The thoughts brought together in this volume have been expressed in recent addresses and articles written by the author.
From time to time persons deeply interested in the point of view therein presented have requested that these comments on education be made available in book form.
To supply this demand this volume is given to the public.
Thus it is evident that the stress which Dr. Woodson places on historical research, writing, and teaching in this volume was not theoretical jargon. It represented rather, a firm belief; also a judgement of the available type of education that was so strongly oriented as to warrant his complete and selfless dedication to its betterment. This devotion became a crusade which, in the above instance, carried him to Europe in an effort to open new avenues for recreating and writing of the black man's past. This was in line with his basic charges against the omission by most historians of such an important part of history.
Mis-Education criticizes the system, and explains the vicious circle that results from mis-educated individuals graduating, then proceeding to teach and mis-educate others. But the book is by no means a study in negation. The author goes to great lengths in tracing the historical foundations of the problem, its development, and its influence on interpersonal relations and historical scholarship. Numerous other scholars now follow its example.
The youths of the race were Woodson's particular concern because he recognized that it was with, the boys and girls that Mis-education began, later crystallizing into deep-seated insecurities, intra-racial cleavages, and interracial antagonisms. All of these factors have been discussed over and over in the immediate past, by historians, sociologists, psychiatrists, and laymen, but Dr. Woodson, and a pitifully small number of others, had pointed the way a full generation earlier.
More so than most of his contemporaries did Woodson contribute because he gave up a prestigious educational career, including a school principalship in Washington, D.C., the position of Dean at both Howard University and West Virginia State College. He decided instead to devote his finances and energies to an association which would help to overcome the inadequacies of the system which promoted mis-education. This was not by any means his first book but the views expressed herein form a sort of core or center, to and from which his texts and other writings protrude and revert.
All of this scholar's researches and writings were designed to provide educational sustenance, to fill the void which existed by reason of neglect of Black Studies. As has been already observed, however, he was no mere theorist, he was an activist and a pragmatist. He knew that writing alone would be inadequate for the enormity of the need. Consequently he, with four others, founded The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, established the Journal of Negro History, and concentrated mightily on the educational aspect of his program, trying to counteract the poison of mis-education. In regard to these efforts he reported:
The calls on the Research Department for assistance to teachers and students have multiplied so as to make this phase of the work a heavy burden on a small staff. Instructors now taking up the study of the Negro require help in working out courses in this new field; and their students are urged to make frequent use of the Department by correspondence or a visit to the home of the Association. 2
That statement is just as relevant in today's situation as it was when Woodson made it! As a matter of fact it might be copied and used by the present Director of the Association and it would be true except that the demand for services has increased a thousand-fold. The study of the Black man is still new in this generation, but such advances as have been made are in large part due to the vision, insight, writings, and publishing of pioneers like Carter Woodson. Indeed his analyses and conclusions regarding the entire educational system and its unrelatedness to future needs of the students stand firm, on solid ground. They were extendable to the 1960's, and student attitudes and actions make it quite clear that the reasoning and recommendations of Mis-Education constitute a convenient point of departure for the current reformation of educational institutions.
If Woodson had been content with merely writing his own articles and books his contribution would have been monumental, because his production was tremendous and his methodology was scientific. He, however, conceived of this historical vacuum in terms of such magnitude that no one historian could possibly do enough research and writing to seek the facts, organize and present them, and correct the false and distorted information which had been passed off for true history for many generations. Consequently he sought, encouraged, and published the works of other scholars who shared his convictions and his sense of urgency in the premises.
Thus it is apparent that Dr. Bond was either influenced by or was in agreement with the mis-education ideas which constituted so vital a part of Dr. Woodson's entire theory of the unfavorable effect of the American educational system on black children.
Many of the investigations were concentrated on the Southland and that is understandable. The hulk of the Negro population then lived below the Mason-Dixon line where no blacks were admitted to the white schools or colleges, and the dual system of education was obviously and definitely designed to perpetuate the Negro-inferiority image of the slavery period. Dr. Woodson also condemned the North for discrimination. As one who had studied at northern universities, The University of Chicago, and Harvard University, where he received the Ph.D degree, his experiences and observations enabled him to make valid judgments about that section.
One of his intellectual contemporaries, another Harvard-trained scholar, W. E. B. DuBois, was especially outspoken on northern education for Negroes, believing with Woodson, that it propagandized and indoctrinated youth, draining them of self-confidence, self-respect, and self-knowledge.
In 1935 DuBois wrote:
... race prejudice in the United States today is such that most Negroes cannot receive proper education in white institutions ... many public school systems in the North where Negroes are admitted and tolerated but they are not educated; they are crucified ... certain Northern universities where Negro students ... cannot get fair recognition, either in classroom or on the campus, in dining hall or student activities, or in human common courtesy ... at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia, Negroes are admitted but not welcomed; while in other institutions like Princeton they cannot even enroll. 7
In further development of his thesis that Blacks needed special education, Dr. DuBois made a point-blank statement with respect to a constructive means of overcoming the mis-education to which they were subjected:
Negroes must know the history of the Negro race in America, and this they will seldom get in white institutions. Their children ought to study textbooks like Brawley's "Short History," the first edition of Woodson's "Negro in Our History," and Cromwell, Turner, and Dykes' "Readings from Negro Authors." Negroes who celebrate the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, and relatively unimportant "founders" of various Negro colleges, ought not to forget the 5th of March,—that first national holiday of this country, which commemorates the martyrdom of Crispus Attucks. They ought to celebrate Negro Health Week and Negro History Week. They ought to study intelligently and from their own point of view, the slave trade, slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction and present economic development. 8
Dr. DuBois proceeded then to explain in careful detail that he was making no special plea for segregated schools, or mixed schools, but for education. To use his language:
... a separate Negro school where children are treated like human beings, trained by teachers of their own race, who know what it means to be black in the year of salvation 1935, is infinitely better than making our boys and girls doormats to be spit and trampled upon and lied to by ignorant social climbers, whose sole claim to superiority is ability to kick "niggers" when they are down. 9
The foregoing observations relate directly to the problems of mis-education, well understood and posed by Woodson; and the same problems are at long last being faced and attacked by the very universities identified by DuBois and many others. These institutions, formerly known only as "white" colleges, are now heeding the black demands, and are soliciting black students, even at the expense of the "quota systems," once so firmly entrenched. The "cry in the wilderness" of Woodson in Mis-Education, and his few like-minded cohorts, has become a resounding chorus, and the reverberations will in time shake the mis from Mis-education.
The scholars under discussion all shared a common goal, namely, to provide for Negro youth access to historical information and education which would be true and thus nullify or diminish the false and belittling propaganda type of history which had been handed to them by whites. This, it was felt, would build up the black child's self and race knowledge as well as his self-respect. In a larger sense they expected that their publications would at least partly fill the unjustifiable void in American History and its antecedents, reveal the existing distortions of actual facts, and constitute a service to the entire field of historical and social science writing and understanding.
Ultimately, thought Woodson and those who had similar beliefs, the program would be a responsible factor in regenerating race relations in all areas and not only in education. Without detracting from any other efforts (and there were others) it is reasonably certain that those writers who tried so zealously to right the wrongs of mis-education exerted a positive influence in that direction. As a result the democratic practices of this society are beginning to reach for its ideology, thus narrowing the long-existing cultural lag.
It is, in fact, quite clear that Woodson regarded this book as historical only in its most inclusive sense—history as interrelated with social customs, literature, economic and political matters and all else that affects society. This is a sensible and legitimate approach, as such historians as Spengler and Toynbee have demonstrated by popularizing broad areas and issues. Woodson was familiar with the tendency to include the intangible factors that influence the course of history—psychological elements and traditional sensitivities, based of course on valid historical methodology. He fitted Mis-Education into that framework.
Necessarily he thought in terms of other aspects of society which influenced education and which were, in turn influenced by it, because all of his writings show that he was convinced of the interrelations of all types of social phenomena. Furthermore, when he published Mis-Education, the nation was in the throes of a paralyzing economic depression, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was on the verge of his vigorous and innovative administration. The "separate but equal" myth then afforded respectable legal sanction for an unequal, caste-like society, in education and all areas of national life. Permissive resignation had settled over much of the Negro population, and a majority rationalized that the caricature of education that they received was at least "better than it used to be."
The debilitating depression had thrust the problems of the Negro, as the lowest socioeconomic class, into the forefront of those in dire need. As an educator of stature who was already engaged in his intensive writing and publishing program, the role of the disadvantageous educational system in keeping the black people on the lowest level, became abundantly clear to Woodson. Hence his attempts to analyze the problem and to define and castigate the type of education that confined Negroes in a vice-like grip of inferiority was designed not only to inform other historians and educators of their own derelictions, but to arouse the black people from their apathy. Mis-Education did not immediately have the impact that he hoped, but in the long run it merges now with the researches of the awakened historians and other educators; the demands of several minority groups, which have discovered each other; the insistence of students on racial equality and relevant curricula; and the clamor of the downtrodden masses for appropriate treatment as fellow human beings.
Dr. Woodson, in adopting a comprehensive, overall view of the problem of education in this book, was strongly prophetic, and showed a rare intellectual kinship with those who would move to the forefront in the next generation. His statement (p. 114), "The warring area, then, is in the cities," is highly pertinent to current circumstances, as are also the points in context which he connected with it. Another idea that he expressed with clarity (p. 117) in the sentences which follow, will be recognized at once for its present relevance:
The race will free itself from exploiters just as soon as it decides to do so. No one else can accomplish this task for the race. It must plan and do for itself.
Another matter connected with Mis-education should be noted. The inferior character of black education was made inevitable by virtue of the poor financing of the segregated school systems. Although most Northern states had some racially-mixed schools, education in the sixteen southern, former slave states, plus Oklahoma and the District of Columbia, forming a bloc, provided the pattern, the atmosphere, and the reflection of Negro problems and general attitudes of whites about black education in the United States.
This southern bloc maintained a completely segregated system, and though there were differences in one category or another in spending money for education among its jurisdictions they had one common denominator—there were great differentials between moneys allocated for white education and black education. In 1930 the average expenditure per school-age child was $45.00 per white pupil and $14.95 per Negro pupil. Average southern investment in public school property per school-child amounted to $120.09 for whites and $29.62 for Negroes. Figures for 1928-1929 disclose that the average southern white teacher's pupil load was 31 for a school term of 164 days, while the average black teacher instructed about 44 pupils for 144 days. The average white teacher's salary was $1020, while the average black teacher earned $524. 10