Now that a change has come, what's next? (Part 3 of 3)

By William P. Muhammad

Within the global community, it is abundantly clear that America’s economic and political standing has seen better days, but regarding what it takes to maintain a super-power status in an increasingly competitive global market, both American leadership and the common man have a duty to reclaim the culture of learning.

Focusing primarily upon the Black community, however, this argument is much more acute. Domestically speaking, Black Americans must reclaim a pursuit of knowledge that for years defined our traditional pathway to success. From the days of slavery, where in Virginia, for example, it was a violation of the law to teach a Black person to read, many of our fore parents risked the lash, the noose and the gun to have such an opportunity.

Today, however, from either a collective fatigue that has caused various African-American communities to give up or because of a young person’s rebellion toward that which is irrelevant to his or her life’s experiences, the problem of apathy, which has been so harmful to the growth and development of our community, seems to have reached epidemic proportions. As societal distractions, parental obligations and youthful indiscretions clash with “the time and what must be done,” the rest of the world is either passing us by or is preparing to do so.

With the seriousness of the hour requiring immediate intervention, it is a known fact that education and the quest for knowledge are the only realistic tools available for leveling a historically uneven playing field. Re-kindling the desire for the pursuit of knowledge is absolutely necessary, as it opens doors and opportunities that would otherwise be closed and ensures a better quality of life, not only for the American people in general, but also for Black Americans and other people of color.

With concerns over the U.S. economy revealing an automotive industry in trouble, an increase in corporate downsizings through lay-offs and mergers and the exporting of low skilled manufacturing jobs to foreign labor markets, well-paying trades and professions of the future will require a new dedication to mathematics and the sciences not seen since the launch of Sputnik in 1957.

Now that an historic change has come to the American political landscape, the proposed “green economy” and the so-called “green revolution” it hopes to inspire will likewise require a revolution in the U.S. education system. As in the early days of the Cold War where new math and sciences were stressed in American schools, the same is being called for today by environmentalists and policy-makers who argue the paramount importance of “clean energy” and independence from foreign suppliers.

However, with the environmental dimensions of this new challenge being that of pollution control, global warming and depleting natural resources, renewable energy and green technology have also become a rallying cry for buttressing the economy among policy-makers.

Yet with all of these facts in front of us, and the need for such change on the horizon, how do we motivate and inspire a new culture of learning among our young people?

One of the realities of living in a digital as opposed to an analog age is that while attention spans appear shorter, younger minds are much quicker in their ability to process information. Perhaps this being one of the reasons why it is difficult to capture and maintain the attention of our young people, techniques should be examined as to how to place more information within shorter time spans while challenging young minds to question, inquire and analyze the environment around them.

Starting with parents, we must first make an honest assessment of where we stand in inspiring curiosity in young minds. Requiring more than just turning off the television and demanding that homework be done, starting at an early age, we must engage in activities that encourage a culture of questioning and critical thinking.

Visiting museums and libraries and walking outside to look at the diversity and wonder of nature helps to ground children and makes them more apt to succeed in school. Also, showing our youth where they fit into society, as well as into the international community, helps them to know that they too have a stake to claim, and that they matter as persons of color.

With Mr. Obama on his way to the White House in January, he has proven to the world that a Black person is capable of attaining the world’s most powerful seat, and with all that Black Americans have sacrificed for, to forfeit a future we prayed, marched and died for, because we failed to adequately prepare for it, would be a great tragedy.

Education is the key to our success, but only if we use it to our advantage. Sitting and waiting for bread to fall from the sky is just as unrealistic as waiting on a politician to deliver singlehandedly the solutions to our problems. Mr. Obama has shared a vision for the future, but it will take all of us to make it into a reality.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.