What is the "crucial paradox which confronts us here?"
James Baldwin, in "A Talk to Teachers," states the following:
Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society.
The text, published in The Saturday Review on December 21, 1963, was a speech delivered by Baldwin on October 16, 1963 under the title "The Negro Child-His Self Image."
That being said, Baldwin is addressing teachers in 1963 regarding the problems associated with a child, his/her society, and their education.
The paradox which Baldwin refers to in the speech/text is the one which exists where a child must come to recognize the numerous questions in life which they must desire to answer for themselves.
Unfortunately, as proposed by Baldwin, society does not necessarily want children who ask about their own identities. Instead, societies wish their children to simply obey the rules the society puts into their lives.
Therefore, the paradox which is created is one where education must combat societal rules. Teachers are expected to give students the ability to question and find answers to those things which confuse or concern students. That being said, society would be much happier with life existing as it does without questioning why society exists as it does. While the questioning expands the minds of the youth, this questioning can also weaken a society.
The "crucial paradox which confronts us here" that James Baldwin writes about in "A Talk to Teachers" (1963) is the divided purpose of American education and its damaging effect on African Americans. He writes that one purpose of American education is "to perpetuate the aims of society" and to socialize children in that society. However, the other purpose of education is to make students more aware of the values of their society and to hone their ability to question these values. Baldwin writes, "as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated."
The paradox of the educational system is that it is designed to school children in American values, but, at the same time, it makes African American children aware that the promises of America are not part of their life. As Baldwin writes of the African American child, "he is also assured by his country and his countrymen that he has never contributed anything to civilization." The American educational system teaches African American children that everyone has the promise of liberty and justice but then teaches them that they do not deserve liberty and justice. This is the cruel paradox of which Baldwin writes so poignantly.