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The Philosophy of Education with Regard to African Americans

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The philosophy of education with regard to African Americans

This study will attempt to look at Alain Locke's philosophy of education as it applies to the education of the Negro in America 1760 Ð'- 1930. In the days of slavery, education for Negroes was not a thought that was considered by slaveholders until The Reconstruction Period. Before The Reconstruction Period, the only purpose for slaves was to perform slave labor in the fields of their slave masters on a daily basis working them to death. They wanted to keep slaves in the most degraded state possible and never open their minds to education.

"Brought from the African wilds to constitute the laboring class of a pioneering society in the new world, the heathen slaves had to be trained to meet the needs of their environment. It required little argument to convince intelligent masters that slaves who had some conception of modern civilization and understood the language of their owners would be more valuable than rude men with whom one could not communicate. The questions, however, as to exactly what kind of training these Negroes should have, and how far it should go, were to the white race then as much a matter of perplexity as they are now. Yet, believing that slaves could not be enlightened without developing in them a longing for liberty, not a few masters maintained that the more brutish the bondmen the more pliant they become for purposes of exploitation. It was this class of slaveholders that finally won the majority of southerners to their way of thinking and determined that Negroes should not be educated" (Woodson 1- 2).

During this period of slavery and oppression the Negro in America had no other purpose but slave labor which went on for hundreds of years. Then came the time of The Reconstruction Period where the concept of introducing slaves to religion was brought up. Not all slaves were being introduced to the concept of religion as their first encounter with education but it was a small step forward to slave education soon branching out into other subjects. A majority of southern states did not support this new radical idea and even tried to discourage the idea to the few slave-masters that supported the idea.

Alain Locke was a highly acclaimed and prominent professional philosopher with scholarly interests in value theory rooting for opportunities in education for the Negro. He was a strong advocate for gaining more opportunities for Negroes pursuing education. He made many points focusing on developing a positive race consciousness, having a strong system of valuation, race pride and race understanding. He wanted equal educational opportunities for all races because for some time Negroes were not allowed to attend institutions that were considered for higher education. And further more the Negro was looked down upon as inferior due to the system of segregation that slavery still had on American society at the time. "Locke has often been credited with initiating the Harlem Renaissance with his editorship of The New Negro (1925), which presented African Americans not as minstrel characters but full persons (Harris 223)". Locke sought to establish the Negro as a human being in a society where they had limited rights and opportunities to advance due to the impact of the slave system on social and political aspects of America. Education for the Negro in America came a long way beginning with educating the Negro with religion and eventually evolved into other areas of study.

The idea of the Negro being inferior in American society grew out of the slave system which formed a segregated society.

"The history of the ante-bellum Negroes Ð'... falls into two periods. The first extends from the time of the introduction of slavery to the climax of the insurrectionary movement about 1835, when the majority of the people in this country answered in the affirmative the question whether or not it was prudent to educate their slaves. Then followed the second period, when the industrial revolution changed slavery from a patriarchal to an economic institutionÐ'..." (Woodson 2).

The idea to educate slaves was in question by some slave owners because they were skeptical that it would make them develop an even stronger desire for freedom. During this time abolitionist were encouraging the intelligent Negroes to organize insurrections as part of the plot to end slavery wherever it could be done. Some of these insurrections were successful and also resulted in the deaths of many slave holders. "By this time most southern white people reached the conclusion that it was impossible to cultivate the minds of Negroes without arousing overmuch self-assertion" (Woodson 2). As a result of the many rebellions that were occurring involving slaves, it was decided that educated slaves would gain too much of a desire to take their freedom through violence. The thought of slave education was disregarded by some slave owners when insurrections were beginning to occur more often.

Early advocates for Negro education included slave masters, sympathetic people, and missionaries. The slave masters who were interested in Negro education sought to increase the economic efficiency of their labor supply. The sympathetic people wanted to help the Negro by educating them because they felt they were oppressed. The missionaries taught slaves the English language so they could learn the principles of Christianity. There was much difference of public opinion on the subject but each slave master who supported Negro education dealt with the situation as they saw fit. As laws were passed to prohibit the education of slaves, some masters continued to teach their slaves regardless of laws. The people who were sympathetic towards slaves were limited in what they could actually do for slaves in general because they were reformers who did not own slaves and lived in free settlements far from the plantations. The missionaries which were Spanish and French began educating slaves through religion. Religious groups that went about educating slaves converted them to their religion. Religious groups also had the most success with educating slaves because of this. Using religion as a stepping stone became the basis for the education of the Negro.

Soon after other groups of American society began to educate Negroes starting with religion, and then educated them in other subjects. "The first settlers of the American colonies to offer Negroes the same educational and religious privileges they provided for persons of their own race, were the Quakers" (Woodson 4). The Quakers had a strong sense of religion and belief "in the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God" (Woodson 4)



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