Student Voices

STUDENT VOICE: Black in Baltimore, and finding a language to express ideas about ethnicity, religion and morality

Thinking beyond academics

When we are born, we are taught that there is truth and untruth, but as we mature we learn that truth is a matter of perspective. I was born into a Christian family, and for a long time, I never questioned what that meant. To be Christian was to be right.

At the same time, I was always taught to question the things around me. When I approached adolescence and began to derive my own ideas through reading and conversation, the absolute morality of Christianity came to be a source of great conflict in my life.

I did not want to challenge the theology itself as false, but rather, I wanted to acquire a more complex version of “truth.” I set out to read whoever had something to say about the topic of Christian philosophy, but it was often difficult to reconcile what I learned with my home life and those around me.

In 11th grade I transferred to Bard High School Early College Baltimore, and all of a sudden I was a college student. Never had I felt so accepted. I was finally able to pursue answers to the inquiries I had developed over the years with both my professors and my peers.

Related: How a school that serves mostly homeless kids is matching its district’s graduation rate

I was finally enabled to do what I wanted to do: to challenge the truths and untruths of the world. At school I read new authors who had so much to offer that I was overwhelmed in the best way possible.

So I read Nietzsche, Descartes and Milton to understand what the truth was. These authors and philosophers became my fellows, my mentors.

My intellectual pursuits at Bard led to simple but transformative realization: the truth is relative. In Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, he asks, “Why not pursue untruth?,” a notion that has stuck with me and caused a major paradigm shift in my mind.

Related: Reimagining failure: ‘Last-chance’ schools are the future of American high schools

Every essay, question and idea since then has been a result of Nietzsche’s question. He, along with other authors I’ve read, has had a tremendous impact on my thinking.

As a black man from Baltimore, I find this idea of “untruth” has been crucial to understanding my identity as such in American society. Identity is purely cooperation. I am not black unless we agree that I am. I am not a man unless we agree that I’m a man.

Social constructions are always cooperative, and thus there is always room for amendment, adjustment and restoration. Racism, sexism and religious prejudice are all the result of our attempts to own an identity and to identify others accordingly, positively or negatively.

Bard has provided me with the language to express these ideas, this line of thinking, in a way that extends beyond academics and into my relationship with my society and my world.

Related: The future of proficiency-based education

Possessing knowledge, in my understanding of the world, is the closest we can come to enlightenment, and perhaps that is why I have such a thirst for it.

I question whatever I feel needs questioning, and I feel that it is my responsibility to understand the topic to the best of my ability.

Simply put, I want to know things because the world is here and so am I.

Related: Reality check: After four years of tough college prep, high school seniors grapple with gaps in financial aid

I now have a new dilemma, that of how to share the findings of my inquiries. I often think of pursuing humanities or literary disciplines because of my love for classic authors and philosophers.

I have always been one who sought to acquire knowledge, but something I learned at Bard was that knowledge is better shared than held within, and the best way to do so is through clear and critical writing.

Learning to be clear, to be thoughtful and to articulate myself has provided me with the language, the drive and the confidence to continue the same ideas and passions; chief among them, a desire to share knowledge without forcing an absolute truth upon my readers.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Tyler Williams is a student at Bard High School Early College in Baltimore.

Letters

Tyler Williams

Tyler Williams is a student at Bard High School Early College Baltimore. See Archive

Letters to the Editor

Send us your thoughts

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.





No letters have been published at this time.