The rhetoric of “common” and the fight for an uncommon education.
In “Founding the Public School” (in Black Reconstruction, 1935) Du Bois illustrates how the education of African Americans constituted the origins of public (or “common”) education in the South: “Public education for all at public expense, was, in the South, a Negro idea” (638). More specifically, “common school instruction in the South, in the modern sense of the term, was founded by the freedmen’s Bureau and missionary societies, and that the state public school system was formed mainly by Negro Reconstruction governments” (664).
“One Southern Congressman’s speech represents the strength of this
fear. “Woe be unto the political party which shall declare to the toiling
yeoman, the honest laboring poor of this country, ‘Your children
are no better than a Negro’s.’ If you think so, you shall not practice
on that opinion. We are the rulers; you are the servants! We know
what is best for you and your children. We, the millionaires — we, who
are paid out of your pockets, will take your money and will send our
children to select high schools, to foreign lands, where no Negroes
are, but you, you who are too poor to pay, shall send your ragged,
hungry urchins to the common schools on such terms as we dictate, or
keep them away to stray among the treacherous quick-sands and shoals
of life; to wander on the streets and learn to syllable the alphabet of
vice and crime, or stay at home, and like blind Samson, in mental
darkness, tramp barefoot, the tread-mill of unceasing toil!” – Du Bois, “Founding the Public School.” Black Reconstruction. (1935)
What is community college? Well, you’ve heard all kinds of things. You’ve heard it’s ‘loser college’ for remedial teens, twenty-something drop-outs, middle-aged divorcees, and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity. That’s what you heard, however… I wish you luck!
– Dean Pelton, opening lines of the television show Community