Mumia Abu-Jamal: What Kids are Really Learning in School

Revolution #026, December 12, 2005, posted at

Geovany Serrano is a tenth-grader at Belmont High, in LA, who's learning what American Democracy really means. After he passed out flyers and tried to organize at his school in support of the walk-out, school cops grabbed him, blasted him with pepper spray, and arrested him. He was hauled into the infamous Rampart Division police station, taken to Juvenile Hall, and fingerprinted. This tenth-grader is under house arrest, and is now forced to wear an ankle-bracelet, simply because he tried to organize his fellow students to oppose the Bush Regime.

At this time of the nation's life, what is the lesson that kids should be learning in schools today? If the kids in California are any answer, the lesson is obedience. In the midst of an unpopular war, several years after millions of people marched in anti-war protests in cities on every continent, a clever teacher could have grasped this as a valuable teaching moment, to teach young people what democracy really means. Instead, school administrators, many trying to block such walk-outs, have used cops, threats, suspensions and violence to keep kids penned in school and to shut their mouths and minds to the winds of change swirling in the nation's streets.

Guess what Geovany Serrano learned about constitutional rights of free speech, free association, and the right to protest and assemble?

Despite these events, Geovany has learned some important lessons, one which he could never have gotten inside a classroom. He writes, "Look at the war in Iraq. There are jails where there are people that the government just wants to disappear. They have them there, and they're torturing them or putting them on leashes. They're bombing the S-H out of people's houses. When I first got into this, it hit me so hard. It's hard to go back to living a regular day, knowing that there are people that are being killed and victimized by the system is so difficult. Is that the world I want? No, I don't want none of that."

At Grenada Hills High, a student was called into the Dean's office for wearing a World Can't Wait sticker on his T-shirt. When the Dean told him he had to remove his T-shirt because school wasn't the place for voicing political beliefs, the student replied, "If you want me to take off the sticker, then I have to take everything off, as well." He stripped to his underwear and told the dean, "You can take my clothes, and my sticker, but you can't take what I believe in my heart. The dean promptly sent him to the nurse's office, where she told the youth she agreed with what he was doing.

At Reseda High, also in LA, Sarah Escudero was suspended for two days for organizing a walk-out, and threatened with arrest for having stickers. She was also threatened with transfer until hundreds of outraged parents and teachers deluged the principle's office with calls of protest. Escudero would later write a letter to "We owe it to the millions of people that are getting tortured, getting murdered, and suffering around the world to do this. Resist or Die. It has come down to that slogan. Right now, the future is in everybody's hands. It is up to us. The question is: What kind of world do you want to live in? Will you accept everything this regime stands for? If you don't, then you must join this movement."

How many teachers would give their right arm to have their students act in such committed and principled ways, to care more about what's happening in the world than what they'll wear to the prom. The great behavioral psychologist Carl Rogers once said, "The function of school is to provide learning to be free." These brave and compassionate kids, high-schoolers, many of whom will be called upon quite soon to join the imperial army, to fight for presidents, princes and oil barons, have a serious interest in the stakes at play in this war. Instead of obedience, they're learning lessons that will open and awaken their minds. Resistance. It is a lesson that millions of kids should learn, before it is too late.

From Death Row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal, author of We Want Freedom: a Life in the Black Panther Party.

Copyright (c) Mumia Abu-Jamal/Prison Radio

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