A couple of years ago I had dinner with a group of journalists at National Harbor while visiting Washington, D.C. One guest, Bernal E. Smith II, the publisher of a well-respected black newspaper in Memphis, would offer me a piece of information I’d never forget.
After dinner we congregated outside for a few minutes and he asked if I had heard of the book “Outwitting The Devil” by Napolean Hill. I told him I hadn’t heard of it. He searched his phone for a few seconds, then pulled up the quote he was looking for and read it to me.
The major object of all schooling is to force the students to cram their memories with facts instead of teaching them how to organize and make practical use of facts. This cramming system centers the attention of students on the accumulation of “credits” but overlooks the important question of how to use knowledge in the practical affairs of life. This system turns out graduates whose names are inscribed upon parchment certificates, but whose minds are empty of self-determination.
“Damn. What’s that called again,” I asked.
“Outwitting the Devil,” he replied.
The book was written in the late 1930s but – as legend tells it – not published until 2011 because Hill’s wife demanded he not release it during his lifetime. According to the book itself she felt it was too much a broadside against the religion and public education, and it could be career-ending for Hill.
“Outwitting” sets up a mock trial that puts The Devil on trial. Yes, the actual Devil. The imagined cross-examination by strong willed prosecutor is a useful ruse that has Beelzebub explain his methods of preventing humanity from becoming who God intends us to be. Known more for self-help (ala Tony Robbins before there was a Tony Robbins) Hill’s purpose as an author isn’t simple allegory, instead, it’s a vehicle for his theory on why we succeed or fail in life.
As Smith pointed out to me, the Devil lists public education as one of the powerful tools he uses to shackle us.
The Devil says:
Schoolteachers help me gain control of the minds of children not so much by what they teach the children as because of what they do not teach them. The entire public school system is so administered that it helps my cause by teaching children almost everything except how to use their own minds and think independently.
School children are taught not to develop and use their own minds, but to adopt and use the thoughts of others. This sort of schooling destroys the capacity for independent thought, except in a few rare cases where children rely so definitely upon their own will power that they refuse to allow others to do their thinking.
It’s the possibility of independent thinkers that haunts the Devil. He says he fears that “someday some courageous person will reverse the present system of school teaching” and create one where “children establish ways and means of developing their own minds from within.”
At that time, he laments, “the schoolteachers will no longer belong to my staff.”
Again, remember, that was written in 1938 when public schooling was increasingly seen as a democratizing force for the public good.
Hill’s message throughout “Outwitting” is broad and involved, so I can’t summarize it well, but it’s more than a critique of the oppressive properties of the church, state, schools, and other social mechanisms that paralyze us with fear and ignorance.
He’s building the case for a system of faith and thought that releases a confident, focused version of each person that Kat Williams might call our Mf-ing “Star Player” (explicit).
To that end, The Devil reveals the seven principles that threaten to free humanity from his evil grasp:
- Definiteness of purpose. Choose a purpose, a grand aspiration, a big goal, and move towards it relentlessly.
- Mastery over self. Discipline equals freedom. If you’re driven by impulse all your life, you’ll go nowhere, like a drifter.
- Learning from adversity. Failures are just failures. Whether we learn from themor let them stop us is up to us.
- Controlling environmental influence. Who you hang out with matters. What your room looks like matters.
- Time. Time can make drifting and negativity permanent. But it can also make positivity and wisdom permanent.
- Harmony. In order for you to balance mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of your life, you must be the main actor.
- Caution. Always act. But always think before you act.
And, finally, in education, here is what the Devil says is the way we all can fight back against his control of us (it is longer so I’ve edited some of it):
Teach all students how to recognize practical ideas that may be of benefit in helping them acquire whatever they demand of life.
Teach the students how to budget and use time, and above all teach the truth that time is the greatest asset available to human beings and the cheapest.
Teach children to be definite in all things, beginning with the choice of a definite major purpose in life!
Teach children the nature of and possibilities for good and evil in the principle of habit, using as illustrations with which to dramatize the subject the everyday experiences of children and adults.
Teach children the difference between temporary defeat and failure, and show them how to search for the seed of an equivalent advantage which comes with every defeat.
Teach children to express their own thoughts fearlessly and to accept or reject, at will, all ideas of others, reserving to themselves, always, the privilege of relying upon their own judgment.
Teach children to reach decisions promptly and to change them, if at all, slowly and with reluctance, and never without a definite reason.
Teach children that the human brain is the instrument with which one receives, from the great storehouse of nature, the energy which is specialized into definite thoughts; that the brain does not think, but serves as an instrument for the interpretation of stimuli which cause thought.
Teach children the value of harmony in their own minds and that this is attainable only through self-control.
Teach children that there is a law of increasing returns which can be and should be put into operation, as a matter of habit, by rendering always more service and better service than is expected of them.
Teach children not to have opinions unless they are formed from facts or beliefs which may reasonably be accepted as facts.
Teach children the danger of believing anything merely because their parents, religious instructors, or someone else says it is so.
Teach children to face facts, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, without resorting to subterfuge or offering alibis.
Teach children the full import of the law of compensation as it was interpreted by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and show them how the law works in the small, everyday affairs of life.
Teach children that definiteness of purpose, backed by definite plans persistently and continuously applied, is the most efficacious form of prayer available to human beings.
Teach children that the space they occupy in the world is measured definitely by the quality and quantity of useful service they render the world.
Teach children there is no problem which does not have an appropriate solution and that the solution often may be found in the circumstance creating the problem.
Teach children that their only real limitations are those which they set up or permit others to establish in their own minds.
Teach children that all schoolhouses and all textbooks are elementary implements which may be helpful in the development of their minds, but that the only school of real value is the great University of Life wherein one has the privilege of learning from experience.
Teach children to be true to themselves at all times and, since they cannot please everybody, therefore to do a good job of pleasing themselves.
Teachers see black children as angry when they aren’t
From right to left, the story for why black children aren’t reaching their potential lives within the child. Or, their family. Their culutre. Their community.
If only they had two parents, better jobs, more time to read at home. It wouldn’t hurt if they had middle-class social benefits. Put those things together and there wouldn’t be a racialized gap in student achievement.
Ok. I won’t argue there. But lets set aside the condition of the child for a moment and consider this new study that finds teachers are less likely to accurately read the facial expression of black students. This only adds to the research I won’t stop talking about that shows black children are seen as less innocent, less capable, and older than they actually are.
When we talk about inequities in education, why don’t we talk about these things?
Eventually, we have to ask the question: “regardless of the condition of the child, aren’t their too many problems in the system that need fixing before blaming children for their own maltreatment?”
Read this from the study:
Prospective teachers are more likely to perceive Black than White elementary and middle-school students as angry, even when they’re not, according to new research published in Emotion. The findings suggest that Black children face a racialized anger bias in school.
“We know a lot about emotion and emotion expression, and we wanted to use our skills toward a question that really mattered and specifically, mattered for social justice,” said study author Shevaun D. Neupert, a professor at North Carolina State University and director of The Daily Well Being in Adulthood Lab.
For the study, 178 prospective teachers from three training programs in the Southeast were shown 72 short video clips of child actors’ facial expressions, and were asked to identify the emotion being displayed. The video clips included both Black and White students and male and female students.
“We hired child actors to display six different emotions and we had professionals who could make all six facial expressions on demand to work with the children until they were able to do so,” Neupert explained. “Then we took short video clips and we made sure that each expression was showing the desired emotion and only that emotion.”
Those emotions included happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise or disgust.
Overall, the researchers found that teachers were more accurate at identifying the facial expressions of girls than boys. The teachers’ emotional evaluations also tended to be more accurate for White girls than Black girls, while being more accurate for Black boys than for White boys.
We’re in trouble when a $4 sandwich matters more than a Black life
We know something has gone terribly wrong in our world when a $4 sandwich is worth more than a black life.
On April 23, 2009 scientists observed a gamma ray burst for 10 seconds which is “the most distant object of any kind and also the oldest known object in the universe.”
But let’s get to the important stuff. On that same day there was a near riot at Minnesota’s one Popeye’s Chicken franchise. The company had advertised an 8-piece meal for $4.99, but the local store was not honoring the deal. Cars backed up in the drive-thru, customers became angry inside the restaurant, and the police were called to stop a melee.
The great chicken riot of Minneapolis made the news.
A local reporter talking about the hubbub said “I haven’t seen people this passionate about something in a very long time.”
I made fun of this incident for years. Mostly because it conflicted with a truism I hear in community meetings all the time about how we aren’t showing up for school meetings or city planning meetings or policy debates because we’re busy working two jobs.
Marketing folks seem to generate a ton of passion in our communities when a dollar is involved. In this case chicken skirmishes have become such a mainstay that it’s created a genre of YouTube videos.
Enough to have videos titled “The Best of Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich Fights.”
The “best of,” really?
Lowbrow, but funny. I grew up on Popeye’s chicken. Loved it as a fat kid in New Orleans does. It took a long time (and some health concerns) to figure out it ain’t food as much as suicide.
Today, what was funny has turned serious. It popped up in my feed that a 28-year-old (the same age as my oldest son) was stabbed to death over a damn Popeye’s chicken sandwich.
Stabbed. To. Death.
Stories like this always make me think about how a person gets to the point in their life where they explode with anger over something trivial and then commit an act that irreversibly ruins their life and the lives of others.
What happened when that person was a teenager, a middle-schooler, or a baby?
There must be a story there. A traumatic one.
I can only imagine.
My guess is that when a child receives endless messages telling him he has little value, he comes to believe it. When he is told that his mind is immaterial, he either responds with anger because he knows it isn’t true (and that it is massive injustice to say it is), or he absorbs the critique and lives it out.
When he’s told he can’t read, he doesn’t. When he’s told he isn’t beautiful, he hates beauty. When he’s told injustice is equity and crooked is straight, as our society so often does to the people it wants to gaslight into a life of subservience, he becomes a violent truth that pays us back for our mannered delusions.
Our children know when the world has pushed them into an unjust corner. They are smart even when the tests they take in school doubt it.
Even as those of us in education activism harp on the idea that our kids aren’t learning, the truth is they are learning every day, but they are learning from our absenteeism and negligence and dedication to mass-consumerism rather than our values and love.
It doesn’t let us of the hook. Chicken fights, social absurdities, and moral laxity are explainable by our history and social conditions, and by our lack of access to the precursors to healthy development (such as home resources, healthcare, and education), but we are not the revolutionaries we think we are if we aren’t calling out and defeating the self-destructive behaviors endemic to our communities.
Every child is born with unsurpassable worth afforded to them by a mighty God. We fall short of our faith if we allow friends, families, or the broader society to rob our kids of that worth.
If they’re ever in a Popeye’s Chicken injuring others over a heart-attack, hypertension, and diabetes inducing sandwich, the trail of their tears leads back to us.
How are the children?
ACT NOW: What does this blog post mean? I could just be me making sense of the needless suffering in our world. It may not be profound. Yet, if forced to think of an action to take that would make this post more than a meaningless buffet of words, I’d ask you to…
…commit to a course of action today that changes our culture of neglect of children. Affirm every child you come into contact with by telling them “you are so amazing, I know you are going to do great things in life” – or something like that.
Or, as always, pray (here).
A short note about Kamala Harris’s integration opportunism
No one should discount the possibility that a little black girl or boy might succeed in life without bathing in whiteness.
Earlier this summer Kamala Harris and Joe Biden had a terse exchange about integration and public school busing.
An article in The Atlantic described it this way:
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” Harris told the former vice president, her voice quaking. “That little girl was me.” It was the defining line of the debate, inspiring the creation of a T-shirt Harris’s campaign is now selling for $29.99. The point Harris was highlighting was clear: When busing would have mattered most as a method of desegregating schools, in the 1970s, Biden didn’t enthusiastically support it.”
We love a good come-up story, especially when it invokes the morally superior virtues that define a beloved community.
I can almost feel the warmth of Harris’ torch for the power of white acceptance, and the disdain for Biden’s blue dog resistance.
And, I could tell you a very different story (that won’t sell T-shirts) about a little black boy who was once bussed three hours a day, away from neighborhood friends and familiar surroundings, to a white school in the hills where moneyed white students and their teachers dislike school busses and students invading “their” school.
That little boy was me.
I turned out ok. Even grew up to have children, who are multiracial like Harris, proving I ardently support integration.
But, I am here to constantly challenge the incessant and dangerous romantization of simple integration stories. While most people called the Harris/Biden tussle in favor of Harris, I still call her rehearsed passion play phony baloney.
Which is why I appreciate this Washington Post article that goes a long way to add context to the oversimplified “I was bussed therefore I am” claptrap that intoxicates the best of audiences.
Especially this part…
Kamala Harris wanted to go to a black school. That’s what black folks called Howard University in the early 1980s when Harris was a teenager considering her future.
Harris, she would say later, was seeking an experience wholly different from what she had long known. She’d attended majority-white schools her entire life — from elementary school in Berkeley, Calif., to high school in Montreal. Her parents’ professional lives and their personal story were bound up in majority-white institutions. Her father, an economist from Jamaica, was teaching at Stanford University. Her mother, a cancer researcher from India, had done her graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, where the couple had met and fallen in love. And Harris’s younger sister would eventually enroll at Stanford.
Harris wanted to be surrounded by black students, black culture and black traditions at the crown jewel of historically black colleges and universities.
In this we see something curious, but not uncommon, which is how sending children of color off to majority white schools can cause dissonance in the face of microagressions and culture stripping.
Maybe Harris wouldn’t admit that, but she wouldn’t be the first to see an HBCU as cultural finishing school for proper black people.
Indeed, the stories of black integrationists who are celebrated by white media are often punctuated by the fact that they only discovered their blackness in college and now they overemphasize it as the false currency they use in minstrel fashion to Afrocentricize white progressive ideals.
I name no names. I just admit what I’ve seen.
No one should discount the possibility that a little black girl or boy might succeed in life without bathing in whiteness.
Maybe a bus saved Harris, the daughter of privileged middle-class professionals.
Or, maybe, it’s just a good story to gather votes from an electorate that loves simplicity.
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