The Lion’s story will never be told as long as the hunter is the only on to tell it.
It’s been a busy few days in Loyola Town, so I’ve been unable to sit at my computer long enough (and with nothing else to do) to blog. But I’ve got the chance now to write a little bit, so I want to examine a concept that I think about frequently in my personal life, but that I rarely take the time to think about in broader, macro-level applications. That idea is autonomy.
Now, I need to define what I mean by autonomy. I don’t mean any kind of distinct or isolated independence, as we would think of with an autonomous nation-state. Instead, I mean a kind of self-sufficiency; non-reliance on others; economic and ideological independence. It means being able to tell your own story.
The lion, in the proverb I quoted above (which I first heard in Dr Michael Cunningham’s presentation at last week’s conference on Black Education in New Orleans at Tulane), is not autonomous because its essence — its story — is controlled by a stronger force, the hunter. In a way, the problem for the lion is not even that its life chances are controlled by the hunter, but that it is reliant upon the hunter to determine its life chances and tell its story. As such, its story is never truly communicated, and the lion is not autonomous.
In urban spaces (and really, in any place where you have large concentrations of poverty), we have basically the same effect. People’s life chances are not guided by any sort of autonomous self-determination, but rather are limited by poverty, by crime, and by other external forces. As such, these communities are not effectively autonomous. (I should preemptively defend myself here. I’m not suggesting any kind of helpless victimhood or deficiency of those living in poverty. I’m instead simply articulating the idea that heteronymous* factors like poverty act restrictively, limiting a person’s life chances.) But since this is an education blog and I’m an ardent supporter of equity-through-education, I firmly believe that quality systems of education within these communities can help these communities flourish autonomously. In this way, schools — and the people who work in them — are condescending to save the “poor folk”, but can instead give historically marginalized and limited peoples the tools they need to exercise their autonomy, determine their life stories for themselves, and tell their own stories. Perhaps this is another reason why education reform really is the most important civil rights issue of the present day.
I’m not exactly satisfied with my attempt to work out these issues. I think I’ve descended a bit deeply into some pretty murky, theoretical territory. I would love to hear people’s thoughts in this idea of autonomy, as well as any other reactions to the way in which we might apply that proverb to the experiences of high-poverty and minority students.