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Woodsin uses the question of how black people should be educated to cut to the core of some of the most important debates regarding African-American culture and identity. Some like Booker T. Washington believed black people should focus on learning technical trades. Others wanted black people to learn of classical culture as a means of attaining access to white culture. This debate involved questions of dignity: how might education be used to teach someone the inherent dignity of humanity. And to what extent might the sense of dignity be better acquired through the ability to support oneself through an independent trade.
There are economic questions implicit within this debate to be sure. Learning technical trades might have provided black people with a route into the lower middle class in 1900, but Washington appears to have neglected the fact that just at the time he was advocating learning technical trades those trades were being mechanized. Meanwhile, a classical education may have been used to teach black people to think for themselves. It may have made them better preachers and teachers, the most common work roles amongst educated blacks at the time of writing. However, Woodsin points out the many ways such an education was being used merely to mimic educated white people and how it was failing to be used to help black people better understand themselves and the world in which they were enmeshed. Woodsin focuses much attention on the lack of initiative amongst blacks and the sources of failure of black run businesses. A major source of their failure was, in his opinion, their unrealistic expectations and lack of connection between mind and reality. Whereas they should have been asking themselves how they might increase the sales of a corner stand so as to open up several more, they were studying and trying to imitate the experiences of multi-national businesses. He saw the education black people were receiving at that time as doing almost nothing to prepare them for the sorts of small scale business endeavors in which they were most likely to engage.
Ever-present are the questions of dignity and self-esteem. How is learning perverted in the quest to possess the status of being educated? How might education best teach us to learn? How might education bring the wealth that brings status? And what sort of status truly inspires a high self-regard? Woodsin emphasizes the importance of role models and knowing African and African-American history (he was the founder of African-American history month). He also appears to possess a strong intuitive sense of how education can be made useful. He comes at these questions and numerous others with a rare combination of social critic and exporter to success. This is the best of the American self-help tradition, though it is far deeper than the best of self-help literature.
While the book was written in the early thirties, it is still highly relevant. It is semi-philosophical, semi-sociological. The tone is emphatic and searching. And it should be treated as one moment in the debate amongst W.E.B. Dubois (Souls of Black Folk) and Booker T. Washington (Up From Slavery). Though Woodsin may have been the comparative under-achiever (really an extreme over-achiever in his own right, being probably the best educated black American in his day), this struck me as the deepest of the three books. But why limit yourself to one; they are all very short, the three together being no longer than your average non-fiction audiobook. Having listened to each, you will come away with a deeper understanding, empathy, and respect for the Africa-American experience of achievement and some of the timeless challenges black leaders must continually confront. And best of all, you will be challenged to think, and you will be less willing to settle for easy answers.
I read this book because it was a classic; I came away convinced it is a masterpiece.
23 of 24 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to The Mis-Education of the Negro the most enjoyable?
I read the book many times but it was refreashing to hear it this time.
What other book might you compare The Mis-Education of the Negro to and why?
One of a kind.
Which character – as performed by Anthony Stewart – was your favorite?
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Tried but needed more time.
Any additional comments?
Excellent. I already recommended the audio book to my friends.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
As a father of a teenage boy and a daughter of toddler age, I am someone interested in the state of education and this is a fantastic book for those who have a thirst for knowledge!! I work in a school and have struggled with the relevance of the curriculum to black students and the limits of the history that we are taught. This book has answered some questions and raised others, all while remaining level headed, informative and on topic. No matter your ethnicity, this book will challange your mind to look deeper at what you know as formal education. I have recommended it to friends and family and do the same to you.
A 32 yr old Black man in London, UK
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up The Mis-Education of the Negro in three words, what would they be?
A good book published in 1933 and still has relevance today.
Just a shame that the narrator seemed to be in a rush. Spending an extra 30 mins would have done the book more justice.