Former high school math teacher Reverend Rufus Phillips explores the root challenges of African-American’s self-actualization in this blend of memoir and sociological study.
Composed of “case studies” from his Washington, D.C., public school classroom, Phillips zeros in on two obstacles to academic success for African-Americans, or “soul people,” as he says. One of his conflicts centers on “experiential” rather than “abstract” expression styles. He offers the example of an African-American girl commenting on the weather by saying “It’s cooold outside” rather than “It’s extremely cold.” Another obstacle is a tendency to value the community more than the individual. Consequently, he theorizes, the model of independent success and single-minded competition that drives many Americans does not inspire many black Americans, particularly females. By reframing his pedagogical approach around these observations, Phillips details how he was able to reach certain students who’d appeared to be academically hopeless. Some of what Phillips describes as an African-American student’s dilemma could be said about many young people, across cultures, who flourish when exposed to alternative learning methods and flounder under the static approach of standard public school education. But Phillips goes deeper to show how this alienation takes a toll on his students’ confidence and their larger individual and cultural identities. In order to rise to their true potential, Phillips believes that African-Americans must nourish their dual identities and embrace both immediate and abstract communication styles, learn how to be both pro-individual and pro-community, and own both their heritage as the oppressed and their present reality as privileged members of a “Euro-American” society. Further, he advises forgiveness, because to live with anger toward white America fosters a damaging “moral philosophy based on victimization.” This text is carefully constructed with considered observations and support drawn from a variety of sources and thinkers. Phillips can be commended for not injecting any pop-culture fluff or oversimplifying his message, but as a whole, the book lacks fluidity and intuitive organization.
A thoughtful, thorough analysis geared toward African-American leaders and educators that offers limited readability for a general audience.