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Dubois and Washington on Education

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DuBois and Washington on Education

Over 100 years ago W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington began a debate over strategies for black social and economic progress, which is still prevalent today. Booker T. Washington believed that the role of education for African Americans should be an industrial one, where as W.E.B DuBois wanted African Americans to become engaged in a Liberal Arts education.

Washington's approach to solving the problems African Americans faced was rooted in his belief in an industrial education. Born a slave and educated at Hampton Institute Washington learned from a trade and skill based curriculum. He advocated a philosophy of self-help, accommodation and racial solidarity. He believed that the best option for African Americans was, for the time being, to accept discrimination and work hard to gain material prosperity. Washington believed in education of a practical craft, through which African Americans would win the respect of whites, become full citizens, and become fully integrated into all aspects of society.

During a time of worsening social, political and economic conditions for African Americans Washington emerged as the major spokesman for the gradualist economic strategy. His rise to national prominence came in 1895 with his "Atlanta Compromise" address. Washington called on white Americans to provide jobs and industrial education for blacks, in exchange for blacks giving up demands for social equality. His message was that political and social equality were less important then the immediate goal of economic independence. He urged blacks to work as skilled artisans, domestic servants, and farmers in order to prove there worth in the white community. Washington believed that once African Americans had gained that economic foothold and proven themselves useful to whites, social equality would be given to them

W.E.B. DuBois, a black intellectual believed that Washington's strategy would only serve to perpetuate white oppression. DuBois initially advocated for Washington's strategy, however he grew to find it unacceptable as he became more outspoken about racial injustice. DuBois campaigned for a civil rights agenda and argued that educated blacks could accomplish social change. With the belief that African Americans should work together to battle inequality DuBois helped found the NAACP. DuBois was not content with attempting to gain an economic foothold; he wanted absolute equality in all aspects of life. DuBois believed that Washington "devalued the study of liberal arts, and ignored the economic exploitation of the black masses. He believed that "The Negro Race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education then, among Negroes, must first of all deal with the 'Talented Tenth.' [which] is the problem of developing the best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the worst." He believed that the economic and political issues facing African Americans could be solved if the most talented ten percent of African Americans were trained. He argued that tenth would pull up the rest of the African American community. DuBois contended that teaching men a craft would make then artisans but it would not create "men" and achieving "manhood" is the only acceptable goal of education . He believes that only in a foundation of "intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it" can black men begin "building bread winning skills of hand and quickness of mind".

The issues regarding education, which Washington and DuBois grappled with, continue to cause debate. Their debate highlights the historic and ongoing issue of whether a vocational education or a liberal arts education best prepares the majority of the population for a prosperous and productive life. After 100 years neither man has been proven right or wrong. There are many implications for current educational policy that can be traced back to this debate. Some scholars argue that increased support from private industry on the education sector has lead to a shift towards vocational studies in colleges. If this is the case then the debate between DuBois and Washington provides a good point

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