Op-EdOpinion

COLLINS: Food for Thought for the 2020 Graduate

Congrats to the Class of 2020 for reaching a critical stage of their academic career, whether it be graduation from high school, college, or whatever else, during what’s been one of the most uncertain times in recent history. Unfortunately for those at the high school level who’ve long waited for this moment, the coronavirus pandemic and the abrupt halt to economic and social activity that have occurred, have shattered any hopes of a proper celebration resembling the experiences of graduates of yesteryear.

At the risk of sounding insensitive, I argue that forgoing a night of dancing at the prom, that oh-so coveted walk across the stage and the bevy of cookouts later this summer should count among the very least of 2020 graduates’ problems. If anything, celebrants should be more concerned about entering society without a concrete plan or having secured critical thinking skills needed at a time when the job market has become increasingly volatile — favoring those who are both innovative and mindful of how to capitalize on these unforeseen changes.

Today’s graduates cannot be blamed for having come this far without the proper tools to do for themselves. Rather, the fault rests at the feet of the schools and teachers who, often with the support of their unsuspecting parents and guardians, have fostered a culture of low expectations from the very moment that youth began their academic careers. Even as the signs of an impending global crisis smacked them in their faces, via the election of Donald J. Trump during their freshman year, teachers and administrators, some of whom voted for the overtly racist reality television star, continued to coddle them with credit recovery, social promotion and the like as part of an effort to satiate public and public charter schools’ needs to look good on paper.

The race among these fraudulent institutions for recognition, or to at least stay afloat in a system of negligible benefit to African children, has watered down the quality of education to the point that a significant portion of young people who will attain their high school diplomas won’t be able to put together a properly-written paragraph, let alone a well-researched essay, about the implications of the coronavirus pandemic and other catastrophic events preceding it.

Even worse, few, if any, people have taken the time to help students understand the value and practical use of the core subjects they are learning. In compartmentalizing their education, traditional school systems have fallen short in helping students explore career options that would be of great benefit to not just themselves but their communities and the global African nation.

As many people are finally coming around to understand and acknowledge, college isn’t for everyone — and that’s not necessarily bad. Every child serves a purpose, and facilitating the unity of the African nation, in part, means helping each of them find their special place within it as a provider of key services, whether it be in education, infrastructure, industry and commerce or whatever else a nation needs to function effectively.

Within various school systems in the colonial society that is the U.S., there’s little room for developing the African consciousness that would undergird the attainment of tangible and transferable skills, even with the sluggish embrace of Black studies departments and career academies appearing in public and public charter schools surrounded by rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.

Perhaps that’s because the goal wasn’t to prepare young African people to take on a world that doesn’t love them. As has been the case for several decades, some of the focus for administrators has been on sports programming and extra-curriculars which, for the least-academically inclined, has provided a pathway to high-paying jobs in the sports and entertainment industry that COVID-19 has since deemed unessential.

Even more unfortunate, some students armed with Individualized Education Programs, also known as IEPs and 504 plans, have long been overindulged by social workers, therapists and other parties hell-bent on making billable hours and keeping alive a multimillion-dollar nonprofit industrial complex. From a very young age, students deemed special needs learn how to game the system, because they, more so than their peers, have embraced the labels and lowered expectations imposed on them by the system, their overworked and frustrated teachers and so-called health providers.

If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed the need for stronger homes in the African community — a task that no longer should or can be passed on to government entities. From the confines of their unstable homes, some of these 2020 graduates continue to devour one-size-fits-all work packets while enduring the stress of online learning with instructors, some of whom, for the first time in their careers, must exhibit flexibility in how they provide academic material. The most valuable lesson that these young people have learned in the month or so since schools shuttered involves the reality that, by the end of the day, all a person has is themselves.

That’s why navigating the post-COVID-19 world, whether it be as a college freshman, an apprentice, an employee, or a budding entrepreneur, will be an experiment in how self-sufficient and industrious one can be. It will also be a test of the level of patience adults will have for the steep learning curve that’s ahead for recent high school graduates. With all that’s happening, no one should expect any 2020 graduate to immediately get it right.

However, people should eventually understand no longer can members of the fragmented but global African nation adopt soulless philosophies centered solely on the attainment of capital and social standing.

Instead, young people, particularly those wrapping up their academic careers in the coming months, should dig deep within themselves to find the hunger for knowledge and wisdom in all areas of life that their teachers failed to foster. At the end of the day, that’s the only thing that will save them from drowning in a sea of self-doubt amid conditions that the Babylon school system successfully hid from them over the course of four years.


Sam P.K. Collins is a grassroots journalist and educator of more than a decade. You can find more of his musings on AllEyesOnDC.com.

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