Education's “Talented Tenth”: Engaging Retired Educators in the Dialogue on Black Student Achievement

Education's “Talented Tenth”: Engaging Retired Educators in the Dialogue on Black Student Achievement

Patrice W. Glenn Jones, Rose B. Glenn, Lillian C. Haywood, Kevin A. Rolle
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1181-7.ch010
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While the discourse on achievement among Black American students often includes the perspectives of researchers, teachers, and college/university faculty, retired educator views are often disregarded. Based on Du Bois's exertion about the Talented Tenth, who he recognized as “educational experts” and “seers” that serve as “leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people,” Black retired teachers and educational leaders are questioned about how to change Black student achievement trends, and included in this chapter are the recommendations offered by Black retired teachers and educational leaders—recommendations designed to bring about change in practice. Beyond adding to the discourse on Black student achievement, the chapter gives voice to retired Black educators whose years of professional experiences qualify them as “educational experts.”
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The life of W.E.B. Du Bois is marked by pioneering thought in sociology, history, and education, as well as influential publications such as The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, Du Bois’s Harvard dissertation that became the first monograph in the Harvard Historical Series; Does the Negro Need Separate Schools; The Souls of Black Folks; and The Talented Tenth. In the latter, Du Bois emphasized the weight of higher education and the roles of educators and the educated.

According to W.E.B. Du Bois (1903b),

The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races. Now the training of men is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers. If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop money-makers but not necessarily men; if we make technical skill the object of education, we may possess artisans but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools—intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it—this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life. On this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the object of life. (para. 1)

Du Bois stressed the imperative of Black American socioeconomic uplift and heralded the magnitude of ‘educational experts’ and ‘seers’ in facilitating whole life education that turns students into men (and women) and separates the Best from the Worst.

Du Bois’s voice and messages were considered prophetic and, in some cases, controversial. However, even now, his messages contribute to the dialogue regarding the color line, race, and culture. With regard to “ the Talented Tenth,” Du Bois’s notion that the ‘Best’ and ‘Worst’ exist within any given society is not politically correct, but there is validity in the existence of those who contribute to social advancement and others who underwrite social dysfunction and discord. However, we posit that very few are labeled “lost causes”.

For this chapter, “the Talented Tenth” merely refers to educators and leaders (i.e., educational experts and seers) who through action, thought, and passion dedicate their personal and professional efforts to facilitate education among predominately Black American populations and who recognize the role of education in creating other leaders to advance the socioeconomic positions of Blacks. The use of this term, and any references here in, is not an assertion of hierarchy among Black Americans, particularly as defined by Eurocentric ideals and norms. Based on Du Bois’s exertion about the Talented Tenth, these “educational experts” and “seers” serve as “leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people” (as cited in Banks, 1996, p. 47).

Strategies to improve the academic achievement among Black students have been addressed theoretically, through recommended practice, and legislatively. The recommendations of community leaders, legislators, philosophers, researchers, members of the academy, and even governors are regular. Likewise, norm-referenced testing data are commonly cited as both cause for alarm and measures of achhievement. However, the suggestions of retired educators as practitioners of instruction are frequently left out of the conversation. Therefore, after exploring the positive lived experiences of retired Black educators who were schooled in the segregated South (viz., Glenn Jones, 2019), this chapter naturally evolved and provides qualitatively determined recommendations for Black student achievement as offered by the same group of retired educators. Beyond adding to the discourse on Black student achievement strategies, we sought to give voice to retired Black educators whose years of professional experiences qualify them, at the very least, as “educational experts”.

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