You Don’t Have to Like School

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school hallway blur

BY JENNIFER

My mother always told me that I had to do well in school. She never showed me how, but it was drilled in my head for as long as I could write that I was supposed to be ‘smart’ and do well in school to uplift my family and my race.

Honestly, I never even liked school. I always felt like someone else in the classroom, save for when I was sharing or writing an essay, creating art performing a play. I felt stifled being forced to learn many difficult things that did not benefit my mood or my future. To top it all off, I was the ‘contaminated’ kid. Talk or befriend me and you were automatically a target in elementary school. I was a social outcast and although middle and high school wasn’t as bad as elementary school, I never regained my appreciation for school. I skipped a lot, and being in the academic environment gave me headaches. So, why am I even here?

In my junior year of high school I was convinced I was going to illustrate and create comic book characters. I had a low GPA at that time and I was going to spend all of my time drawing so I could be good enough to get out of school and never return. One day, my peers and I were having a conversation about college, perhaps brought about by our teacher and I listened to what they we’re saying. Everyone wanted money. No one really had a drive to learn; it was always a decision made for them before they could even speak. I didn’t want to go. The sedentary lifestyle wasn’t for me. I wanted to do and make… and that’s when I really learned what school was about. My mother, although pushing me to make a name for myself in school, never really explained how to get in to college or what exactly what was. She never explained to me the importance of a good work ethic in high school; she only said that it was something I had to maintain. I think my mother gave up on me a long time ago. I couldn’t blame her. But I did want to prove her wrong.  And I wanted to go to school- not to prove my mother wrong but simply because I found out that you had a choice to learn skills that you want to learn. I did not know it was possible before to learn so much in school. I thought college was only for the doctors, businessmen and women, lawyers and scientists of the world. It never dawned on me that I would be learning skills I wanted to learn and choosing a path that best fit me.

Even after my ‘groundbreaking’ discovery school did not get much easier for me, but I worked

 hard. In my last two years of high school I had about a 3.8 average compared to my first two years leveling out to about 2.5. It felt good to prove everyone wrong, and I did. Then, I still had hopes of being an artist, but I’ve changed I will continue to and the great part is my education can change with me. Even know, I’m thinking of changing to a theater major and I know if I hadn’t continued my education and tried so hard I wouldn’t of had a chance to figure out what I want and what best suits me. Education is, to me, important not because I want to make anyone proud of me anymore, but because I’m learning about the things that make me happy and will mold me into a person that can give back to the world. Sometimes school isn’t for everyone but if there’s a better way to learn and grow among a community of lost intellectuals just like me, let me know. I still don’t appreciate carrying around books all the time and bad school food or spending hours reading boring texts, but I know I’m going to find my place here soon.

(photo source: nces.ed.gov)


JenniferJennifer Lee is a freshman at VCU currently studying Africana Studies and English. She grew up all around Virginia and enjoys trees, sunshine, driving, and good books. She hopes to become a writer, actress and an activist. She considers herself an average student but says she has an amazing brain and she hopes to empower those that are as lost as she is.

When School Hurts More than it Helps

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segregated classroom edit

BY KIARA

(from theBlackertheBerry.org)

Go to school. Get your education. Be better and live better because of it.

But what happens when school is imprisoning instead of empowering?

What happens when your teachers tell you of all the things you can’t do instead of what you can do? What happens when good grades become bad and bad grades become good, all in the name of peer pressure, manhood and being “hard?” And how complicated it becomes when grades are no longer black and white – when they are associated with race, when “acting black” and “acting white” and “acting” other ethnicities blurs positive and negative images, attitudes and ideals – full of gray area. Or when you’re too hungry to concentrate…to make the grades to get out the hood that’s keeping you hungry. Or when the school keeps testing you because you can’t pass the tests – but for your failure, they have no answer. Or when in general, school seems like the strangest, most distant foreign land, because nothing about it resembles who you are or where you’re from.

What happens when these things and more not only exist, but are also exacerbated under the school’s roof? What do you do?

You fight back.

If knowledge is power, you have to be willing to fight for it.

Kids don’t know the fight as well as we adults know it, as many of us have been there before, so essentially, the fight for our kids’ education is in our hands.

We can’t take everything for gospel, simply because a teacher, a principal or another official says it. My parents were told that I may be deaf and/or autistic at a very young age because I started to walk, talk and develop in general at a later age than most children. But then, all of that was debunked. But then I started school. I was tapped for the gifted program in school. Then, I got honor roll, and much later national honor society and other honors and today, I’m an author with an advanced degree from one of the best schools in the nation and God willing – it’s only the beginning. So many people I know have eerily similar stories, and they’ve gone on to accomplish a whole lot.

All kids are capable of greatness. We can’t let naysayers dressed up with fancy titles tell them otherwise.

We have to be willing to sacrifice for education, for if we don’t, we sacrifice our children. If he or she is struggling where you’re at and you’re convinced he or she would fare better in another area, do what you have to do within reason to make that move. Before I was born, my folks were young and struggling, and opted to go without furniture for a year to send my older sisters to a private school in Long Island because it offered them a safer environment and better opportunities. An uncomfortable year it may have been, but the advantages of that sacrifice will last a lifetime. If we don’t buy into education, they surely won’t. Buy into it, no matter how much it costs. Temporary discomfort beats the permanent setback of the generations that follow us.

 Praise them in school. Many scholars reference the transition from third grade to fourth grade as problematic for kids, particularly African-American boys, as the nurturing from the teacher (the doting, the “babying”) drops significantly during that transition and as a result, grades drop . But technically, it’s not the teacher’s job to nurture our children – it’s up to us. The praise matters. We have to recognize their efforts and reward their accomplishments. We have to be active and interested in their studies. We have to be their backbone and their biggest cheerleader, especially during the younger years. The smallest strides need recognition just like honor roll and graduation. Don’t act like you don’t remember how good you felt as a little boy or a little girl when an adult noticed your good work.

When school hurts more than it helps, the story isn’t over. If we play our cards right, it’s simply a bump in the road. If we play our cards right and put up a good defense, we’ll win the fight.


meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.