The Dictionary: 3 Reasons Why Black Families Should Make Teaching Their Children How To Use It A Priority


“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

1.      Learning How To Learn

Teaching your child how to learn is one of the most important gifts you can give them.  It is like the old proverb says – teaching your child how to fish rather than always giving him or her fish.  There is a huge difference between the two.  When you teach a person how to learn they can then apply that to any and all things that they want to do and it opens up the whole universe to them.  On the other hand, only teaching them sets of skills limits them to only those skills and no more.

Are Books Friend or Foe?  Do Books Empower or Disempower?

“language is never neutral”
Paulo Freire

In our world reading has become the central arena of our learning.  Books have become our teachers.  It wasn’t always this way though.  In fact, many civilizations lasted thousands of years and flourished without this direct ability  Think about it, if all books were taken away, we would still survive and quite well actually.  (This is something I will cover in another blog.)  However, there is still much to be said for the great value of books.  Through reading we can learn anything that anyone from anywhere in the world has written on paper, stone etc.  We do not have to know them and they could have been dead for thousands of years, yet we can still learn from or be entertained by what they wrote.  Certain books like the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita and How Stella got her Groove Back, etc have even revolutionized the world.

However, there are also great drawbacks to books.  Books are written by people.  And people make mistakes. And people lie.  And people have agendas and skew information towards them.  Oppressed people know better than most about how information can get skewed and deliberately changed against them.  Just as books can be enlightening and empowering, they can also be tools of oppression, violence and subjugation.  Black people know this only too well.  We know that the books, particularly in history and other academia have been full of lies and falsehoods about our history, achievements, health, our lifestyles, and even our family lives.  “The System” has industrialized this information making process and it is still stacked against us in too many ways.  Many black parents like myself spend a lot of time fighting this “system” by teaching our kids our real history that started thousands of years before slavery and will infinitely outlast slavery.  We also spend a lot of time teaching our children reading, writing and arithmetic.  But, what are our children really getting out of the reading?  What books are they reading?  Do the books they read reflect them?  Do the words they read empower or disempower them?  Do they teach them to love or hate themselves?  How do they tell the difference between something that builds them up and something that tears them down?  How do we ensure that our children can navigate the academic world of books and come out empowered instead of disempowered and wanting to be white or from just dropping out all together?  It is a fact that most of the weave wearing, skin bleaching, white doll choosing black individuals are “educated” in this system.  How do we avoid our children from falling into this self-hating trap?  Well, we teach them how to read and understand the biases against them found within the language of many books.  This begins with being able to understand the language being used and the ways in which it is used.  The dictionary is a first step towards that.

2.     Navigating the Information in the Information Age

“Reading is not walking on the words; it’s grasping the soul of them.”
Paulo Freire

In today’s society we are bombarded with more information than we know what to do with.  We encourage our children to use the internet and watch movies, play electronic games but have we prepared them on how to consume these things discerningly?  Not all information on the “innernets” or in the media is true or right.  More than ever our children need to learn first and foremost to be discerning consumers of information and when they are young using the dictionary is a great first step for that.

3.     Learn The Beginning Stages of how to be a Researcher

The black community has been greatly blessed to have had master researchers like Dr. Henry Clarke, Dr. Cheikh anta Diop, Dr Naim Akbar, Dr. Ivan van Sertima, Dr. Runoko Rashidi, Dr. Marimba Ani, Dr. Molefi Asante and many, many more.  These men and women dedicated their lives towards researching African history and telling it like it is.  The information that they have taught has influenced a whole new generation of young black people who are seeing to it that this history gets passed on and the miseducation stops.  While the teachers I am referring to have are all academicians, I am by no means saying that you have to be an academician or hold a doctorate to be a researcher.  Far from it, we should all be researchers and question everything and find out more about everything.  It is not just in the books, but we also have teach our kids how to read food labels, how to understand advertizing and marketing, how to outfox Fox News, how to question the status quo etc.  Teaching your child how to use a dictionary is the first step to teaching them how to understand the meaning of information.  It will help them to start being a researcher from an early age.  It will help them to understand words and how they are used – for good or for ill.  More importantly, it will help them become facilitators of their own comprehension.

eWorkbooks that can help you Begin

 When I first began to teach my kids how to use the dictionary, I created workpages for them.  I illustrated these work pages with pictures that reflected them as children of color.  They worked really well for my children so I have now compiled all these work pages into series of eWorkbooks that you can use teach your child step by step how to use the dictionary.  All the initial work books teach more complex forms of alphabetical order including games you can use at home to make it fun for your learner.  You can find them here

 If you like what you see Buy one and try it out.

By the way, remember, learning how to use the dictionary well can take years for the child.  Just start out with a children’s dictionary and graduate them to more complex ones as they get better.

Happy Teaching.

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