The Intergenerational Transmission of Knowledge

by Burnett. W. “Kwadwo” Gallman, Jr. M.D.
Burnett. W. “Kwadwo” Gallman, Jr. M.D. Burnett. W. “Kwadwo” Gallman, Jr. M.D.

When an old man. dies, a library burns to the ground.

When an old woman dies, a school burns to the ground. - Afrikan Proverb

One of the problems occasionally spoken of in AUSA (Afrikans from the United States of America) circles is the lack of intergenerational transmission of knowledge (using the Afrikana framework of the brilliant scholar, Dr. Greg Kimathi Carr of Howard University, this category is called, “Movement and Memory”). That is, old folks or elders ain’t talking to youngsters and/or youngsters ain’t listening. So, actually the flow of generational knowledge stops. Actually, the problem goes both ways but I will concentrate on the former rather than the latter.

When I was a youngster, in the “olden days” of huge black-and-white television sets, I really enjoyed listening to my grandmother and mother talk about their childhoods. I learned so many lessons that I now know are indispensable to my life. Actually, those of you who have read any of my previous contributions to this paper may have noticed that I quote them quite often.

Unfortunately, it seems that sitting at the feet of elders rarely happens now. With electronic games, streaming TV and social media, young people are preoccupied, frequently with BS. Even those who seek out news and information, generally get it from phone apps and web sites, etc. Because, as we’ve mentioned before, six companies control most of the news, much of the “news” that they get may, in fact, be more propaganda (biased or misleading information used to promote a particular political cause or point of view) than actual news.

Very few young people (and some older people) read for fun or pleasure and even find reading for work to be a chore. I find this curious and worrisome because I have always been an avid reader (even maybe a “book worm”). Even my punishments involved reading. Although it wasn’t called “time-out”, when I misbehaved, I was told to sit in a chair and not move until told to move. Sometimes it seemed like hours passed before I was allowed to get up. However, there were always books around the chair, within reach so I could pass the time and lose myself in a book. I actually started stashing boos near the frequent punishment chairs.

As an only child, it was also a special treat to curl up on the floor listening to my mother and grandmother converse. It was a treat because they usually sent me away to stay out of “grown folks’ business” so being around them was a treat. Listening to them reminisce about their childhoods, long-gone relatives sand the “old days” always fascinated me. The wisdom that was shared with me during those times was invaluable, even though I didn’t recognize it then.

Ms. Carolyn Bennett wrote a guest editorial in the Journal of Negro Education, Volume 54, Number 4 in 1985 and said perfectly what I am trying to communicate: "We have lost our memory--and youth have no memory at all--in a morass of consumerism, materialism, and misguided individualism which lies down with the strangest bedfellows and announces to the less advantaged and downtrodden: 'I got mine, you get yours the best way you can.’” She goes on to say, "But we must remember. We must give our children memories of the past stony road we trod and the bitter chast'ning rod felt in the days when hope unborn had died. We must remember because if we fail to remember, we cannot see the past in the present, recognize it for what it is, and prepare ourselves to avoid the perils of the past. Those who ignore and are ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat the worst of it." This was written thirty-eight years ago and it hasn’t gotten any better. In fact, in my opinion, its much worse.

So, what is the solution? It would be incredibly arrrogant and presumptious of me to act as if I had all the answers. However, I will make some humble suggestions. Firstly, we have to provide our children’s education and not depend on others to do it. The overwhelming majority of teachers in America are white females. They don’t have the same experiences as our children and too frequently don’t love and cherish them as much as they should. Remember, 54% of white females voted for Donald Trump. That means that we, as parents, will need to take charge of our children’s education and counteract these white vigilante groups that are trying to keep our children (actually all children) from learning truthful history.

We must also give our children sound ethical and moral instruction. This was a consistent requirement of both our ancient and more recent Ancestors. Our children must be taught who they are as a race of people with a particular history and what that means in the world and especially in the United States of America. As Ms. Bennett stated, they must be taught "to hold on to a racial pride and unity that sees through and rises above superficialities of consumerism, materialism and misplaced individualism.”

It is not too late but there is much work to be done! I will close with a quote from our powerful. Ancestor, Mary McLeod Bethune, from Mayesville, South Carolina, "What was done yesterday must be done over again today, in a somewhat different way. Effort must be unceasing. We must secure the oars, continue the journey."