“Knowledge Isn’t Power”… Paul Krugman; NY Times…
A Black or Latino parent would be insane to accept that assertion; because if so, they would be setting their children up for economic and political oppression, and perhaps even, prison and/or death. First, it is important to consider the source: Mr. Krugman to his credit, is a Noble laureate; B.S., M.S. Ph.D. economist; college professor; and NY Times columnist. Well, at first glance, it seems that knowledge didn’t hurt him that much! But now consider the confusing argument. Because some people cynically cast obtaining an education or knowledge in the role of the end all, and be all of acquiring political power, does not dismiss or diminish the power of education in the hands of the nations designated powerless class. There is also the confusing message of conflating the false concept of: American workers who need to be retrained so that they can be rehired (to those good middle class jobs?); with the terrible state of bad and inherently inadequate education that afflicts the poor, and the people of color in our nation. These are those who never had the first job to be under-skilled, out-skilled, out-sourced, out of, in the first place. The huge forgotten number of young Black and Latino males who are, and continue to be forever connected to the criminal justice system; or that Black and Latino teenager who either dropped out, or who received a 6th grade education masquerading as a high school graduation. Will a solid, standards based, meaningful and knowledge rich education propel these people into the captainships of American industry and politics, of course not. But these children (and later adults) can’t begin to think about political power, when they are daily facing a horrific and debilitating way of life. There is a terrible reality that the writer fails to acknowledge. The people with power design a system for their children, and the children who look like their children to have an excellent access to knowledge; that knowledge in turn prepares them to assume the positions of power. The Black, Brown and poor children however must fight their way through an obstacle course of 2nd rate powerless education; they in turn pass on this poor education (and designed to keep them poor) to their children, in the same way that it was passed on to them. The “power trick” here is that they never create enough academic-knowledge winners that would allow them to have a critical mass of critical thinkers, who could really challenge the power and economic structure of this nation.
The southern slave states legal prohibitions against the “book” education of slaves serves to describe education and knowledge, in its most fundamental motivational terms. Beyond the practical aspects of slaves being able to read maps, decipher written messages for: “white folks only”, or to circulate resistance and rebellion information amongst themselves. There was an even greater power in education and knowledge that the slavers feared; and that is when that slave learns to read, and is able to understand the world in an enlighten way, and maybe even read some incendiary documents like the Declaration of Independence; that slave would no longer be fit to be a good and trusted slave; there was always the possibility, that this knowledge would suggest a humanity, a feeling of equality, and most dangerously—a feeling of power.
Perhaps “knowledge is power” (like “no child left behind”) is for some a convenient throwaway line. But for the poor and disenfranchised of this nation (who don’t stand to inherit a billion dollars); education is neither a punch, nor a throwaway line; it is in fact, a very life line to our having a chance at something close to a decent and fundamentally humane life. Maybe, that is something some of our more educated citizens (including liberals), just might take for granted. As for this former Brooklyn kid who went on to become a NYC teacher, principal and Superintendent; education saved me from the negative power of the streets; and so I can’t see it in any way except as a transformational and powerful force. Education may not be the total power we want; but for the survival of Black and Latino kids; it sure is a powerful self-esteem and intellectual building force. And in many cases a possible lifesaving activity. And even if education does not get us the power we want right away, I think our children are better off with it, then without it.