools to say it with clarity and conviction.

Let’s do just that.


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