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Once upon a time, Egyptians built the first universities this world has ever seen.

Scholarship was the focus and ignorance was disdained. All Egyptians weren’t savants, to be sure, but it’s safe to say they lived in a culture that shunned a lack of achievement.

Today, in a different milieu, longitude and latitude, scholarship is the focus of divide. A deep gulf of educational achievement separates many within the black race.

Formal education vs. non-formal education. The conversation that gains longer legs as the educational gap inside and between races increase. This debate won’t end smoothly.

Wait, why is this even a debate?

Each side of this dualistic affair blames the other for the lack of racial progress. The formalized educational crowd espouses academic achievement as a spur to betterment. Speak proper grammar. Spell the words right. Get your degree and provide for your family.

The non-formalized educational crowd believes academia is a fool’s paradise. A tool for the Man to control the African mind. A distraction to what’s really important. Assimilation incarnate.

I admit this might be a straw man argument, so let’s dig a bit deeper. Consider the story of an African-American male was born into a middle class family. Growing up, he sees nothing but African artifacts around the house. African garb. African-centered literature. Parents have visited Africa multiple times. Africa, Africa, Africa. The boy goes to public school with predominantly black people up until college.

Then he goes to an Historically White College and University for undergrad. Knocks that down. Then it’s to another for graduate school. Another TKO. No longer a boy, he’s a man ready to conquer the world with a collage of mental footnotes and experiences to buttress him.

Some of his friends congratulate him. But his grasp of Shakespearean and Orwellian concepts often puts him at odds with a community who’d rather sneer at those authors than build upon them. A community content with punching holes in an already fishnet-like system. America is ripe for such mindsets.

So the acquisition of a master’s degree from a reputable university doesn’t evoke admiration. It brings wrath.

“Now, you’re just another one of them.”

“Skip Gates and Bill Cosby got advanced degrees too. And look at them. Just two brothers who don’t have a clue of what’s going on.”

“There’s nothing more dangerous than a Negro with a European education.”

Their points would be legitimate if there wasn’t an abundance of evidence to controvert them. Carter G. Woodson went to Harvard. So did DuBois. Booker T. Washington, who DuBois dubbed as the “Great Accommodator,” even went to Hampton University before establishing Tuskegee Institute. Huey Newton got a college degree. Angela Davis earned a few degrees. Some guy named King also excelled in the academy. Paul Robeson. Cheik Anta Diop. Asa Hilliard. All black minds educated in “white” universities.

So where’s the basis that academia is a problem? It certainly isn’t backed up by numbers: African-Americans aren’t acquiring degrees at nearly the same pace as their racial counterparts. If anything, one could make a successful argument that more formalized education is necessary.

The discipline that it requires. The access to resources it provides. The collaboration with those outside one’s customary group. Learning the language of corporations so that one doesn’t get tripped up by “fine print.”

What good is it to synthesize the rituals of the Dogons if you can’t break down a Congressional Budget Office report? Knowing the story of Huey Newton and Geronimo Pratt is cool, but so is knowing the difference between an operating and capital expense. Or how to read a cashflow statement. Or how to accurately filter and cite sources for validity.

Many black people have been programmed into regarding everything that “originated” in Europe or by Europeans as anti-black. As if Historically Black College and Universities couldn’t perpetuate white supremacy or ineptitude. As if HWCUs have a monopoly on brainwashing. As if HWCU’s are powerful enough to smite the “extra” education one receives outside the institution.

This programming enables a black person to label another black person who can breakdown, say, the theory of differential association, as a part of the Euro-system.

But let’s turn that mindset on its head. Greece is credited with being the rock upon which Western civilization was built. But Socrates, Pythagoras and Herodutus, identified as icons of Greek philosophy, stated that they and other philosophers studied and learned that knowledge in Egyptians schools. They would return to Greece as the “first philosophers.” So if thought and logic and university scholarship began in Africa, then it follows that university education, wherever it’s practiced, is paying homage to Africa in the highest manner.

Of course, schools are used to perpetuate the agenda of the dominant culture. There are numerous examples that proves that a degree can be used to confer more a status than anything substantive for a community. Is there is a Negrolectual crisis in America? No doubt. Knowledge gleaned within a school has to be supplemented with “independent” study for maximum effect.

To label black academicians as a monolith is lazy at best and cowardice at worse. Schools aren’t just handing out degrees like brochures. They are earned. The guy in the story isn’t less aware because of his success in the “white man’s setting,” just as the autodidact isn’t more conscious because he/she learned outside a brick-and-mortar establishment. Both are clueless if they don’t use their successes to address and better their household and community.

There are many paths to a purpose. Both sides would benefit by drawing from each other to move the chains (in football vernacular) of progress. More succinctly, both sides have to draw from each other. There are facts on the ground that eludes the reach of a university, as there are theories and principles in a school library and setting that goes beyond the reach of the street.

Information, like medicine, come in different varieties. Whether that information comes in a pill or bottle is irrelevant if action doesn’t follow.

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  • Found this publication by chance, I may not be the ‘target audienc’ but I soooo like it here. Am known to read everything and anything (even the so called ‘women’s’0 magazines) and the few articles I’ve read just interest and make me thin. Something South Africa misses dearly. I think all your articles seem to do something to or for the mind that seeks growth. Big up. Okuhle kodwa! (thats isiZulu for ‘All the best!’)

  • Meli

    Nice article. Too many times I have had people in my life try to make me feel as if I am a sellout cause I went to college. At first I took it to heart but as time went on I came to the conclusion that I need to follow my own path and not give hateful people that “claim” to be about the community the time of day. For the most part they just talk a lot of ish and don’t do a d*mn thing.

    The Higher Education system is not perfect and it is not for everyone, but like anything else in life it is what you make of it. Same goes if you decide college is not for you, make the most of every learning experience even if it is not in a structured setting it will help you down the line.

  • Albany State teacher

    Education is truly the great equalizer. The school’s job is to give you the tools and foundation to build upon for success. It is then up to you, the individual, to go out and make a difference in the community and provide for your family. If you have not first put yourself in a situation to adequetely provide for yourself or your family, then you can’t possibly chip away at the problems in our communities. Education allows you to be put in that good situation which is why it is ever so important. You can assimilate and still keep your own identity—the choice is yours. Sitting on the corner preaching about what the “Man” has done to us is not even the issue any more!!! It is now what we are doing to ourselves that matter. Crime, drug abuse, murder, high prison numbers, high drop out rate, high teenage pregnancies, low test scores, these social ills rest squarely OUR shoulders. The “MAN” did not cause this bulls**t, and it is up to us as a black people to fix it. If there are no jobs, the blacks with money need to create some in major way! Why arent there some black oil companies and black auto plants and other lucrative businesses that generate money on a larger platform. Not some damn record company or some clothing line. The “Blackstreet Wallstreet” of yesteryears needs to be recreated. It can be done if we as a people can pool our resources and then pull together. It can be done!!! Despite the Holocaust, the Jews have been very successful in America and for whatever reason are some of the most despised people on earth. Despite being surrounded by hate and prejudice, they made it. Despite slavery, Jim Crowe and anything else binding us to poverty and ignorance, we as a people have made it. Now we are at a downward spiral of regretion that must be stopped and education is the answer!!!