Second in a series on education
KI EcoCenter, or Kheprw Institute, has been making change for nearly a decade in my hometown. In recent years, educator Khalil MwaAfrika came on board the community empowerment center to start an independent school. He was tired of discussing school reform while watching the educational system destroy African-American children, particularly boys.
Instead of reform, he is invested in nothing less than education’s complete transformation. As mentioned in a previous post, “Kheprw” was an Egyptian god with a scarab beetle head. This beetle was a symbol of rebirth in Egypt—so the center is fittingly named.
KI’s school offers a rigorous program for African-American students. Classes are very small, allowing a high degree of mentorship. Community members interact with the students every day in this intergenerational model.
MwaAfrika emphasizes that igniting a passion for learning is key. Instead of promoting a particular ideology, faculty create space for discourse and dialogue. In that environment the children learn critical thinking skills. They are encouraged to puzzle things out themselves.
In contrast with the traditional school system, here there is no need for the youngsters to feel they must give up their own rich culture in order to succeed.
This issue came up repeatedly at the center’s recent Real Talk Summit on urban education. Because our dominant culture is white/upper middle class, racism is the water we all swim in—leading to schools that don’t believe in children from other races and classes.
But KI is different. “We’ve set up an environment where (black students) can be themselves, where they can learn exponentially, where they never have to compromise who they are,” MwaAfrika says.
KI founder Imhotep Adisa notes, “The primary purpose of education is indoctrination. It’s not liberation.”
Part of that indoctrination is the consumerism that is jeopardizing the earth. “We’re at a very ugly place in the history of the planet,” he says. “Regardless of gender, race, and class, the old paradigm has accelerated this…We have to develop new tools for a new paradigm. We have to have the courage to say, ‘That’s not the world we want for ourselves and our children.’”
KI’s adults model that courage every day. Teaching youth to interface with the culture of power while retaining their identity is a critical aspect of their work.
Social enterprises are part of this, as the students work with KI’s bootstrappers (young adults) to develop the skills needed to thrive in a resource-strapped world.
Above (at left) is the rainbarrel made by bootstrappers and students for my urban homestead, via the Express Yourself Rainbarrels enterprise. My partner added it to our rain catchment setup, just in time for big rains.
(Indy-area readers, check it out: Save on your water bill, display your artwork, and support a great organization all at the same time.)
Read more about KI’s work in my Indiana Living Green story.
Next: Bloomington’s homeschooling cooperative, exploring the homestead as learning environment.
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