In a fascinating and depressing essay on his quest to give black inner city children a taste of classical education, L.E. Ikenga despairs even in the face of gains.
From the perspective of most of the [Manhattan] parents, the kids, and Rebecca, the six-week [summer] program was a great success. It introduced black elementary and middle school students to the joys of a rigorous, integrated and knowledge-centered classical Christian curriculum. Rebecca’s Latin classes were a huge hit and her lower school students could not get enough of the children’s version of Homer’s Odyssey that was used to teach them mythology, grammar and sentence structure. The students were also offered classes in Old Testament history, informal logic, botany, arithmetic, and maps and timelines of the ancient world. They also had swimming and archery lessons. On the last day of the program, there were few dry eyes. Nevertheless, I was not as happy. I knew that the gains were short-term because in a few short weeks, these kids would be going back to terrible Department of Education schools.
Every black community in America has its own story. But the fundamental dynamic that makes each one of them tick, I would imagine, is probably the same. At best, these communities are desperately confused and inconsistent when it comes to understanding or expressing a commitment to Western Civilization as a cultural ideal or as a shared history that all Americans, regardless of race, can say that they have contributed to and therefore have a stake in. At worst, these communities are just too ignorant or angry to care. The angry ones will never be able to see themselves as anything other than casualties of the white man’s greed and his various never-ending wars. The ignorant ones, like those in my neighborhood, are just ignorant. And although, I know that a classical Christian education is a big part of the answer to all of this, I’m no longer sure that the black community, at large, is even worth it.
I bet that a few people will call Mr. Ikenga a racist for coming to this conclusion, without discovering what I suspected intuitively about him, from his last name: he is of Nigerian descent. The sad part about that is that those who would reflexively call Ikenga a racist would be demonstrating the mentality of which he laments.
I contend he is both right and wrong for reasons which have nothing to do with Ikenga’s race or heritage.
He’s right that the group is not worth saving, if he is doing his work because he previously deemed that group of children or that community to inherently deserve his efforts.
(Side note: the word deserve should be stricken from the language. There’s only one thing every single human being–with the exception of Jesus the Christ–deserves: death. Any other talk of what an individual or group deserves incites both pride and covetousness.)
If he doing it for the worth of that particular group he is wrong. He should be doing it for himself and all of the others who have transcended tribalism and embraced reason, the reason produced by Western Civilization. The more seeds he plants, the more likely it is that Ikenga and men like him will even be conceived.
Otherwise we all might as well bend over and kiss our own behinds goodbye.
Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2009; the second edition in 2012. Her second novel, tentatively titled, Arlen’s Harem, will be done in 2015.
Please contribute to Juliette’s Projects: Her new novel, her blog, her Internet to keep the latter going and COFFEE to keep her going!