“This Black people of America, who have been swallowed symbolically by the White slave-master and his children, must now be brought out of this race of people and be taught the knowledge of their own.”
–The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, “Message to the Blackman”
“Education is supposed to be the proper cultivation of the gifts and talents of the individual through the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge satisfies our natural thirst for gaining that which will make us one with our Maker. So true education cultivates the person—mind, body and spirit—by bringing us closer to fulfilling our purpose for being, which is to reflect Allah (God).” –Minister Louis Farrakhan, “A Torchlight For America”
There was a time when Black children were taught exclusively by Black teachers. Then came the 1954 Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education ruling that “separate but equal” education was unconstitutional and allowing Black children to go to White schools. But the fallout hurt Black students and Black educators.
Research by Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick in “The Ugly Backlash to Brown v. Board of Ed That No One Talks About,” shows that 100,000 highly qualified Black principals and teachers were summarily fired. White superintendents, school boards, and parents did not want Black teachers in their children’s classrooms. Neither did they want Black principals leading schools and supervising White teachers.
Fast forward to 2022. Black children going to school with White children has failed to provide Black families with thriving well-resourced educational environments, relevant curriculum, safety and freedom from White supremacy.
Nearly 80 percent of public-school teachers are White while more than half of public schools are filled with children of color. However, studies show that Black teachers produce better academic and behavioral outcomes for Black students compared to their White counterparts.
“We’ve known for a long time the significance of a Black educator. Philadelphia’s Caroline LeCount talked about more Black educators for Black students back in the 1800s,” Sharif El-Mekki, founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development, told The Final Call. “Black students who have Black teachers have a higher sense of belongingness, better grades, better attendance, better test scores, and are more likely to see a curriculum that isn’t disrespectful, dismissive or obliterates Black contributions,” he said.
“They’ll see less racism in the content they’re being taught. Black teachers have higher expectations for their students, and help students reach their goals. There are higher levels of support with a Black teacher, families are more respected and, partner with things happening in the school.”
Mr. El Mekki explained research shows the benefits of having a Black teacher are so significant that students who had a single Black teacher were more likely to go to college, more likely to graduate high school, and less likely to drop out. Black boys in poverty, who had a single Black teacher, were up to 39 percent less likely to drop out and 29 percent more likely to enroll in college.
A major concern for parents is the high rate of suspension and expulsions for Black children. Research by the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights on school suspension, and expulsions found that Black boys make up eight percent of public school enrollment, but they were 25 percent of the boys suspended out of school. Black girls were eight percent of enrollment, but 14 percent of the girls suspended from school. Black children in public schools also face increased school-based arrests.
“With a Black teacher, Black students are less likely to be disciplined unfairly, and over policed. They are less likely to be suspended, expelled, or even referred for disciplinary issues. Further, Black students on the academic side are more likely to have access to rigorous courses with Black teachers,” said Mr. El Mekki.
Racism abounds in public classrooms. A study by the Upjohn Institute found that White teachers were less likely than Black ones to predict that their Black students would go on to graduate from college. Research has also found that on average, Black students have lower test scores than White students, they attend schools with fewer resources, and they are less likely to graduate from high school and college.
Dr. Candyce Briggs is an independent contractor school psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of Iowa. “There’s such an under-representation of children actually seeing people in education that look like them. To go to a school that is centered around you, that focuses on your identity is so crucial to a lot of kids and their perceptions of how they feel about themselves,” she told The Final Call.
“If I as a child had an opportunity to see more staff that looked like me, but then also practices traditions and cultures that really celebrate me, my educational experience would have been phenomenal.”
Representation matters. Research shows Black students not only do better with a Black teacher, but the teacher’s expectations are higher for the Black students. What teachers think and expect from their students becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 1968 researchers gave teachers a list of the students they said were most likely to make the most progress that year, based on an intelligence test results. At the end of the year, they tested the students again. Not surprisingly, at least in the first and second grades, the students on the researchers’ list made the greatest intelligence gains.
What the teachers didn’t know was that the students’ names were randomly selected not because they scored higher on an intelligence test than their peers. The teachers believed they were most likely to make progress, and possibly treated them differently as a result. Many White teachers, untrained to recognize their own implicit bias towards Black people in general and Black children specifically, find themselves reproducing racial inequality.
“When we talk about education, we know that it does three things for them. It gives them a sense of identity. That is, it tells them who they are and how they have value and worth in the world. It gives them the idea of potentiality, what they can become because they see an educator looking like them. Then they can also be able to understand what they can become. The third issue is that typically the educator will be able to educate in a culturally relevant perspective,” Dr. Kevin Washington, chair of the Department of Sociology and Psychology at Grambling State University, told The Final Call.
“A connection will be made between the student and the teacher or the learner. The instructor will not simply do information or content transmission, but also the transmission of cultural identity, purpose, and direction. It is important then for children to have an African-centered education, that gives students a sense of cultural heritage,” he said.
Dr. Washington explained that having Black teachers is even valuable to the way a student holds themselves in class. Seeing Black teachers tells students they have value, worth and brilliance that can be seen. Black teachers can see the potentiality of students throughout the entire process, and they work hard to bring that out. Therefore, students feel that they are connected in the context of education. Further, that it is doing its true purpose, which is to bring out the existing high potential rather than simply the transmission of information.
The fundamental philosophies of Western civilization are rooted in White supremacy, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam pointed out in his book, “A Torchlight For America.”
“You can’t bring a Black child into that kind of educational environment and produce a child who loves and respects itself. You produce a child who bows down to White people and looks at White people as being God. I’m not saying it’s wrong to respect another human being, but it is totally inappropriate to worship another human being—who is no better than yourself—as though they are a god beside Allah (God),” the Minister wrote.
When the Nation of Islam started in the 1930’s, the Muslim followers of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad were instructed to take their children out of the public school system and educate them at home. In 1931, a truant officer knocked on the door of the then Elijah Poole and his wife Clara. The officer demanded that they send their children back to the Detroit Public Schools. They, as well as other Muslim families, refused. The early Muslim pioneers established an independent school system for their children.
In 1934 the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and 18 instructors at the University of Islam were found not guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors. However, the Muslim families paid a high price to educate their own children. Min. Farrakhan reestablished Muhammad University of Islam as he worked to rebuild the work of his teacher, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad.
“We need our own teachers because we need those with a like mind, a desire to give children what they need,” said Brother Shahid Muhammad, who teaches math at Muhammad University of Islam in Chicago. Black teachers understand the learning styles of Black students, he explained. “You have a better chance of that teacher having a love for the students, and a desire to see the students excel,” said Bro. Shahid Muhammad.
“The enemy’s school system is centered around White supremacy. Many European teachers don’t see Black students in the right light. They don’t see them as having the ability to excel because of White supremacy, racism and a racist mind. When Black children are in the classroom with Black teachers, they tend to have a better outlook, a more positive outlook of their own students.”
(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)