“In the early days of freedom, when education was a new thing, the boy who went away to school had a very natural human ambition to be able to come back home in order to delight and astonish the old folks with the new and strange things that he had learned. If he could speak a few words in some strange tongue that his parents had never heard before, or read a few sentences out of a book with strange and mysterious characters, he was able to make them very proud and happy. There was a constant temptation therefore for schools and teachers to keep everything connected with education in a sort of twilight realm of the mysterious and supernatural. Quite unconsciously they created in the minds of their pupils the impression that a boy or a girl who had passed through certain educational forms and ceremonies had been initiated into some sort of secret knowledge that was inaccessible to the rest of the world. Connected with this was the notion that because a man had passed through these educational forms and ceremonies he had somehow become a sort of superior being set apart from the rest of the world […]“-Booker T. Washington, _My Larger Education__(1911)
While the term “esoteric” is not entirely pejorative-it can mean that members within a certain profession or group understand and converse sharing many of the same assumptions or terminology-it is sometimes used to denote exclusivity meaning that information and knowledge is understood by a chosen few. In the present passage, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University speaks to this latter formulation. Here he laments that often education-the act of teaching and learning-resembles the closing off of knowledge from others as opposed to its wide dissemination among many. Mr. Washington’s idea is that such knowledge ought to have relevancy and application for others beyond the sole possessor of this knowledge. Imagine that. The idea of education should not be exclusive to a limited few but should enlighten and have impact upon others in beneficial ways. Thus, not only are the recipients all the better for having received this knowledge but also the giver of this knowledge is made better. For this man or woman has completed the complete cycle of education. First you learn, master and apply for yourself. (It is is a poor teacher whose words do not resemble his or her works.) Then you proceed to teach others. And such an education can be found at many institutions of higher learning including Tuskegee Institute (University).
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.