Paul Kersey leads with this story--Nutshell: Teachers in failing black school districts routinely change kids' test scores to comply with No Child Left Behind, fraud investigation ensues, hands are thrown in the air, shall anyone ever succeed in closing The Gap?
It may surprise us that one hundred years ago, as today, much ink was spilled over the question of educating American Blacks. Two generations had passed since Emancipation; what progress had been made on the great project of lifting up this 'race in its childhood'? W.H. Collins, in 1918:
But notwithstanding the fact that the illiteracy of the Negro race had been reduced by 1910 to about thirty-three per cent, there is a widespread feeling of disappointment in Negro education. Not that it has made the Negro more criminal as has sometimes been said, however, this is not yet well determined, but rather that it has failed to make him a greater producer, or to aid him to adjust himself to economic conditions. Instead of firing him with the desire to do more and better work, too often he quits it altogether. (1)
They [Southern men around 1904] unite further in the opinion that education such as they [Blacks] receive in the public schools, so far from appearing to uplift them, appears to be without any appreciable beneficial effect upon their morals or their standing as citizens. But more than this; universally, they report a general depravity and retrogression of the Negroes at large in sections in which they are left to themselves, closely resembling a reversion to barbarism. (2)
Aside from some unqualified successes like the Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes, Afro education had not yet produced the desired results. Blacks still had higher rates of illegitimacy, criminality, and disease and lower levels of wealth than white Americans.
A century on, what has changed? Much ink is still spilled over the question of educating American Blacks. Two generations have passed since the end of Segregation, and...
...and Blacks still have higher rates of illegitimacy, criminality, and disease and lower levels of wealth than white Americans. Now, via standardized testing, we also know that they lag far behind in the classroom.
I. Test scores and discipline: Persistent gaps
Discipline problems are also much higher in the Afro student population:
As is the flunking rate:
And the drop-out rate:
II. Causes of gaps: Diagnoses of yesterday
At the turn of the twentieth century, America's leading lights also sought to resolve their 'Negro education problem.' Frustrated but determined, they searched for causes. Their diagnoses may sound somewhat familiar.
1) Inadequate resources
Commentators deplored the inadequate resources devoted to black public education. W.D. Weatherford reports the example of North Carolina, one of the few states for which such figures could be had. In 1908, 'The expenditure per colored child was $1.58, that for each white child of school age, $3.82.' He quotes State Superintendent of Public Instruction James Joyner:
'When we are appropriating only $366,734.28 for the education of 231,801 negro children, we need not be entertaining many hopes of giving the negro much helpful industrial training yet, for everybody ought to know that this amount is not sufficient to give this number of children thorough instruction in the mere rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic, so essential to civilized living and intelligent service in the humblest callings of life.' (3)
Superintendent Joyner would no doubt be happy to know that today parity has been not only achieved, but surpassed:
2) Unqualified teachers
Weatherford put it this way:
It is a well established policy of all missionary work to put the burden of responsibility on the natives just as rapidly as representative leaders can be trained for these tasks. The same policy has been followed in the South with regard to the negro. [...] This is just as it should be, but the questions of supreme importance both to the colored man and to the white man are : Are these leaders competent to do their work? Are they sufficiently educated to have broad sympathies and clear judgment ? Can they be trusted in times of crises to lead their people aright? These are questions of tremendous import.He insists:
In order that there may be a more thorough uplift of the negro child there must be a better training of the negro teacher. (3)It was widely believed that Afro teachers would best serve the needs of Afro children, but there were not yet enough trained:
From the Southern Educational Association meeting's 1907 declaration: 'We believe that for practical, economical and psychological reasons negro teachers should be provided for negro schools.' (1)
(To see how little has changed, we need only note the 2010 Washington, D.C. public schools debacle in which School Chancellor Michelle Rhee caused an uproar for firing a slew of 'unqualified' teachers, most of them black, or a recent similar kerfluffle in Chicago.)
3) Families not doing their part
The Afro home was long considered an obstacle to the proper education of its children. J.A. Tillinghast, speaking of the post-Civil War era:
Hence, in the great effort then inaugurated to educate the negroes, only literary training was supplied, in the belief that this of itself would work wonders for the race. Little thought was given to the fact that the negro child did not have the Caucasian home, and that behind the literary schooling of the white had always existed the nurture of the civilized home ; yet without the home no great development of ideals, morality, habits of industry, can be expected. It was forgotten or discredited that the negroes and whites had fundamentally different aptitudes and needs. (4)
W.H. Thomas, a northern mulatto lawyer who had gone to teach newly freed southern black children after the Civil War, gives this somber picture of his charges:
For example, the child of the ordinary freedman [freed slave] is from birth enveloped by a home life of credulous darkness; mental distortions are its inheritance, and weird superstitions its acquirements, both of which are ingrained in a nature that instinctively resists rational thought and sober action. Therefore, when a child of this sort appears in the schoolroom, the honest teacher faces a twofold problem: one is to uproot false notions obstinately inhering; the other, to awaken thought in the mind of a being to whom every mental step is a puzzle and every new notion a bewilderment. (5)
This profound ignorance, a true legacy of slavery--during which it was illegal to educate a slave--would surely, thought Thomas, pass within a few generations.
Booker T. Washington's wife led efforts to educate not only girls but women in the countryside around the Tuskegee Institute. She held weekend classes in the villages, and for those who could not attend she printed leaflets. Some excerpts from one of them give an idea of negro farmer home life at that time:
You need more race pride. Cultivate this as you would your crops. It means a step forward. You need a good home. Save all you can. Get your own home, and that will bring you nearer citizenship. You can supply all these needs. When will you begin? Every moment of delay is loss.
Keep no more than one dog. Stay away from court. Buy no snuff, whisky and tobacco. Raise your own pork. Raise your own vegetables. Put away thirty cents for every dollar you spend.
My Daily Work:
[...] Saturday I will bake bread, cake, and do other extra cooking for Sunday. I will spend one hour in talking with my children, that I may know them better. Sunday I will go to church and Sunday School. I will take my children with me. I will stay at home during the remainder of the day. I will try to read aloud a something helpful to all. (6)
W.E.B. DuBois, in his exhaustive 1899 study The Philadelphia Negro, had this to say about school attendance in that city:
The only difficulties in the matter of education are carelessness in school attendance, and poverty which keeps children out of school. The former is a matter for the colored people to settle themselves, and is one to which their attention needs to be called. While much has been done, yet it cannot be said that Negroes have fully grasped their great school advantages in the city by keeping their younger children regularly in school, and from this remissness much harm has sprung. (7)
4) Teaching the wrong subjects
One thing on which many turn-of-the-century observers (black and white) resoundingly agreed was that Afros were not being taught the right subjects. W.H. Thomas:
[...] negro students are known to spend their time in skimming their textbooks without acquiring any adequate conception of what their contents teach, but are fixed in the belief that mere attendance at the school confers distinction. Such cases are not rare. We have knowledge of scores of young men and women with diplomas from negro colleges, and of many undergraduates engaged in Latin and Greek studies, who cannot without great difficulty read plain English print, and whose current speech betrays their ignorance of, or indifference to, the simple grammatical construction of their mother tongue. (5)
Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute (Alabama) and its inspiration, the Hampton Institute (Virginia) were exceptions, being schools that taught, to quote Washington,
'Agriculture, basketry, blacksmithing, bee-keeping, brick-masonry, plastering, brick-making, carpentry, carriage trimming, cooking, dairying, architectural, free-hand and mechanical drawing, plain sewing, dress-making, electrical and steam engineering, founding, harnessmaking, house-keeping, horticulture, canning, laundering, machinery, mattress making, millinery, nurses' training, painting, saw-milling, shoe-making, printing, stock-raising, tailoring, tinning, and wheelwrighting.' (6)
'Industrial education,' as it was then called, meaning every sort of practical trade for which there was then a need for workers in the South. The successes of Tuskegee and Hampton are lauded by nearly every contemporary author we have read on the subject. One example:
The wisdom of this [industrial training] method of instruction for the negroes has been abundantly proved by results. On this point Dr. Frissell says :
'Scores of letters from southern county and state superintendents bear witness to the industry and thrift of these young people, and their kindly relations with the southern whites. If one will go into the black belt of Virginia he will find scores of Hampton graduates and graduates of other institutions, engaged in the industrial and agricultural leadership of their people, and commanding the respect and confidence of the best men of the white race. He will find a wonderful increase in land holding among the blacks, and a corresponding decrease in crime.' (4)
Of his graduates, Washington says in 1904:
Not a single graduate of the Hampton Institute or of the Tuskegee Institute can be found today in any jail or State penitentiary. After making careful inquiry, I cannot find a half-dozen cases of a man or a woman who has completed a full course of education in any of our reputable institutions like Hampton, Tuskegee, Fisk or Atlanta who are in prisons. The records of the South show that 90 per cent, of the colored people in prisons are without knowledge of trades, and 61 per cent, are illiterate. (6)
'Industrial' (what we today call 'vocational') training was widely seen as the wisest path for the bulk of Afro citizens. Weatherford:
If we are to be fair to ourselves, fair to the section [region] in which we live, and fair to the negro race, we must see that a common school education is provided for all, that industrial training is given to the majority, and that a more thorough and complete training shall be given to the capable few who are to become the leaders of this race. (3)
Tillinghast went so far as to say that:
Hence, nothing short of a vast expenditure of money in multiplying Hamptons and Tuskeegees, coupled sooner or later with compulsory attendance, will avail to arrest the steady reversion to type, now exhibited by the American branch of the race. (4)
5) Using the wrong methods
Not only wrong subjects, declared critics of the time, but wrong methods of teaching were hurting efforts to educate the Afro-American.
From the Southern Educational Association meeting's 1907 declaration:
'On account of economics and psychological difference in the two races, we believe that there should be a difference in courses of study and methods of teaching, and that there should be such an adjustment of school curricula as shall meet the evident needs of negro youth.' (3)
Washington's Tuskegee Institute methods are worth reading in detail. We won't elaborate them here, but point the interested reader to his narrative, Working With the Hands, and content ourselves with this sum-up: Most study is physical--farming, metal-working, plumbing--and all study which comes from books relates to the physical--the chemistry of pesticides, the mathematics of house-building, the proper English of work contracts. Washington was criticized by some black leaders for eschewing the literary in favor of the vocational. Has the ensuing century of Afro education proved him wrong? Thomas:
The negro is the adult infant of our composite society, who, wanting in wholesome thought and prudent conduct, has been surfeited with sentiment, bewildered by precepts, and crazed by flattery, until he believes himself to have passed at one bound from the depths of ignorance to the summits of knowledge. We may concede the good intentions of his educators but we deplore their mistakes. Their persistent blundering emphasizes our conviction that from the cradle to the grave the freedman sadly needs the strong hand and firm guidance of educated, God-fearing men and women, who, for conscience' sake, teach him truth and righteousness. (5)
He also recommends that
...both boys and girls should be daily exercised in military drills, the need and usefulness of which have long been obvious to us. Military drill, apart from its many excellent physically developing features, teaches prompt and unquestioning obedience, and instils a respect for rightful authority. It inculcates courage, confidence, patience, and self-control, and enables pupils to perform with greater exactness their other duties, great and small. (5)
Amusing? A description of KIPP charter schools, founded in 1994, who have some of the best records in the country for educating inner-city black children:
Even during school breaks, KIPP kids get homework. [...] The intensity of KIPP schools has caused some kids to withdraw. Others have been dismissed for failing to live up to expectations. [...] KIPP provides a structured environment — students walk down halls in straight lines, looking forward. Its brand of discipline has become a bone of contention for critics [...] Selah Hampton, who went to KIPP South Fulton Academy, said one time her entire class was punished when a student talked as they lined up for lunch. But Hampton, now a junior at Exeter, liked that approach. “They teach you the discipline and focus you need to take elsewhere.”
6) The luxury of selecting one's students
The fact that in theory every black child in the country was to be publicly educated weighed heavily on the minds of 1900-era thinkers.
After admitting the frank success of strict vocational training for Blacks, Tillinghast points out that
Opening a catalogue of that institution [Hampton] and examining the terms of admission, we discover that it works only with stringently sifted material. Following are extracts from the catalogue, printed as in the original:Tillinghast points out that these are criteria 'which thousands can never meet.' He concludes:
"SOUND HEALTH, testimonials of GOOD CHARACTER, and intention to remain through the course, are required of all applicants. Candidates for admission coming from common schools or from other institutions, must present letters of honorable dismissal and of recommendation. . . .
Able-bodied, capable, young men and women of good character are encouraged to apply for admission on the following terms :
1. To work steadily all day for at least an entire year from the time of entering (usually October ist), and attend night school for two hours five nights a week.
Note. No one need apply who is not well and strong and capable of doing a man's or woman's work. None under seventeen years need apply. . . .
3. The first three months are probationary ....
The utmost economy is expected from the students, in order that they may accumulate money for their expenses in the day school." '
If the youth of the race generally were qualified to enter Hampton on its own terms, the problem would be already half solved. The results attained at Hampton therefore fail to prove that like results could be secured amongst the negroes at large. (4)
Being forbidden from choosing its students has of course been the bane of the modern public school, doubly so with today's dysfunctional, dysgenically-bred black urban population.
7) Blacks naturally less intelligent?
Entwined with the above points is one which our 1900-era commentators took for granted but which today constitutes thoughtcrime: Blacks are in all likelihood less endowed with 'g', or 'general intelligence', than Whites. Ever-finer gauges tell us this today; our forebears had little but their two eyes on which to rely. Post-Emancipation, opinions varied: The most optimistic, including many Mulattoes, thought the ignorance and degradation forced upon this enslaved race for so long would sooner or later subside under the light of education. Even if he'll never be the equal of the Euro, they said, the schooled Afro can certainly live a satisfying and civilized life.
An unfair criticism often leveled at these men, that they believed the Afro to be stupid when he was in fact forced into illiteracy by white slaveowners, does not hold up. From their writings, it seems clear they base their judgment of Blacks' cognitive power less on slaves in America than on the free men who never left Africa. An example from Collins:
Can History prove that the Negro, during his thousands of years of contact with superior races, has ever yet risen to the dignity of stable and progressive self-government? Even Liberia, with all the help that has been given her, is gradually sinking to the level of the surrounding barbarism. And what of San Domingo [Haiti, then 100 years independent]? Indeed, everywhere the tendency of the pure Negro is to fall when the white man's props are removed. (1)
Our mulatto observer W.H. Thomas is by far the harshest judge of the southern Black that we have found. Nevertheless we dare quote him on this point, for what he is worth:
The negro has all the physical endowments of intellect, but he has a mind that never thinks in complex terms, ... He is largely devoid of imagination in all that relates to purely intellectual exercises, though he has fairly vivid conceptions of such physical objects as appeal to the passions or appetite.
...he appears incapable of understanding the difference between evidence and assertion, proof and surmise. To those who know the freedman the fact is obvious that the highest aspiration of negro ambition is, not to acquire the essential spirit of knowledge, but to imitate mechanically what he only succeeds in caricaturing. ...We are also thoroughly convinced that the negro mind is rarely awakened to responsive intelligence by meditative reasoning.
[...] The educated class of the race--the result of such teachings--rarely seeks for truth in statement, but rather for rhetorical flourish, skill in contradiction, and word juggling, in order to confuse, bewilder, and impose upon their hearers, and to make those among the less informed believe them to be wise and all-knowing. So long as this shameless mendacity or pretence of learning continues, it will prove a fundamental hindrance to race awakening. (5)
* * *
The next time someone expounds to you about The Gap, and what we must do to close it, it may be worth reminding him that his struggle is not new. Learned men have been puzzling over it for generations. If we are still asking ourselves the same questions, facing the same incongruities, and proffering the same vague optimisms as our forebears of a hundred years ago, perhaps we'd be wise to bend to some of their harsher judgments and stronger prescriptions. Such as:
That the alphabet and Arabic numerals do not furnish a magic key to civilization has been only too well shown by experience. [...] Wisely directed education may largely control character in spite of heredity, but it is well to remember that while efforts toward education often miss their mark, heredity is persistent and unerring. (4)
That said, it would also behoove us to recall the South Carolina Superintendent of Schools' 1915 warning, which has lost none of its punch:
The Negro is here and is here to stay. He cannot remain ignorant without injury to himself, his white neighbors and to the Commonwealth. His training should fit him for the work that is open to him. . . . While industrial [vocational] education is needed for both races it is especially desirable for the Negro.
The money now expended for Negro education is largely wasted. Can we afford longer to allow this large element in our population to follow their present practices and remain in their present condition? (1)
(1) Collins, W.H., The Truth About Lynching and the Negro in the South, New York: Neale Publ. Co., 1918.
(2) Page, T.N. The Negro: The Southerner's Problem. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1904.
(3) Weatherford, W.D., Negro life in the South: Present Conditions and Needs, YMCA Press, 1911.
(4) Tillinghast, J.A. The Negro in Africa and America. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1902.
(5) Thomas, W.H. The American Negro: A Study in Racial Crossing. New York: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1901.
(6) Washington, Booker T., Working With the Hands. New York: Doubleday, 1904.
(7) DuBois, W. E.B. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1899.