January 2016

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me

Deep Education

Thinking (art) education, and specifically a critique of the forms of knowledge we take for granted, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ reading and discussion of his recent book Between the World and Me for the Lannan Foundation seemed a good place to end. The book recounts that one of Coates’ most profound insights occurred in his seventh-grade French class where he wondered on a deeper level than he had accessed before: Whyam I here, why am I learning this? It’s a moment that illustrates that the American educational system teaches compliance: a seventh-grade child openly asking this question would likely be sent to the administration for disciplining. Curiosity, insight, critique are not what education in this country tends to teach and the compliance that does get taught thinly veils the racism, the settler colonialism, that persists today. So that a child who is learning French in this country does not ask why and so we propagate the learning of the language of diplomacy for “the continent” during open imperialism, without investigating the reasons why we do it. Coates’ contribution here brings the question of education compellingly to the fore at a lecture that took place before the wild success of his book and so offers a moment that seems to hang in time. As you move through these thinkers’ works, my hope is that you will let them open, shift, unsettle you. Perhaps you will wonder what it looks like to not call a room to order, perhaps you will question what “order” even is, what it can be. And perhaps this will leave something unforeseen, something else, something other, in its wake.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, writer, journalist, and educator is a senior editor for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues.

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