St. John’s College knows, along with many others:
In a half-dozen classrooms they gather then,—here to follow the love-song of Dido, here to listen to the tale of Troy divine; there to wander among the stars, there to wander among men and nations,—and elsewhere other well-worn ways of knowing this queer world. Nothing new, no time-saving devices,—simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and searching out the hidden beauties of life, and learning the good of living. The riddle of existence is the college curriculum that was laid before the Pharaohs, that was taught in the groves by Plato, that formed the trivium and quadrivium, and is today laid before the freedmen’s sons by Atlanta University. And this course of study will not change; its methods will grow more deft and effectual, its content richer by toil of scholar and sight of seer; but the true college will ever have one goal,—not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.
—Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, “Of the Wings of Atalanta” (1903)
Maybe state schools (I don’t say “public,” except mockingly) have so many difficulties here because they force an alien structure upon a population that flourishes within a completely different structure. Maybe the “discipline” of the school is oppressive not because the students cannot be disciplined, but because genuine discipline, in fact, arises primarily from culture rather than method.
Do you think the enemy is the police department, with its bland apologies for deleterious policies and heinous deeds? You must have forgotten about the so-called public school, which is—with no apologies—the preferred agency for generating inequality and oppressing the masses. Its great and beautiful banner of “standards-based education” is a euphemism for the sharpest knife that culls the flock. For every police officer unjustifiably shooting a citizen, a public school relegates droves of boys and girls to the streets, to the criminal justice system, to the long death of an unexamined life.
Another way of pointing out what is suggested in the poem “Poverty” is to ask a question of those who seek to remedy poverty (especially with education): Is our project setting the poor free, giving them opportunities to have more, showing them a way out of their supposedly “limited” existence, or have we merely been teaching others to covet, thereby making them poor?
“Teachers improving with time and experience? Ridiculous! The education of our children is urgent! We cannot wait for them to become something that they are not. Quick! We must find someone who can teach to replace those who claim they are learning to teach.”