For today’s post on W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, I want to blog about two essays, which overlap in theme: “On the Wings of Atalanta,” and “Of the Training of Black Men.” In both essays, Du Bois decries greed and materialism, which he observes in white society. But he also believes that there are African-American leaders who are focusing too much on African-Americans getting a decent standard of living—thus the push for industrial education—and thereby they ignore the higher values in life. Du Bois’ point, if I’m understanding it correctly, is that one can learn about and appreciate the higher things in life through education—and I’m assuming that he means a liberal arts education.
I’m a little unclear on something, though: Does Du Bois believe that every African-American should receive that sort of education? On page 60, he says that “to seek to make the blacksmith a scholar is almost as silly as the more modern scheme of making the scholar a blacksmith; almost, but not quite.” On page 61, Du Bois states:
“[S]hall we teach them trades, or train them in liberal arts? Neither and both: teach the workers to work and the thinkers to think; make carpenters of carpenters, and philosophers of philosophers, and fops of fools. Nor can we pause here. We are training not isolated men but a living group of men,—nay, a group within a group. And the final product of our training must be neither a psychologist nor a brickmason, but a man. And to make men, we must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living,—not sordid money-getting, not apples of gold. The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame. And all this is gained only by human strife and longing; by ceaseless training and education; by founding Right on righteousness and Truth on the unhampered search for Truth; by founding the common school on the university, and the industrial school on the common school…”
Is Du Bois saying that not all African-Americans should learn the liberal arts, but that a few African-Americans who feel so led should do so and encourage their community to aspire to higher values than just surviving and making money? On page 72, we see his reference to the “Talented Tenth,” a term for which he is famous, and the Norton footnote states that this was “Du Bois’ concept of an educated black elite”, which “assumed they had a duty to lead and inspire the rest of the race.” Or does Du Bois believe that all African-Americans—those who work with their hands, and those who choose academia—should learn liberal arts on some level, since that is a part of being a human being?
Du Bois makes another point about education: that it can dissuade African-Americans from revolting. Du Bois notes that many African-Americans are angry because they and their ancestors have been mistreated, and education can provide them with the tools to approach problems in a manner that is constructive for both them and also for white society. Without an education, however, they may just act on their rage.