If I Were a Black Kid…

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.

About Joanne


  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    He offers a false choice between “excitement” or “hard work”. Frequently, you cannot have one without the other. They’re cooperative, not contradictory. By focusing on the fun rather than the work, he’s being subtly dishonest.

    • Usually so, but if you find something you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.

      But telling a bunch of kids: “If you work real hard and apply yourself, you just might get a shot at having a decent job; because nobody owes it to you.” Doesn’t inspire many.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        “..but if you find something you love, you’ll never work another day in your life. ”

        But this isn’t true. I love my job but certain aspects of it are still drudgery. You take the good with the bad and if you’ve chosen your profession/vocation well then the bad stuff is mitigated by the good. Kids should know this.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          What we need to tell kids is ..”If you love something pursue it even when some aspects of it are less then exciting. Get through the no fun stuff so you can get to the good stuff. In working hard as something you don’t think you like, you might find you actually do like or at least appreciate it.

  2. Yes, like the ed world, he is ignoring and distorting the effort and persistence necessary for both academic and workplace success. It’s all fun, no effort and no tedious tasks; it’s also a lie.

    • No, I get the effort and persistence parts. I had to muddle through Quantum Mechanics – it sure was no fun. But other parts were really cool; I enjoyed the straight math part of it, electromagnetic theory was jazzy, but on the whole, once I was in sight of the end, I also could look back and say, “I don’t want to go forward”, my wife did go on; the bad days are mostly caused by people being people, the science she always enjoys; even when it keeps her up nights.