African American Women, Education, and Self-Actualization: Confronting Gender and Racial Barriers in Religious Institutions

African American Women, Education, and Self-Actualization: Confronting Gender and Racial Barriers in Religious Institutions

Theron N. Ford (John Carroll University, USA) and Blanche Jackson Glimps (Tennessee State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5990-2.ch008


Americans cling to the mythology that education is the great social equalizer with the power to lift members of society out of poverty and to overcome gender and racial discrimination. In turn, American society becomes more harmonious, more equitable, and more democratic as a result of having an educated citizenry. The experiences of two African American women in higher education, particularly in religious institutions, offer a counter-narrative to the persisting mythology. Using a combination of secondary research and personal narrative, the authors posit that American education embodies ongoing institutionalized political, social, and economic injustices. The chapter presents through vignettes, the African American women's first-hand experiences, which potentially are representative of a broader constituency of American academics whose life and work experiences have been affected by their race and gender.
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Historically, American education was intentionally limited to specific populations. Breaking with Old World traditions, the newly independent nation instituted “public education” which is education at public expense (Spring, 2010). As such, questions of how revenues to fund the enterprise would be generated immediately arose, followed by who should be beneficiaries of education. Taxing property was the solution agreed upon by the founding fathers, thus ensuring school funding inequities that persist today (Kozol, 1991). Logically, they determined that public education should therefore benefit only those who paid property taxes—primarily free European American males who owned land. The founding fathers created a solution that excluded Native Americans, African Americans (even those few who may have been free and property owners), females, and other non-European residents. Still, the need to privilege members of the ruling elite resulted in free public education that reserved higher education for the sons of wealthy land owners, and thus perpetuated the ruling class (Sadovnik, Cookson, & Semel, 2006). The Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge of 1779 saw Thomas Jefferson advocating for three years of free education for non-slave children that would be limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic (Spring, 2010).

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