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.