“It seems to me that there never was a time in the history of the country when those interested in education should the more earnestly consider to what extent the mere acquiring of the ability to read and write, the mere acquisition of a knowledge of literature and science, makes men producers, lovers of labour, independent, honest, unselfish, and, above all, good. Call education by what name you please, if it fails to bring about these results among the masses, it falls short of its highest end…How I wish that from the most cultured and highly endowed university in the great North to the humblest log cabin school-house in Alabama, we could burn, as it were, into the hearts and heads of all that usefulness, that service to our brother, is the supreme end of education.”-Booker T. Washington, (1899) The Future of the American Negro
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Cornel West suggests the following about the “quantity” of educated persons in the present generation as opposed to the “quality” of the past generation in his best-selling work, (1994) Race Matters: “THERE has not been a time in the history of black people in this country when the quantity of politicians and intellectuals was so great, yet the quality of both groups has been so low…How do we account for the absence of the Frederick Douglasses, Sojourner Truths, Martin Luther King, Jrs., Malcolm Xs, and Fannie Lou Hamers in our time?” And perhaps the answer to Professor West’s rhetorical query resides in what the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University wrote in the above passage: “…usefulness, that service to our brother, is the supreme end of education.” (Here again, Washington’s Tuskegee idea was not one based solely upon the work of one’s “hands”. Rather, the complete configuration of his conception of education-as ought be for all of education-was that of Heart (Character)-Head (Competence)-Hands (Capable). And once again, the little-discussed and deeply personal notion of the individual “heart” in modern education from which the “service” of the head and hands flow is likely why the “quality…has been so low.” The heart (character) is the seat of all an individual’s ambitions, ideas, motives and foci, and if the heart is not rooted in the idea of genuine and authentic service to mankind without respect to color, then the number of degrees, the name of the universities or the notoriety of the career matters little. And this is precisely why the “education”-not simply degree-received at Tuskegee University revolves around the university’s motto: Knowledge-Leadership-Service.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University