Freedom Lessons: Black Mothers Asserting Smartness of Their Children

Billye Sankofa Waters, University of Washington Tacoma


It is imperative to explore multiple approaches to intelligence and public education that fundamentally integrate the ideas and lived experiences of students – with particular interest to those who are most disenfranchised. Within various black communities, the oral traditions transmitted at home are life-affirming freedom lessons, engendered by lived experiences, which must be considered when teaching black children in the classroom environment. With consideration to black women, the freedom lessons they teach, and how they collectively shape smartness for black children, this article is organized in three sections. The first examines cultural constructions of history, knowledge and black women. The second explores the freedom lessons of three black mothers that were collected during a 2011–2012 ethnographic study and are presented as three sets of narratives: community smartness, world smartness, and individual smartness. The final section concludes with an analysis of smartness as a social critique and implications for teachers.