Sunday, January 8, 2012

College Education & My Mother's Homeschooling Plan

School, book collection, music and reading history guided my mother when I was growing up. She wanted me to get into a good college. 

Sunny Nash age 16
Sunny Nash, Age 16
Reading Nancy Wilson Album Liner Notes
My mother made learning part of my life and, even though I attended public school, I was home schooled on top of it. She used history, music, art, media and anything she could turn into a lesson to bring education into our home. If she and my father could have managed for her not to have jobs outside the home, I believe she would have home schooled me, if there had been such a thing when I was growing up.

I had to read everything before I could use a product, eat a food or listen to  music.

My mother taught me extra and above what my school offered because, when I was in elementary and high school, Jim Crow laws still determined where American children would receive an education under separate but equal laws, which were put into place by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 when Plessy v Ferguson legalized Jim Crow laws. I grew up watching civil rights activists, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King fighting to destroy Jim Crow and my mother wanted me to be ready when the Jim Crow education system fell and I would be eligible for good jobs. 

Education was not just about good jobs to my mother. She believed in using all of the mind, whether it led to good jobs or not.

I May Not Get There With You by Martin Luther King
I May Not Get There with You: 
The True Martin Luther King Jr 
by Dyson, (Google Affiliate Ad)
Martin Luther King came into national prominence when Rosa Parks ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted for more than a year. The bus boycott became a few months after I started school and last until half way through my second year. My mother was all over that news. So much for  Jim Crow "Dick and Jane" hand-me-down reading books. My mother started me out reading newspapers and magazine articles about civil rights. She asked me if my teachers at school were talking about that subject. 

When I told my mother we were not talking about civil rights, she gathered up every Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King article she could find and she taught me to read them. From that time on, I kept up with every news item and all the media coverage our local television station carried, which wasn't much. My mother bought a tall antenna for our television and turned in to the stations in Houston for better media coverage. When I hear excerpts from King speeches, I May Not Get There With You, it still or I Have a Dream (full speech video), they still brings tears to my eyes.

My mother was not critical of my school for not teaching us about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks. She simply told me they probably had their reasons. But I overheard her saying to Bigmama and my father, teachers were cautious about bringing up civil rights, for fear they may lose their jobs. She also realized my teachers were limited in textbooks, media subscription, art programs and teacher training in history, languages, science and math. And the teaching profession in Jim Crow schools did not pay top salaries even though those jobs required a college education.

In fact, books issued to us at our Jim Crow school had always been used by white students before we got them because budgets for my school were far less than money laid out for our white counterparts. My mother supplemented at home what I got in school and did her best to support my schools in terms of extracurricular programs, academic activity development and volunteering without interfering with the established curriculum or taking away my independence.

Some people think that volunteering, as noble as it sounds, is only for wealthy people who may not have enough activity to fill their empty days or others who have days off from good jobs and want to fill their lives by volunteering some community service. However, my mother and others like her volunteered to lend support in our Jim Crow schools that were deficient in funding.

Preparing for college meant doing well in school, but not to the exclusion of my music lessons and entertainment such as movies and travel.

College Preparation and Scholarships
Dissecting the ACT 2.0: ACT Test Preparation Advice of a Perfect Score (Google Affiliate Ad)
Certain I would be offered scholarships to Jim Crow black colleges, my mother wanted my education to be college preparatory so I could attend a white college, offered scholarships or not. She wanted me to SAT preparatory, especially math, and ACT preparatory instruction. When she asked at school how to prepare me, the teachers were not sure. So, my mother went out and asked people she worked for who had children in good colleges how they studied for those tests. 

"Times are changing," she said. "You must be ready to get in there and make it. You have to find something you do well and do it alongside the best of them. You have to decide what that will be and go to school for it." My mother let me make some decisions, but she made the important and immediate decisions that affected every day life and my education.

Before letting me listen to music at home, my mother made me read album liner notes. "Liner notes teach you history," she said. "Someone researched and wrote the biographies of those musicians. Take a minute to learn what you don't know." At first, I didn't care to read about the music or the artists who played and sang the music. I just wanted to listen to the music. But if reading the album liner notes was the only way I could listen, I read them. I was careful about how I answered my mother's questions, remembering that she had read about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Woolworth Sit-ins before handing the article or book to me.

My mother was right, of course. I learned artist history and music data, such as origin, instrumentation, studio, performance, radio information, lyrics, industry trends and label announcements. Knowing this information was like having the inside track into the music business. I got so hooked that I read the music notes on my own with my mother's prompting. "See," my mother said. "I told you music notes  made interesting reading."

My mother's lesson plan, different from that of my school, took every day items and turned them into problems for me to solve or a book for me to read and understand.

Herbal teas, homeopathic medicine and organic beauty potions were all within my mother's interests. She developed these interests from her part-Comanche mother, Bigmama, whom I wrote about in my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's. From my book, an essay about a family beauty secret was included in Stirring Prose: Cooking with Texas Authors, a collection of stories by 39 of Texas' best writers, including Kinky Friedman, Liz Carpenter and Molly Ivins.

Sunny Nash Biography on Amazon

My mother's vast knowledge of history, art, math, science, astronomy, geography and literature constantly surprised me. How could she know so much? I thought. Now, I remember. She was curious and read a book from cover to cover on a variety of subjects and passed this reading habit to me, especially in art and history.

Because my mother augmented the education I received under Jim Crow laws, I went on to graduate from a major, predominantly white university. Upon arriving to some classes, I was advised by professors that my early education probably had not prepared me for such high academic aspirations. What the professors were saying was my Jim Crow education was inadequate and they knew it. But my professors had not factored in my mother. I am not saying that my elementary and high school did a bad job. Many of my teachers were dedicated educators. Further, I am not saying other kids who went to my Jim Crow schools or schools like mine could not compete academically at a major university. What I am saying is: I do not think I could have done it without my mother. Those among my professors who had underestimated my college preparation, had to reassess their opinion when I made "A" grades, earned scholarships and was placed on the dean's list several semesters.
908 Oat Cakes Recipe Quaker Oats Cereal Box Company Founded 1850
1908 Oat Cakes Recipe
Quaker Oats Cereal Box
Company Founded 1850

And my mother did not stop my education at reading about the health benefits of certain diets and budget comparisons when shopping. Oh, I wanted to stop her when she started about the history of oatmeal. Before we made oatmeal cookies, she lectured me on the food having been around since before the Civil War, 100 years before Cocoa Puffs. I really loved Cocoa Puffs. "No one wants to know the history of Cocoa Puffs!" She said, nearly ruining my appetite for oatmeal cookies, too.

My mother was saving all kinds of recipes for a cookbook she was writing. She collected old-fashion recipes and cookbooks.

My mother, Bigmama and I ate one oatmeal cookie each, holding me responsible for what and how much I ate, one of the best lessons they ever taught me. "Eating properly takes discipline," my mother said. "Like studying in school and making good grades, you can't hide overeating or not turning in your homework," she said. "It will show."
Alpha Omega Publications LAN 0409
The Written Report (Google Affiliate Ad)

If I complained about reading a book, an article, a recipe or other assignments, my mother made me write a report on a country in South America or the history of the telephone or a current world event or some other seemingly random topic that she pulled out of the air. I realize now that her topics were not randomly selected. Like everything else she did, subjects for writing reports were chosen carefully and were part of her education plan. 

Because my mother was such a good writer herself, she had the skills to evaluate my writing and would not accept sloppy reporting. Needless to say, my mother taught me to stop complaining, speak intelligently on many subjects and write convincingly, without a clue that, one day, I would be a published author and public speaker. 

Education was a priority in my mother's life and she made school a priority in my life, as well.

Littie Nash
Littie Nash, 1947

My mother, Littie Nash, had taken my hand when I was six years old and walked me to first grade on the first day of school. That was just three and a half months before Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Littie was angry that the Supreme Court decision, Brown v the Board of Education, just one year before, had not integrated or changed the Jim Crow school I would be attending. However, she was determined to squeeze as much from that school as they could offer me. 

"I thought things would be different for you than they were for me," she said to me. "But having a school is better than not having a school." And from that point on in my education, she made the best of the schools available to us and was convinced she could make up the difference on her own. And she did without complaining about it again. As far as my mother was concerned, there were excuses. "You see what you have to work with," she said. "And you work with it the best you can." That's what she did with me and my young relatives and friends, many of whom practically lived with us on occasion.

In 1947, when my mother graduated from high school, black students were less than half as likely to graduate than white students. An "A" student, my mother had ambitions, although she had attended Jim Crow schools and was acutely aware that Jim Crow laws would throw barriers into her path. Littie's mother, my Bigmama, who was born in 1890, lived through violent racial times in American history, managed to become literate and understood how to prepare her children for life under Jim Crow laws, preparation Bigmama's children passed on to their children.

To my mother, travel was as important a part of my education as reading books and going to school.

Colored Waiting Room - Public Bus Station 1940s
Colored Waiting Room - Public Bus Station 1940s
My mother's first ambition after graduating from high school was to travel, which she did. Visiting family and friends all over the country, she saw siblings in California and Colorado, who had gone West to get good jobs. She also had relatives and friends who had gone East for that purpose.

My mother made the rounds riding on Jim Crow buses and trains; eating, using facilities and waiting for departing connections in colored areas throughout Texas and the nation. Jim Crow laws and accommodations were disappointing to her but did not stop her from moving freely about the country. According to my mother, "Traveling is part of your education. If you never go anywhere but where you were born and raised, your understanding of people in other places is limited."

My mother was very demanding of herself and me. This was the example she gave me to grow by. She said good grades were my job. To make my job easier, my mother created a reading corner in the living room, more for herself than for me, and bought newspapers, magazines and books--history, science, art, biography, encyclopedia and other reference materials--and made me read them after she'd finished. She made me a study corner in my bedroom with a table and bookshelves. In that little reading corner, I learned what education was all about--reading and, later, it would be all of the reading that would earn me scholarships in college.

Somewhere along the way, my mother got off her original course to attend college, got married and had a family instead and became a great mother, my mother. Later in her life, she did get back on the college track, but in the meanwhile, she had me to nag about grades. When my mother enrolled in college to broaden her own professional possibilities, she brought home 'A' grades, using those credentials to build a profession in nutrition.

Because my mother loved to cook and was so good, she turned her talent into a marketable skill in health and medical support, for which she won regional and state cooking honors and corporate grants to develop recipes in coordination with physicians and other medical professionals. In these competitions, Littie put her cooking, as well as writing skills, into action against hundreds of contestants around the state and nation, and published recipes and methodologies in food journals, newsletters and instructional manuals.

"You have to read," my mother said. "How else will you know anything useful to say? Or be able to answer questions on tests and scholarship examinations? You have to write, too. How else can you ask for and get what you want?

"Do you write white?" I asked my mother, sarcastically."

No." she said. "I present correctly written English. I don't always win, but I am always a finalist. There is no color in the process, as long as the judges don't know I'm black, and I only enter competitions that do not require an appearance," she said, smiling. "That way, the judges do not know my color and cannot use my color to dismiss me before they get their team of chefs busy making my dishes."

My mother knew the limitations Jim Crow laws placed on her ambitions. She also knew, when I was growing up, Jim Crow laws were on their way out. Flickering black-and-white images on the television news broadcasts confirmed her belief that, one day, my color would not be an issue like hers had been. Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the violence in Birmingham, Alabama, against school children came into America's living rooms nightly during media broadcasts showing me the future. "You have to be ready when the time comes," she said. "It won't matter what you will be allowed to do, if you are not prepared and cannot do it.

Although my mother always had time to hear my ideas, her word was the last word in the conversation. She reminded me that I was a child, and had not been in the world long enough to know what was best for me. I did not get an allowance for chores or money for good grades. "Those things are the least you can do to contribute around here," my mother said. "You are responsible to yourself for those things. Besides, we're poor. Now, go in your room and turn off the light. Lights don't grow on trees around here." Every day is Mothers' Day to me.

 by Sunny Nash

African American  National Biography Harvard & Oxford
African American
 National Biography
Harvard & Oxford
Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press) by Sunny Nash was chosen by the  Association of American University Presses as one of its essential books for understanding race relations in the United States, and also listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.

Sunny Nash has work in the African American National Biography, a joint project by Harvard and Oxford, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham; African American West, a Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, a History of Black Photographers 1840 - Present; Ancestry; Companion to Southern Literature; Texas Through Women’s Eyes; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways L; Southwestern American Literature Journal and other anthologies. Nash is listed in references: The Source: guidebook to American genealogy; Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony Magazine; Southern Exposure; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and others.

© 2012 Sunny Nash
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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