Talkin That Talk: Language, Culture, and Education in African America

By Geneva Smitherman | Go to book overview

17

THE “MIS-EDUCATION OF THE NEGRO”—AND YOU TOO [1990]

IN 1933, Dr Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, published his analysis of the education of Black people. Entitled Mis-education of the Negro, Woodson’s critique was based on his forty years of experience in the education of “black, brown, yellow and white races in both hemispheres and in tropical and temperate regions …in all grades from kindergarten to the university” (p. xxix). The central thesis of this scholar-activist is that the educational curriculum does not reflect the true history, sociology, politics, economics—and language—of Americans: “The description of the various parts of the world was worked out according to the same plan. The parts inhabited by the Caucasian were treated in detail. Less attention was given to the yellow people, still less to the red, very little to the brown, and practically none to the black race” (p. 18). Consequently, there had been a “drifting from the truth” in the education of African Americans since Emancipation such that by 1933, the result was the “mis-education of the Negro. ” And beyond that, Woodson argued, the “educational system…is an antiquated process which does not hit the mark even in the case of the needs of the white man himself (p. xxii). The educational deprivation of all Americans begins in youth and crystallizes in an adult society characterized by “deep-seated insecurities, intra-racial cleavages, and interracial antagonisms” (p. viii). Mis-educated adults are served up more mis-education in college, they return to the public schools to train and mis-educate youth, and this mind-set is thus perpetrated for generations. The year was 1933, but Woodson’s message has an all-too-familiar ring sixty-six years later as we head toward the new millennium. The suppression and denigration of Ebonics and other non-mainstream languages and dialects, coupled with the movement to establish English as the only officially recognized

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