E.B. DuBois was one of the most influential thinkers and activists of the 19th and 20th centuries. He was a champion for civil rights, a renowned scholar, and an extraordinary educator. In this video, we will look at his life and his lasting impact on the field of education.
While the purpose of this video is not to provide an in-depth biography, but rather to outline DuBois’s impact on education, W.E.
B. DuBois is a man who deserves an appropriate introduction. In many ways, it is his biography that most impacted education. DuBois was a unique trendsetter, unwilling to accept the social situation of African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.William Edward Burghardt DuBois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Post-Civil War Great Barrington was a fairly integrated place, and DuBois had a racially integrated schooling experience, unlike most African Americans in 1868. He was a talented student, graduating in 1884 as the valedictorian of his high school class. He would go on to graduate from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1888. DuBois would continue his education at the highest levels, becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D.
from Harvard when he graduated in 1895.Following the earning of his Ph.D., DuBois’s career skyrocketed. He quickly became a leading African American scholar.
He devoted his career to disputing the notion that people of African descent were somehow inferior to their European-descended counterparts. His most prominent early work, The Philadelphia Negro: A Case Study was published in 1899. This work, one of the first case studies of a black community, quickly placed DuBois as a leading scholar and academic.DuBois would go on to pursue an academic career that was filled with a number of accomplishments.
He was an admired instructor and professor at places like the University of Pennsylvania and Atlanta University. He would become a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or the NAACP. The NAACP remains today as one of the most influential groups in advocating for the rights of African Americans.
DuBois would publish numerous works, lead numerous organizations, and constantly fight for the rights of black people. To look at all of his important and valuable work would go far beyond the scope of this video. Instead, this video is intended to highlight DuBois’s contributions to the field of public education as it exists today. However, DuBois’s influence extends far beyond this field, and he is a person well worth studying further.
DuBois and Education
While DuBois did not pursue a career in the typical K-12 education we are so familiar with today, that system might not exist as it does today if it were not for his important and influential work.
Unpacking the complexity of DuBois’s contribution to education is no easy task, and for the viewer interested in learning more, an excellent primary source is DuBois’s 1903 piece ‘The Talented Tenth.’ In ‘The Talented Tenth,’ DuBois is speaking to those college-educated African Americans primed for leadership positions in society. In this work, you will find one of DuBois’s most famous lines on education. If you were trying to frame up DuBois’s impact on education, this would be a great line from which to start. DuBois said, ‘Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life.’DuBois was clearly a well-educated man, and he knew that education was the primary avenue for not only social advancement but for human advancement.
He knew that if an oppressed people were to rise from oppression, it would take a movement effort made up of many. He also knew that in the absence of an education that focused on the whole person, this movement would not be possible.For DuBois, it was critically important that African Americans in the U.S.
not accept lower class standing in any way. In fact, DuBois often found himself in contradiction with another prominent civil rights advocate, Booker T. Washington.
Washington, through what is known as the Atlanta Compromise, suggested that African Americans should accept the fact that white people held the decision-making positions in government in order to receive adequate education. Washington’s plan involved patience and compromise. For DuBois, there was neither compromise nor time to wait. He demanded equality now.It is this demand for equality that defines DuBois’s impact on education. His approach, in many ways, could be described as uncompromising and aggressive. He did not shy away from bluntly stating his position or the facts that he felt surrounded his views.
This was obvious in his writings, his speeches, and in his political activism. He ferociously refused the notion of racial inferiority. The idea of racial inferiority was one that posited that people of African descent were less competent and inferior to those of European decent.Through this ferocity, he was able to lay a foundation for those that would follow him.
Though DuBois passed away in 1963, just as the civil rights movement in the United States was truly heating up, the efforts of many activists may not have been possible without the critically important work of DuBois. It is hard to imagine a country where critical legislation, such as Brown vs. Board of Education, is possible without the incredibly important and powerful work of W.E.B. DuBois.
While this video has hopefully provided an insight into DuBois and his impact on education, we should be clear that this is only a starting point.
DuBois enjoyed a long career and a life filled with powerful advocacy. This is only the tip of the iceberg.In summary, DuBois was a ferocious advocate for the equality of African Americans, the first African American to receive a Ph.D.
from Harvard, a prolific scholar, a founder of the NAACP, and an advocate for education as a tool for social advancement. His work remains incredibly influential as he continues to inspire scholars and advocates around the world.
Once this lesson is complete you should be able to:
- Detail W.E.
B. DuBois’s background and rise to prominence
- Describe some of DuBois’s academic achievements
- Summarize his opinions on education
- Explain how DuBois’s opinions differed from other African American leaders at the time
- Discuss some of DuBois’s lasting effects on education