This issue marks the eighth annual Black History supplement, and focuses on the education of African-Americans, past, present and future. We begin this issue by sharing the historical efforts that contributed to the education of African-Americans in Maryland. An active role was played by churches, which provided not only educational facilities, but personnel and financial resources.
Of the many church schools started in the early 1800s, Bethel African-Methodist Episcopal Church is among those still with us today, although its existence has not been continuous. Bethel also runs one of three state-certified private elementary schools. The other two are the Unseld School and the New Psalmist Christian School. We visited all three and share their stories with you.
As we look forward to the year 2000 and the need for quality education, we must examine our past and our present. The questions we must raise include what needs must be addressed and by what means.
Clearly, our educational system as it now exists is failing to prepare our community to compete academically, technically and economically.
For the purposes of this issue I read through a number of works looking for a consensus of what reforms need to be put in place in order to address the inadequacies of our education system.
The most intriguing was the "State of Black America, 1991" a publication of the National Urban League. It points out that the gap between the academic systems serving predominantly black and white communities continue to widen. Inadequacies include a shortage of staff, a shrinking pool of qualified black teachers, decaying urban infrastructures, the abandonment of black and minority children to antiquated, substandard school facilities, and the lack of proper educational materials.
According to the report, the small number of black male teachers in the school system has come at a time when single, female-parented households have become dominant. Yet black boys need the positive male influence a black male teacher can wield.
The report acknowledges that black-dominated school systems suffer the greatest impact of the nation's economic crisis, and the "structural inequalities of the American economic system" can create prison walls for young people who are not taught marketable skills.
Among the challenges offered by the National Urban League was for America to recognize that its ideals and fate are as inextricably interwined with the fate of its poor and non-white children as with its privileged and white ones.
The report also called for community involvement in the educational system to include church, parents, extended families, civic leaders and the business community.
The American educational system, states the report, also faces a moral dilemma. "It fails to build the kind of self-esteem that energizes students to pursue academic opportunities, perform with high expectations of themselves, develop their natural talents and choose challenging careers consistent with the economic future of our community," the report says.
I suggest that this finding is directly tied to our inability to adequately teach cultural differences without demeaning or suggesting that one race is better than another. "It is important," said W.E.B. Dubois (1868-1963), a writer and a pioneer in the civil rights struggle, "to include one's social heritage in the educational process. The community must be able to take hold of its individuals and give them such a social heritage, social teachings, and such compelling social customs as will force them along the lines of progress, and not into the great forest of death."
Interestingly, the Urban League report is no different from the 1986 report by 22 black leaders of Baltimore who made 11 suggestions for improving education in a document entitled "Actions for an Empowered Community."
I believe that from focusing on the problems facing our educational system, better schooling will emerge.
We must also recognize that we have passed the planning stage. Our focus now should be on action, implementation, mobilization, involvement and availability.