The seller and the sold

By Mumia Abu-Jamal from death row

They saw themselves as others had seen them.
They had been formed by the images made of them
by those who had the deepest necessity to despise them.

-JAMES BALDWIN, "Notes of a Native Son"

Sometimes, an honest examination of the institutions of a society tells
us deep truths about the nature of that society. Such an examination
reveals raw, uncomfortable and hidden truths about what the unwritten
rules are, and why.

When we examine the way that public schools have responded to the
challenge of educating African-American children, we must conclude that
the education of millions of such children is not the real priority of
this society. Millions of such children emerge from public schools with
little notion of their place in the world, or how to move through the
society with sanity, with life-affirming rewards and some semblance of

They leave, far too often, early and ungraduated. Others may graduate,
but their achievements are slighted because of the light and undemanding
nature of the studies. Whether one has graduated or not is not the mark
of whether one is educated or not. Far too often, young Blacks are
taught, if anything, how to get a menial job; how to work for others;
how to "sell" some meager skill.

Meanwhile, in schools where the well-to-do live, the young are taught
critical thinking; how to ask the right questions. Indeed, to question!
They are taught not how to sell themselves, but how to produce things to
be bought by others, to secure and amass wealth.

What the American school system is, is a class-bound structure that
reproduces itself in the next generation.

One generation is being trained to follow; the other generation is being
taught how to lead. In such a system, how can we wonder why things are
unchanged, from generation to generation?

As the late educator Murray Levin suggested in one of his last books on
the dearth of instruction in Black and Latino schools in Roxbury,
"Oppression is the lesson."

Why shouldn't children, in a nation that claims to love liberty, be
taught freedom?

Instead, they are conditioned to obey, to follow orders, to not rock the
boat, to be ... passive.

True education awakens, it does not darken the windows of perception.
True education enlivens, it does not dull the spirit.

This is what the elders of every civilization on Earth have struggled to
do. They tried to build young people who could take on the tasks of
defending, building and expanding the community.

In this new century, there are too many youngsters who are seen as
expendable. They are presumed to be ignorant. They are left to rot on
the vine of life, untaught and unproductive.

In a truly humanistic society, no person is seen as expendable.

In a society said to be based on "rugged individualism," each individual
is valued, and given the materials necessary to make a valuable
contribution to the whole.

That isn't happening now, and it is truly a scandal.

Young people should be given, "as a social duty," the wherewithal to
grow in knowledge and understanding of the world in which we live. They
are to be accorded a history that reflects their place in the world that
is, and the world to come.

To fail to do so is to commit a kind of social suicide. It is cruel. It
is stupid. It is wrong.

If public schools are not functioning in this country, then it is
incumbent upon this country to provide the materials necessary to
transform the problematic present into a system of promise.

Anyone who questions the conditions of urban school districts should
only peruse a copy of Jonathan Kozol's "Savage Inequalities." Schools
shouldn't reproduce social and class inequities, but work to eradicate
them. If they fail to do this, then they merely reproduce the errors of
the past, and leave serious work undone, for generations yet unborn.

Copyright 2003 Mumia Abu-Jamal

To download Mp3's of Mumia's commentaries visit
www.prisonradio.org or www.fsrn.org

Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of four books:

  • Faith of our fathers:
    An examination of the spiritual life of African and African American People
  • Live from Death Row
  • Death Blossoms
  • All Things Censored.

Write to Mumia directly at:
Mumia Abu-Jamal AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370