Intro to Afro-American Studies
Education and the School in the Black Community
Toward a Paradigm of Unity in Afro-American Studies
|LOGIC OF CHANGE||Social Cohesion||Traditional Africa||-||Slavery||-||Rural Life||-||Urban Life|
|Social Disruption||-||Slave Trade||-||Emancipation||-||Migrations||-|
|UNITS OF ANALYSIS||Ideology||A1||B1||C1||D1||E1||F1||G1|
It is popularly believed that education's main purpose is to benefit the masses of people by training them for jobs and facilitating upward mobility. Our analysis, however, reveals that the primary function of education in the United States is to serve the interests of the ruling class through achieving two main objectives: (1) to train a disciplined and skilled labor force which can take its place in the existing order and contribute (mainly its labor power) to the maintenance and expansion of the capitalist system; (2) to indoctrinate the youth of the society in the ideas, beliefs, values, and practices which are also important to maintaining the existing socioeconomic order.
Samuel Bowles, in his study of the educational system, has written:
Black people have always been the most negatively affected by these inequalities in the educational system.
Control over the educational system is maintained by the ruling class in several ways:
1. The ruling class makes sure that the trustee boards of colleges and universities are "dominated by merchants, manufacturers, capitalists, corporation, officials, bankers," as several studies conclude.
2. The ruling class insures that the ideas which are taught in universities are those which reinforce and do not threaten the existing capitalist social order. This is done through funding only selected projects and through selective hiring and firing (e.g., denying employment and tenure to faculty with radical ideas, as has happened with many activists in the Black liberation movement).
For Black people, of course, the twin objectives of education and the operation of the three mechanisms listed above are qualitatively influenced by the history of racist oppression and economic exploitation that Black people have faced. Thus, the educational experiences of Black people must be evaluated in that context.
THE SLAVE PERIOD
Education during the period of slavery was shaped by the main aim of the brutal institution of slavery: to exploit the greatest amount of wealth and profits from the forced labor of slaves. To accomplish this main economic aim, it was necessary to make the slave plantation a self-sufficient unit, capable of producing all or most of its own needs. Thus, under slavery Black people received "on the job training" in many skill areas. In addition to using slaves as field hands and domestic labor, "The masters found it easier and cheaper to have their slaves trained in carpentry, masonry, blacksmithing, and the other mechanical trades," as Sterling Spero and Abram Harris state in The Black Worker. This training can be seen in the quantity and quality of what the slaves produced.
As Booker T Washington observed:
In addition to "worldly" work-related training, religious instruction was important in the education of slaves, in part because it allowed some people to learn to read. Largely at the urging of missionaries, some slaveholders finally agreed to religious education. They did so for several reasons. First, some "Christian" slave owners felt a "moral" duty to provide religious instruction, if for no other reason than to "humanize" Black people. Second and probably more important, slaveholders quickly learned that religious training often made slaves more hardworking, obedient, and submissive than they would ordinarily be. The most loyal slaves, according to the testimony of many slavemasters, were those who could read the bible. Reading, however, proved to be a double-edged sword, particularly as the years wore on.
Black people themselves also played a major role in providing their own education during slavery. Although slaveowners used a variety of techniques to mold the slaves into loyal, submissive, and efficient workers, slaves were able to develop and transmit a set of beliefs, ideas, values, and practices which were different from what the slaveowners intended. Such themes as the hatred of the slaveowners and their power, the importance of the family, the significance of learning and education, and the value of freedom were among the "illegal" lessons that slaves learned and taught. The main educational mechanisms among slaves were the family, the peer group, the underground church, songs and stories, and the slave community itself.
Opportunities for education also existed for free Blacks in the North. One of the best known schools for Blacks was New York's African Free School, opened by the manumission society in 1787, which served as a model for schools in other northern cities.
Thus, some slaves were "educated" through work-related training, through religious instruction, or through their own efforts. But, regardless of how " they" learned, educated slaves were a dangerous contradiction under slavery. If slaves could read work instructions, they also could read and spread the word about the revolutionary struggles of Toussaint L'Ouverture and the defeat of slavery in Haiti in 1791. Slaves who read passages in the bible about obedience and submissiveness also drew revolutionary implications about the necessity of overthrowing slavery.
In fact, it was the growing struggles of the slaves for freedom - a struggle in which many "educated" slaves and free Blacks were active, participants - that caused slaveowners to rethink the policy of education for Black people during slavery. As the slave revolts increased in the United States after 1820, most southern states passed laws prohibiting the teaching of slaves and preventing them from association with free Blacks. The North Carolina law forbidding any person, whether Black or white, to teach slaves was typical:
In several states, it even became illegal for parents to teach their own children to read. Note, however, that it was not illegal for slaves to learn "figures," obviously because that skill would help the slaveowners keep track of their, human chattel and property.
In My Bondage and My Freedom, Frederick Douglass summed up the southern mindset that overcame earlier interests in educating Black people:
Douglass went on to describe how many Black people reacted to this:
Throughout the slave period, slaves and free Blacks alike strove to educate themselves.
THE RURAL PERIOD
The defeat of the slaveowners and the southern agricultural system by the rising northern industrial capitalists brought great changes as the tenant system replaced slavery. This new "freedom" of Black people required the development of social institutions that could provide the kind of "social control" that the institution of slavery had provided. Education used as a training ground for leadership became the vehicle of control. Black colleges became, a key mechanism used to train a sector of the Black population in the skills of social control.
Still, Black people were anxious to be educated. Slaveowners had paid considerable sums to finance the education of their own children and to employ "educated" assistants to help maintain their economic and political power. After slavery, Black people actively sought education as one of the most important tools for liberation. As Booker T. Washington observed, it appeared "a whole race was trying to go to school."
There were four main sources of educational experiences for Black people during the agricultural period:
The Black community - From the beginning of the Civil War, Black people arranged to have lessons offered. Schools were set up with teachers as soon as an area was captured by the Union Army. Almost $1.2 million was contributed in taxes and tuition and by Black church organizations. Black soldiers gave their army pay to help establish schools, such as Lincoln University in Missouri. In South Carolina, the Black-majority state legislature during Reconstruction passed a bill which established the first system of tax-supported public education for all citizens. Many Black people who could already read and write offered invaluable services in establishing schools in the South.
Civic and church organizations - Religious organizations and churches contributed to meeting the educational needs of the ex-slaves. The American Missionary Association opened schools in several areas and later assisted in the founding of several colleges, among them Fisk (1866), Talladega (1867), and Hampton (1868). More than sixty-five societies were organized to support Black education between 1846 and 1867. Between 1862 and 1874, sixteen of these contributed almost $4 million. These organizations also assisted in recruiting teachers and providing school supplies.
Government-sponsored - The government played the major role in orchestrating the development of education for Black people during Reconstruction. From 1866 to 1870, almost half of the $11 million allocated to the U.S. Freedmen's Bureau, created to "assist" the former slaves, went to support Black schools. According to DuBois: "For some years after 1865, the education of the Negro was well nigh monopolized by the Freedmen's Bureau..." Howard University established in 1866 is the best example of a Black college organized by the government. Still, there was a tremendous shortage of funds to finance education. A good deal of the money for financing education ultimately came from northern industrialists.
Northern industrial capitalists - Northern industrial capitalists donated funds to raise the educational and skill levels of people in the South because it was in their interest to do so. During and following the Civil War, northern industrialists established their great monopolies. By the latter part of the 19th century, however, people (especially in the North) began to rise up against this class and its business methods. The capitalists desperately needed to redeem themselves, and the South seemed like a good place to channel their efforts. As, Henry Bullock put it:
Thus, many of the leading capitalists gave millions of dollars toward education: Slater (cotton textiles), Rockefeller (oil), Pea-body (retail), Carnegie (steel), Morgan (steel and finance), Baldwin (railroads), and Rosenwald (retail, Sears). While their funds were important in increasing educational opportunities, they did much to reinforce the prevailing pattern of racist discrimination against Blacks. For example, they gave Black schools only 2/3 of the allocations given to white schools, they supported racist legislation pertaining to civil rights and education, and their monies upheld segregated educational facilities in the South.
from these charitable donations, industrial capitalists had other ways of
supporting education for Black children. Their reasons for doing so were
just as self-interested. Horace Mann Bond provides insight into the
company town and its educational policies in his description of the
Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel in Westfield,
Company schools were clearly designed to fill the needs of the particular industry rather than the broader educational needs of Black people.
During the rural period, a significant controversy developed between Booker T Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, particularly over the issue of what educational policy would be most advantageous to Blacks. Washington argued for industrial or vocational education its the major focus. DuBois advocated the education of a "talented tenth" that would provide the broader intellectual leadership and training needed by the masses of Black people.
While the debate centered on education, the two also had different social-political philosophies. Washington's go-slow accommodationist philosophy ("Blacks should not demand full social equality"), in combination with his emphasis on industrial training, was preferred by the industrial capitalists. They were seeking not only to produce more efficient Black workers but to reestablish a good relationship with southern whites. DuBois's militant agitation for full equality and his emphasis on struggle would have continued the conflict between Black and whites and slowed down the economic expansion of northern capital in the South. DuBois's program also would have secured political power for Blacks in some areas of the Black Belt South. Thus, Washington and "the Tuskegee machine" were fully supported by the ruling class (e.g., he was given a private train to use by Carnegie). DuBois, on the other hand, was forced to resign his teaching position at Atlanta University because its funding was threatened as a result of his militant stands.
Historically, racist discrimination has always characterized the education of Blacks in the South. This can be demonstrated by analyzing discrepancies in the allocation of federal, state, and local funds for teachers' salaries, school books, supplies, and buildings. For example, in North Carolina, considered one of the more "enlightened" states, during 1924-25 about $6.7 million was spent on new buildings for rural white children while only $444,000 was spent for Black children. During most of the rural period, Blacks in the North fared little better, particularly when separate (and unequal) public schools were established. Inadequate facilities and diluted academic programs plagued students in Black schools, while vicious discrimination faced those few students who attended mixed schools.
THE URBAN PERIOD
migration, industrialization, and urbanization that characterized the
Black experience after World War I had a marked effect on the education of
Blacks. The spread of large-scale machine industry in the South and in the
North ended the Washington-DuBois debate over industrial (handicraft)
training vs. academic training. Neither Washington's nor DuBois's visions
would be realized. Henceforth, at least in higher education, the goal was
to train Black students to become like white bourgeois students who saw
education not in terms of enlightenment but as a means of acquiring money.
Writing about Black colleges in 1957, E. Franklin Frazier observed in Black
For most Blacks, however, the road to higher education, whether in Black or mixed schools, was closed throughout most of the urban period, as it had been in the rural period.
and Secondary Education
Numerous protests against school segregation took place. Given the history
of the U.S. government and Supreme Court in legitimating the racist
denial of equal rights to Black people, the
In May 1954, the Supreme Court ruled on cases initiated by Black people and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in four states - Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, and Virginia - which challenged the denial of admission to public school under state laws permitting racist discrimination.
The NAACP brief argued:
The court's decision in the school desegregation cases (called Brown et al. v. Board of Education because those suing were listed in alphabetical order) read: "We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." The Supreme Court, however, dodged the issue of establishing a timetable for desegregation and hid behind the phrase "with all deliberate speed." Howard Moore stated quite baldly what that meant:
Although there were dramatic changes in the areas of public facilities and accommodations following the Brown decision (largely through the struggle of Black people in the streets), local and state officials have continued to procrastinate. Some twenty-five years after the ruling that "Separate and unequal" facilities should end, over 66% of Black students in the United States are still found in schools that are more than 50% Black and minority.
What makes these schools undesirable is not that they are majority Black, but that they are located in inner-city areas, where most are under funded and without the resources needed to provide the best possible education for Black students. The key to Black education in the cities rests with the economics of inner-city public schools. While an overall budget crisis is affecting all schools, inner-city schools where Black students are concentrated are being hit the hardest. Several tactics have emerged to confront this situation:
Busing - Some Black people support this alternative because the few good schools with sufficient funds are located outside the Black community, and transporting Black students to these schools is seen as one way of providing them access to good education. Most public schools, however, are not providing quality education. This alternative leaves this basic problem untouched and, in fact, does very little for most students. Busing is another example of a government-dictated program, which, like the Bakke decision, inflames racial tensions unnecessarily while not solving the main problem.
Independent educational institutions - These emerged as an alternative to the miseducation of Black students in public school systems. They differ from the private schools initiated by white parents to avoid school desegregation. They include several types: from Montessori schools (which stress developing a child's own initiative in teaching) to the "freedom schools," which have been especially popular among Black nationalists. But these schools must charge tuition. Therefore they do not offer a real alternative for the masses of Black students trapped in poor public schools systems, which their families' tax dollars continue to support.
Community control - Black people have also fought for control over schools and districts which are supported by their taxes. Many of these institutions have a student population that is majority Black, but Black parents, residents, teachers, and administrators have been systematically excluded from decision-making regarding curriculum, teacher hiring and accountability, discipline, etc. Preston Wilcox, a leading Black educator in New York city, has written this about the movement for community control of the public schools:
This alternative, because it focuses on the tax-supported schools where more Black students are, and because it involves the Black community in a collective struggle for power, has the greatest potential for improving the quality of education in the public school system.
By 1969, the U.S. census reported that 55% of Blacks lived in central cities, about 50% lived in the North, and only 4% remained employed in agriculture. Correspondingly, in 1964 there were about 200,000 Black college students, and over triple this ten years later in 1974. This increase in the number of Black college students thus reflects fundamental changes in U.S. society and Black people's situation in it.
Higher education for Blacks can be further understood by describing three specific forms of educational institutions: the private college, the land grant university, and the urban community college. Private schools were set up in the 1850s and 1860s to produce a Black petty-bourgeois elite, particularly in the fields of education, religion, social work, law, medicine, and business. Of all Black college graduates in 1900, 37% were teachers, 11% were ministers, 4% were doctors, 3% were lawyers, and only 1.4% were engaged in farming. This was the "talented tenth" DuBois spoke of While these schools were the only avenue for higher education at one time, they now account for little more than 10% of all Black students.
Another group of schools were set up in the 1890s as a result of the second Morrill Act of Congress. This act set up the land-grant college system to help spread technological innovation and training to aid U.S. agricultural production. This was also the heyday of Booker T. Washington's vocational education philosophy. By 1940, while 22.3% of Black students were still majoring in education, 23% were also majoring in agriculture, industrial arts, and home economics. The situation changed after the World War II. By 1955-56, over two-thirds of graduates from the publicly-controlled Black colleges were graduating with degrees in education. Another change occurred in the late 1960s. Degrees in education fell to 50%, and degrees in the social sciences (social work) rose to 17% and in business to 9% in 1967.The newest educational institution is the urban community junior college. The community college was created due to advances in skill requirements for the job market. The paraprofessional, clerical, and technical jobs needed more than high-school trained persons. This reflected both the inadequacies of high schools and the special skills needed for jobs. These schools actually began after World War I, but it wasn't until the late 1960s that they boomed. While 18% of all U.S. students are enrolled in community colleges, 32% of Black students are enrolled in them.
The Black liberation movement fueled a militancy among these Black students who were admitted to colleges and universities. It led to the successful struggle of Black Studies, which was to serve as a base for an educational experience relevant to the history and aspirations of Black people for freedom (see Chapter 1).
Because these militant demands were made during the period of the Vietnam War, there were sufficient financial resources for the U.S. ruling class to make these concessions. But the last few years have witnessed a decline in the economic prosperity of U.S. imperialism. One result is belt-tightening in higher education and attempts to cut back or cut out the gains made by Black people during the past ten years. The recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Bakke case is a most obvious example. Commenting on the Bakke case, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote:
The impact is becoming clear. There has already been a decline in Black enrollment, not only in medical schools but also in law and other professional schools. Mary Frances Berry sums up the empirical trends as follows:
The Bakke Case merely legitimated what was already an objective trend in declining Black enrollments in graduate and professional programs.
Thus, Black people in the 1980s clearly understand that educational opportunities, though fought for and won, have not been the keys to liberation that many once believed. Education for Black people still reflects the oppression that Black people suffer at the hands of the dominant economic and political forces in this society. It is important, therefore, that we escalate the struggles against attacks on affirmative action and the fight for community control of schools, Black Studies, and other educational activities that seek to contribute to the liberation of Black people.
What educational experiences have characterized the three periods of Afro-American
2. What kinds of struggles have Black people waged for greater educational opportunities and what impact have they had?
3. Does education result in upward social mobility? If yes, why? If no, why not?4. What produces academic excellence in Black students?
1. Horace Mann Bond, Negro Education in Alabama: A Study in Cotton and Steel. Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1939.
2. W.E.B. DuBois, The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906-1960. Edited by Herbert Aptheker. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973.
3. Geneva Smitherman, Talkin'and Testifyin'. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
4. Thomas L. Webber, Deep Like the Rivers: Education in the Slave Quarter Community, 1831-1865. New York: W. W. Norton, 1978.
5. Meyer Weinberg, A Chance to Learn: A History of Race and Education in the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.