At the turn of the 20th century, the two leading African American figures were Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. Although both men were proponents of education, they differed in their beliefs as to what education for African Americans should look like. In honor of African American History Month, I would be remiss if I did not reflect upon how the ideology of yesteryear still plagues the progress of not just African Americans, but all Americans, today.
At that time in history, Booker T. Washington believed that the only way to overcome pervasive racism in the long run was through submission. Washington believed that if African Americans would give up their desire for political power, insistence on civil rights, and higher education while concentrating all the African American’s energy on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and appeasing those in power in the South, the African American would slowly, but surely achieve equality.
W.E.B. DuBois, on the other hand, believed that higher education along with advocating for civil justice and the abolishment of caste discrimination was the way in which the African American would ascend to higher civilization in America. DuBois, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University, believed that it would be impossible for the African American to achieve equality if the African American is deprived of his political rights while at the same time functioning as a subservient member of society.
Translation: One believed that “brawn” was the key to success. The other believed that “brains” was the key to success.
Regardless of what you believe or what side you take on this issue, it would be difficult for anyone to disagree with the fact that outsourcing of jobs to other countries, business and industry occupations being replaced with service occupations, and more and more jobs requiring some form of higher education and training, that brain is trumping brawn. Sadly, many students, not just African Americans, are currently being educated by a turn of the 20th century system in a world that is clearly 21st century.
As China strives to become a super power that is highly competitive and in some instances surpassing the United States, i.e. Science and Math education, many schools in the United States continue to educate with a caste system mentality—separating students into the categories of “You’re going to make it and be successful” and “Oh, my gosh, you will be lucky to find a job.”
At this time in history, take a moment to reflect not just your future but the future of society as a whole. How has the educating of youths changed from those days when Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois bitterly debated how it would be done best? Additionally, as you reflect, remember if it negatively affects one, it will hurt and hinder us all.