I have often said to you that one of the best things that education can do for an individual is to teach that individual to get hold of what he wants, rather than to teach him how to commit to memory a number of facts in history or a number of names in geography. I wish you to feel that we can give you here orderliness of mind-I mean a trained mind-that will enable you to find dates in history or to put your finger on names in geography when you want them. I wish to give you an education that will enable you to construct rules in grammar and arithmetic for your-selves. That is the highest kind of training. But, after all, this kind of thing is not the end of education. What, then, do we mean by education? I would say that education is meant to give us an idea of truth. Whatever we get out of text books, whatever we get out of industry, whatever we get here and there from any sources, if we do not get the idea of truth at the end, we do not get education. I do not care how much you get out of history, or geography, or algebra, or literature, I do not care how much you have got out of all your text books:-unless you have got truth, you have failed in your purpose to be educated. Unless you get the idea of truth so pure that you cannot be false in anything, your education is a failure.”- Booker T. Washington, “A Sunday Evening Talk”
Of the many truths the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University proffered in his many speeches, writings and correspondence, the following is perhaps the single most profound and difficult one to grasp: “Unless you get the idea of truth so pure that you cannot be false in anything, your education is a failure.” Now it may appear to the naysayer that Mr. Washington makes a rather prideful or arrogant assertion but C.S. Lewis’s idea that “perfect humility dispenses with modesty” rejects such an accusation. (“Humility” is the greatest 8-letter word and “Fearless” is the second greatest 8-letter word in succession with good reason.) To be clear, there is no man or woman who will have not had error or failure at some point in their vocational path or journey. Yet, Mr. Washington’s conception of “education” encompasses those who have erred and failed because a “truth so pure that you cannot be false in anything” permits a single man or woman to ascertain valuable and truthful lessons whether through triumph or tragedy. For this man or woman-the truly educated man or woman-never experiences “falsity [or failure] in anything” because he or she lives, learns and then leads others to wrest the valuable water of “knowledge”-the second greatest 9-letter word-from any dampening circumstance. Moreover, these men and women proceed undauntedly, unflinchingly and unwaveringly day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year to continuous and ongoing “success”-one of the greatest 7-letter words-without ever experiencing real “falsity” or “failure” in the truest sense of the words. For never can a man or woman who possesses and applies the sort of education Mr. Washington established at Tuskegee University can ever rightly be called “false” or a “failure” because a truly educated man or woman ultimately views success and failure rightly according to the greatest 8-letter words: “Humility” and “Fearless,” which again are the greatest 8-letter words in succession.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University
December 8, 2014