“Every man has two educations: that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds the latter is by far the more desirable. Indeed all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself. It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.”
- Carter G. Woodson, ‘The Miseducation of the Negro.”
That quote has stayed with me the day I read it over one year ago. And it is as simple and profound as that. That day, I realized that my academic learning was only one half of my overall education. The other half came from how much I sought out information and knowledge in a purely intentional way. The term learning was now understood by me, as an action word. Learning required full cooperation from every part of my body: my hands, my eyes, my ears, my feet, my voice, my heart and my spirit. Without my second education, my overall learning process was and would remain incomplete.
Holding Woodson’s words close to my heart and mind intersects with my affinity for urban planning, design and the public participation process from an African American perspective. Each morning, my mind is consumed with the living conditions of myself and my community in the city I find myself living in. Things like the livability of the neighborhoods we inhabit, the air quality and ‘daylighting‘ in our schools and community centers and places of worship. Each day I consider this question: what is the first step to making it better in order to simply produce a better quality of life? It is both simple and profound; it is our second education. This is the education we are not formally taught. The second education we are seldom encouraged to seek after is what makes the difference.
This morning in particular, I had a conversation with Adis who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. There’s not a time we do not talk about where we live and where we want to live, and how we will live there. Her perspective on the gentrification taking place in, or next to, Black communities in Atlanta and neighboring cities, is baffling to her at certain times. “When I talk to people about a particular neighborhood,” she reflects, “they reply ‘oh the ghetto?’ or, ‘oh the hood?”
“But it’s not,” Adis firmly states. “[That neighborhood] has changed so much! I see people jogging, or walking their dogs. I see cute little cafe’s and bakeries and little shops all in walking distance of one another. And I see family members congregating together, enjoying one another’s company on a Sunday morning. And so I have to wonder, why don’t people know about this?” Especially when Adis tells me that less than a mile away, there lies a predominately Black neighborhood with outdated urban infrastructure and visible poverty.
As we spoke, I thought of pinpointing the root of it all; the root of these impoverished neighborhoods next to historical and newly gentrified urban patches in close proximity of one another. And I realized the root of it is the second education.
My second education includes exploring neighborhoods on foot, and documenting the experience through photos and writing. This helps me understand economic and infrastructural differences from place to place. What does your second education include?
Woodson opened my eyes to this process of coupling the two educations for personal and communal development. When I peel back the layer to an economically thriving and livable urban setting, I see invested community involvement. I see that these community members understand that their involvement improves their quality of life. Their connection to informational resources in the development of their neighborhood and city comes from their desire and understanding that they are stakeholders and shareholders in their neighborhood. Among a variety of ways this engagement can be learned, one important element was and is outreach strategies. A large component of this outreach is part of a democratic planning process that developers initiate, neighborhood associations monitor and collaborate on and community organizers work in tandem with. These people ensure this communication reaches a broad audience in order to have community members backing a common goal and shared vision. That goal and vision is as simple and profound as improving the quality of everyone’s life. Spurred on by the first education (academic), the second education is manifested when people use their skills, expertise, resources and engagement to create a better urban environment.
There is a connectedness I experience by engaged and independent learning. It is always a personal choice, this second education. It is not taught to you, but is rather, experienced by you. Woodson emphasizes that a teaching and learning style of memorizing facts and abandoning the understanding of humanity is disastrous. Not just for urban planning or my professional development, but I take this second education into all facets of my life.
Honest and stark, I do believe that The Miseducation of the Negro should be read by the ones who value education, societal progress and the intricacies of a well-fashioned sense of humanity. Whatever your ethnic identity or background, I encourage you to read not only the Miseducation, but other works by the early 1920-40′s Black intellectuals from the United States. Even as I celebrate Black History this month, I am reminded to dig deep into the narratives these intellectuals provided, which thus provokes my desire to cultivate my second education.
Image Source: Tracy Clayton on Flickr.com
Adjoa is a Minneapolis-based community advocate and independent writer with an affinity for livable urban patches. Her favorite place in the world is the public library where you’ll have no trouble finding her, no matter what city she travels to. Her blog and project Inspire Your Environment (IYE) – born out of a year and a half living stint in the city of Tampa – marries sustainability and urbanism through the perspective of multiculturalism and youth-oriented outreach. She gets happy over Twitter, so follow her: @SutotaDakota