The Effectiveness of Allison Davis and Carter G. Woodson

This post is a response to articles written about Carter G. Woodson and Allison Davis, and their various approaches to the reform of education.

Woodson’s goal was to create an organization that would use strategies other than boycotts, demonstrations, and legal battles to combat segregation and discrimination. He was at the forefront of “scientific” studies of Negro life and history, and during his lifetime he was a staunch believer in not allowing others (in this case, the predominantly white community of scholars that funded his research) to dictate what he could publish. He continued with his research even when funding for it was taken away, instead turning to the African American community for money. In this way, he promoted awareness of what he believed was happening (namely the mis-education of African American students) while at the same time becoming very active in his own works. He lead a life of action, or viva activa, which we discussed in my Foundations of Teaching in America class this week. This was, I believe, very successful for him and for other African American students (if you define success as beginning the change that needed to happen). Not only were scholars reading his research, but because he was so active in supporting it, he made it accessible to the general public. More importantly, he made it accessible to teachers, who took off with this idea of reforming education so that it included knowledge of African American history. Woodson was very influential in the Black community, and was moderately influential to the rest of the American public.

Allison Davis, on the other hand, was less influential, I think, though his ideas were just as valid. In fact, Davis’ ideas about reforming education to take into account race, class, sociocultural factors resonate more with me than Woodson’s (not to argue that Woodson’s influence was not necessary, because it was). But he didn’t have the same activity in his work as Woodson (based on the article we read), which I think was detrimental to the longevity of his beliefs.

My own response to the chapters we read leans more toward the idea that while I think it is important for us as a “melting pot” culture to remember and take into account these ideas about how people interpret knowledge, I also think it’s important for people to realize that because our ancestors believed one thing doesn’t mean we should be held accountable for it now. My family comes from German, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, South African, French, and a multitude of other backgrounds and cultures, some of which were oppressed at one point, and others which were the oppressors. A total melting pot just in my family! But should I feel accountable or like my family’s history needs accounting for?

Instead of asking these questions, I think it is more important to be aware and perceptive of inequalities rooted in the past that may still persist today. And, like Davis argued, as a teacher it is important to keep in mind a student’s background so that you can take into account their knowledge and how they learn. He argues that teachers need to help students understand how knowledge is constructed—how can they do so if they don’t understand it themselves because of cultural differences? The political correctness and accountability situation is very tricky, and hopefully one day we can make a positive change. I think our ultimate goal should be where we can walk down the street, see a person and call them a human without judgment or bias based on their race or class or gender, yet still find a way to celebrate the differences in humankind and use them as a learning experience rather than a way to put people into classes.

Banks, J. A. (1996). Multicultural education, transformative knowledge, and action. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


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