The Education of a Nigerian in Georgia

The story I read quoted another Nigerian student living in Baltimore, Maryland, named Vera Ezimora. She said, “We have all been tortured.” But she noted that holding on and reliving the past did nothing but add to the torture, referring to the history of racism and slavery. To know the history is good. To dwell on it is not.

The experience of the Nigerian in Georgia is one any number of teachers have witnessed and some readers have lived through. Young people who’ve learned too early how to be cliquish. Who laugh at intelligence and behave as though ignorance is bliss. Who ridicule the student who forgoes play to study and doesn’t raise an eyebrow when a friend ditches class or drops out of school. Who has no sense of connection between where he or she is now and where they may want to be -- or where they’ll wind up at this rate.

I recall a conversation I had with a fellow named Patrick, originally from the Congo. He told me if a kid goofed off in class, he was whipped. When word got back to the home, he was whipped again. Sometimes he was that kid. In the words of a saying from World War II, the attention he received caused him to “straighten up and fly right.” Apply that discipline in most American communities today and a call would go out to Child Protective Services.

Where did this attitude, which has been around for decades, come from that elevates acting foolishly over building a strong and productive future? An attitude that ultimately knows no ethnic distinction? I ask that question rhetorically as any of us can come up with our own answers.

Bill Cosby has made a second career beyond the bounds of comedy to comment on black attitudes towards education. He organizes his own town halls challenging inner-city leaders and families to get serious about education. In a talk given on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that knocked down segregation in the public schools, Cosby hit a nerve: “People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now these knuckleheads are walking around. … The lower economic people are not holding up their end of the deal. These people are not parenting.”

Whatever else one thinks of President Barack Obama, politics aside, his election is a way for making education, intellect, and personal drive “cool.” Echoing the tough-love talk of Bill Cosby, President Obama has said the time for excuses is over. When you have homework to do, turn off the TV and do it. If you see someone breaking windows, call the police and lock them up. Parents, you have an obligation to communicate with your children’s school, to attend the parent-teacher meetings, and to drive the agenda of your children’s education. It’s too important to leave education to the educators.

That’s what was taught in Chinedu Ezeamuzie’s family. That used to be what we taught here.