Despite being kicked out of high school for assaulting a teacher, Ta-Nehisi Coates is asked often to speak to predominantly black schools, he writes in If I Were a Black Kid… in The Atlantic. Teachers, including his mother, hope he’ll be able to inspire their students.
What I generally try to do is avoid messages about “hard work” and “homework,” not because I think those things are unimportant, but because I think they put the cart before the horse. The two words I try to use with them are “excitement” and “entrepreneurial.” I try to get them to think of education not as something that pleases their teachers, but as a ticket out into a world so grand and stunning that it defies their imagination.
Black kids often are told to pursue education so they won’t get shot or go to prison, Coates writes. That’s not enough, he thinks. They need to know that “every subject they study has the potential to open up a universe.”
A senior editor at The Atlantic, Coates is the author of The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood.