W.E.B. DuBois’ more widely publicized views on education center on his long-running debate with Booker T. Washington over the purpose of education in the black community. But DuBois’ writings and speeches on the topic were vast and deep — leading some scholars to conclude that DuBois was one of the 20 century’s greatest educational thinkers and philosophers.
In this short excerpt from a 1903 issue of Outlook, a nationally distributed white magazine, DuBois presciently describes the need for black educators — tasked with pulling black people out of forced ignorance — to be even more skilled and prepared than their white peers.
“The Negro problem, it has often been said, is largely a problem of ignorance—not simply of illiteracy, but a deeper ignorance of the world and its ways; of the thought and experience of men; an ignorance of self and the possibilities of human souls. This can be gotten rid of only by training; and primarily such training must take the form of that sort of social leadership which we call education. To apply such leadership to themselves, and to profit by it, means that Negroes would have among themselves men of careful training and broad culture, as teachers and teachers of teachers. There are always periods of educational evolution when it is deemed quite proper for pupils in the fourth reader to teach those in the third. But such a method, wasteful and ineffective at all times, is peculiarly dangerous when ignorance is widespread and when there are few homes and public institutions to supplement the work of the school. It is, therefore, of crying necessity among Negroes that the heads of their educational system—the teachers in the normal schools, the heads of high schools, the principals of public systems—should be unusually well trained men; men trained not simply in common school branches, not simply in the technique of school management and normal methods, but trained beyond this, broadly and carefully, into the meaning of the age whose civilization it is their peculiar duty to interpret to the youth of a new race, to the minds of untrained people. Such educational leaders should be prepared by long and rigorous courses of study similar to those which the world over have been designed to strengthen the intellectual powers, fortify character, and facilitate the transmission from age to age of the stores of the world’s knowledge.”