Black Voices, Black Choices: “I Value the Moral Development of a School’s Curriculum as Much as the Academics.”

JM and VM

For many Black families,  education is more than content knowledge. Education is the vehicle through which children develop the core characteristics of who they will become.  This is important because Black parents are in a constant fight with society about who their child is, and who they will become. 

Meet Jelani McEwen:

What is your dream for your children’s education?

I dream that my children will be free – free to live, free to pursue, free to breathe. I want their education to not only give them content knowledge but to develop their character as well. I dream that the education they receive grants them a knowledge of who they are and develops a sense of their purpose in the world. I dream that their education makes them kind and compassionate people who care for others. I dream that their education will develop in them the ability to work hard and work through whatever challenges they meet.

Where do you send your child to school and how did you make that choice?

My children attend St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School (STA) in Hyde Park. We started out at STA because it provided the highest quality and affordable pre-k program in our neighborhood. Our original plan was to stay for pre-k and then test into a selective enrollment public school. However, things changed as we watched our four-year-old daughter develop an understanding of who God is and how she relates to him. I started to value the moral development of the school’s curriculum as much as the academic.

How does your education experience, and background impact the decision you make for your children?

From an early age, I was viewed as smart. Getting straight A’s and testing in the 99% percentile created a sense of comfort in my parents. It was almost assumed that I would do alright give my strengths in school. However, the truth was I didn’t go to the most rigorous elementary school, and it made my high school experience extremely difficult. I had it so easy that I never developed the kind of grit and stick-to-it-ness that a truly rigorous education requires. It took several years, even into college, for me to academically catch up with my peers. his experience made me realize that what teachers do in the school is only as good as the work we put in at home. So while I love St. Thomas for the school community it is, I will always have a bar far higher for my children. It is my bar as their father that will beckon forth their greatest self. No school, no matter where it is can offer more.

This experience made me realize that no matter how good the school is, what matters most is that parents stay engaged and push their children. It’s our job to find their proximal zone of development and ensuring they are in it. So while St. Thomas provides a great education I often seek out enrichment to ensure that my children are stretching themselves and learning. It’s not about being smart in our household. It’s about how much effort you are willing to put forth. It’s about wrestling with the difficult concepts and being okay with the struggle.

What is the name of your favorite teacher and why are was s/he your favorite?

Mr. Lacewell, my U.S. History Teacher from High School, is by far my favorite teacher. In his class, we would read our textbooks at the beginning of the week, and then he would introduce primary documents and alternative text at the end of the week. We learned the importance of conducting a comparative analysis of text to ensure that we saw a subject from a variety of perspectives. Furthermore, we learned that history is written from someone’s perspective and often the same moment and time could be captured in vastly different ways. Mr. Lacewell wanted us to see how history, being written from a Eurocentric perspective, limited the story of who we are as Black people to their perspective, and how beautifully different our story becomes when we read our text.

What is one thing you wish decision makers understood about educating your child and other Black children?

I wish they understood how the history of our people, and persistent structural oppression, created the educational system our children now learn in. I want them to know that they will never achieve outcomes for our children without addressing those structural issues. If they aren’t prepared to fight for equity, to ensure that every child receives the same resources in their education, they aren’t fully committed to the task of educating our children.

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