Activism in an educational setting is just as important as learning to read, write and calculate numbers, civil activist Andre Canty told Tech students Feb. 8.
“When it comes to education, revolution should be as taught as the other R’s,” Canty said during his presentation “Reading, Riting, Rithmetic, and Revolutions: The Four R’s of Education.”
The speaker said he believes critical thinking and social justice should be integrated into the classroom so students are prepared to work for the change they want to see.
“When you see something, you have revolution on your mind, you have dramatic change on your mind,” Canty said.
Canty spoke on Tech campus as a guest of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. He also spoke about his involvement in civil protests against Forrest Hall on Middle Tennessee State University’s campus.
The Tennessee Historical Commission convened Feb. 16 to consider MTSU’s petition for the name change of Forrest Hall following protests from a committee of campus and community members. The ROTC building was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and founding member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Canty said Forrest Hall was even more significant because of the timing during which it was named.
“It was a direct response [to the Civil Rights Movement],” Canty said. “It wasn’t erected immediately after the Civil War, it was erected in 1958.”
This was four years after Brown v. Board of Education, in which the United States Supreme Court made segregation illegal in public school systems.
Canty said he organized a group of activists at MTSU as an undergraduate in 2006 after learning the origin of the building’s name. It wasn’t until Canty graduated and returned to MTSU’s campus as a mentor to student activists in 2016 that MTSU President Sidney McPhee and the Forrest Hall Task Force agreed to file a name change request to the Tennessee Historical Commission.
Canty listed his mentorship of the MTSU student activists as his proudest achievement to date.
“The victory is not about policy change. It’s about people changing their own lives and thinking they can do something about it. That’s what I’m proud of,” he said.
Trevon Covington, a junior in biology and president of Tech’s chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, said Canty’s perspective is relevant to everyone on today’s college campus.
“I believe this event will help bring students of color and whites together in unity. This is something that everybody needs to know, especially in a time in this country where division is on a high rise,” Covington said.
Canty also encouraged discussion about social, racial and religious differences.
“Whether you’re working-class white, women, LGBT, immigrants, all these issues are one and the same. We all gotta fight,” he said.
Canty said a rapid response team could aid students in addressing future conflict. These teams would prepare for possible scenarios both on- and off-campus.
“Sometimes you can’t avoid what’s gonna happen, but you can tackle what happens afterwards,” he said.
Canty is the former president of 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville, a former youth teacher for the Odd Fellows Scholars Program and writes for The Knoxville Writers Guild, The Knoxville News Sentinel and The Huffington Post. He is currently running for election to the Knox County School Board.