As people finally rally for Black lives, we need to ensure Black education matters, too
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Just a couple hundred years ago, in much of the United States, teaching African Americans to read and write was illegal. In the antebellum south, this was part of a strategy to maintain racist, unjust systems. There was good reason for white enslavers to see Black Americans' literacy as a threat. Inspirational abolitionist texts brought uprisings to the Caribbean, and deep biblical readings led Nat Turner to revolt in Virginia.

Slavery ended well over a century ago, so the slave codes that outlawed teaching African Americans to read should be relics of the past. However, as a woman of color and educator, I see that their spirit lives on today.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), fewer than one in five African-American 12th graders reach reading proficiency, and Black students fared far worse than all other racial and ethnic groups that NAEP tested. The percentage of white seniors "at or above proficiency" was nearly three times that of Black seniors. Despite the immensity of African-American teens' literacy crisis and its role in their oppression as adults, we're doing little to address it.



A recent court case in Detroit was a small step in the right direction toward change. This midwestern metropolis has the highest proportion of Black residents of any U.S. city. Over 80% of its population is African American, and 97% of its public schools' students are people of color. These kids don't have access to adequate education. This may be caused by structural racism, or mismanagement, or both. In 2018 seven Motor City students looked to the law for help. They brought a class action suit charging that the state of Michigan, which manages the city's schools, was violating their constitutional right to an education that provides basic literacy. The case points out that reading and writing competency, which most Detroit students lack, is required to participate in society.

After being dismissed in a lower court in 2018, a few months ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit sided with the students and asserted that they do have a right to literacy. This is a great first step towards educational equity, but the court's ruling doesn't go far enough in its assertion that public education must "provide access to a foundational level of literacy." It needs to do a lot more than that. "Foundational literacy" won't suffice for participation in our democracy and 21st century economy. Much higher reading levels will be necessary.

In the fall, then presidential candidate Andrew Yang warned that the robots are coming. They're only coming for some of us, though. The first jobs to get automated won't be those of lawyer or executive—they'll be those that don't require complex reading and thought, jobs like driver and cashier to which nonreaders are relegated. Thus, a Brookings report that Black workers' jobs are at higher risk from technological advances than those of whites isn't surprising, given the state of Black students' literacy and their subsequently limited career opportunities. Brookings' Automation and Artificial Intelligence found that African-American "workers are concentrated in more automatable occupations."

Yang dropped out of the race months ago. He won't save us from a jarring Fourth Industrial Revolution or unequal education. It's unclear if the current democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, can either.

In February, the New York Times reported on Biden's commentary on African-Americans' literacy. He noted the problem that Black "parents can't read or write." I'm still waiting to hear his solution.

Expecting politicians, and even education leaders, who are overwhelmingly white, to take up this issue without external pressure is unrealistic. It's taking weeks of daily protests to force us to reassess law enforcement's policing of Black bodies. Similarly, it will take our persistent pressure on government and school-district heads to push them to reexamine the education of young Black minds. Equal schooling and, thus, equal opportunity are an integral component of antiracism.

As the rallying cry that Black Lives Matter grows louder and louder in diverse communities around the country, it needs to be amended. It's time to demand that Black education matter too.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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