Maya Angelou and schools

Maya Angelou, February 2009
I saw Maya Angelou twice and she was a force of nature, a joyous warrior for the human spirit. I will add these brief clips and links, focusing on her experiences with schools, to the river of recollections and celebrations being shared worldwide.

The remarkable Maya Angelou first attended school in Stamps, Arkansas where a teacher shared works of literature that played a part in helping Angelou speak again after a deep trauma, chronicled in her first autobiographical novel. Maya Angelou's leadership and tenacity became clear at the school (http://goo.gl/5ji6Ei):
Her life in Stamps helped to mold her both in a spiritual and activist manner, as is evident in her rebelling against the black principal of her elementary school when she refused to heed his warning not to sing the “Negro National Anthem” (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) rather than “God Bless America” during the graduation assembly when the white superintendent of public schools and other white officials were present. She was appalled that the superintendent spoke to the class about their learning trades so that they might remain in servitude to the majority race. She was insulted at the inference that those were the only kinds of job opportunities available for educated African Americans. Soon afterward, the two children once again moved to be with their mother, Vivian—this time to San Francisco, California. 
Life in California was far different from their experiences in rural Arkansas. More educational and job opportunities were available. In 1944, Johnson dropped out of high school to become the first black cable car conductor in San Francisco; then she returned to Mission High School and earned a scholarship to study dance, drama, and music at San Francisco’s Labor School, where she learned about the progressive ideologies that may have served as a foundation for her later social and political activism. However, after only one sexual encounter for experimentation’s sake, earlier in the year, she gave birth to her son, Claude (who later changed his name to Guy) three weeks after graduation. This was to be her only child and the conclusion of her only educational endeavors as a student. Henceforth, she has been lecturer, teacher, professor, analyst, but never a student in any educational institutional setting. 
More about the California Labor School  supported by 72 unions and later classified as subversive and eventually closed. The school was founded to:
The School's program promised to *analyze social, economic and political questions* in light of the present world struggle against fascism. Dave Jenkins was the founding director and continued until 1949 when he was succeeded by Dr. Holland Roberts, the School's educational director.
Another teacher would also influence her:
En 1945, un événement important est survenu dans sa vie. L'éducatrice a reçu un coup de téléphone dans la classe puis elle s'est mise à marcher de long en large avant de s'adresser aux élèves. « Jeunes gens, jeunes filles. » Elle a demandé aux élèves de quitter la classe en silence et de rentrer chez eux. Maya Angelou entend encore ses paroles. « Vous ne parlerez à personne et vous penserez à votre pays. Parce que aujourd'hui, votre président est mort. » Franklin Roosevelt venait de s'éteindre à Warm Springs, en Géorgie. « Pour la première fois, dit Maya Angelou, il est devenu mon président. » Les élèves ont fait exactement ce que leur avait dit le professeur, comme s'il s'était agi de leur propre grand-père. « Je n'ai parlé à personne, j'ai pris le tramway, reprend-elle. Et ce jour-là, je suis devenue une Américaine. Pas seulement quelqu'un qui vit dans ce pays. 
Maya Angelou taught her son to read herself and was a lifelong learner herself:
In 1985, she told Essence, “The greatest gift I ever received was my son. . . .When he was four . . . I taught him to read. But then he’d ask questions and I didn’t have the answers, so I started my lifelong affair with libraries. . . .I’ve learned an awful lot because of him.”
Dr. Angelou would go on to become the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and be awarded over 30 honorary degrees among many other awards. A teacher for over 30 years at Wake Forest University, she was a philanthropist and mentor, often teaching small classes in her own home:
Angelou died Wednesday morning at her home in Winston-Salem, where she had been a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University for more than three decades.
Maya Angelou supported public charter schools that provided an alternative for youth but she was also a critic of current ed reform policy and she criticized excessive testing:
“Race To The Top feels to be more like a contest … not what did you learn, but how much can you memorize."
Dr.Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson, recollects:
Johnson said the main thing he learned from Angelou is that "life's complexity cannot be taught in a classroom."
Below: DJ Boss Player has a brief one question interview with the legendary Dr. Maya Angelou at her event fundraiser for the Maya Angelou Schools at the National Theatre in Washington, DC.


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