"In Service for the Common Good": Anna Julia Cooper and Adult Education.
The phrase "in service for the common good" is taken from a brief essay written by Anna Julia Cooper in the foreword section of the Decennial Catalogue of the Frelinghuysen University. For Cooper, adult education for the African American working poor was a necessary "doctor and unfailing remedy" that would not only lift them from illiteracy and poverty but also prepare unlettered and continuing education adults for the "solid foundations of a more satisfactory and serviceable adjustment to the duties and responsibilities of life" (Cooper, "College Extension" 36; Decennial 8). From Cooper's perspective, college extension and adult education were not about providing "charity" to the "unprivileged classes," as she states, but rather these forms of continuing education played a crucial function as community-based uplift vehicles that would serve in the "universal betterment" of humanity and in overall societal transformation ("College Extension" 35).
Cooper, who lived to be 105 years old, witnessed several critical periods in U. S. history--from the antebellum era to the civil fights movement of the 1960s. Driven by a deep commitment to helping her race, gender, and the economically marginalized through education, Cooper rose to head one of the most prestigious African American high schools in the nation's capital--the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth (later known as the "M" Street School and later renamed for Paul Laurence Dunbar), by 1902. Decades later, in 1930, Cooper served as second president of Frelinghuysen University, an independent school for working-class African Americans. By the time Cooper was in her mid-sixties, she had earned her Ph.D. from the Sorbonne in 1925, thereby making her the fourth black woman in this nation to receive a Ph.D. at that time.
Heralded as an educator, feminist, social critic, and author, Cooper devoted her entire life to the education and empowerment of African American youth and adults through much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her commitment and passionate belief in education as an instrument to social, economic and political empowerment was a driving force in her life. As a classroom teacher, high school principal, and a college extension president, Cooper implemented pioneering educational reforms that reflected her distinctive approach and philosophy regarding education for African Americans. Cooper's theory and praxis of education contested the prevailing discourse regarding how African Americans should be educated by offering alternative options for educating this disenfranchised group.
Although there is burgeoning scholarship that discusses Cooper's social, literary, and feminist views, her adult education work and beliefs about the field have not been thoroughly examined. (1) Still, Cooper and many other African American women educators before and after her have been "the backbone of their community and nowhere have their contributions been more pronounced than in [every facet of] education" (Peterson 5). (2) Adult education has indeed played a key part in ameliorating the lives of African Americans in the U. S., and the activities of African American women adult educators such as Cooper are significant to the story of adult education and the black experience. Historical research reveals that African Americans have been involved in literacy and adult education work commencing with the antebellum era. (3) As adult educational scholars Leo McGee and Harvey Neufeldt explain, "From the time [the enslaved] were forced on the American scene ... their education has been at an absolute premium. When [the enslaved] first entered the new world they had to become educated for sheer survival and to carry out their labor assignments" (ix).
During the Reconstruction years and into the civil rights struggle, educators such as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Alain Locke, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Anna Julia Cooper, Jesse Lawson, and Septima Poinsette Clark were a few of the many African Americans who provided informal and formal literacy training and adult education for the larger black community. Even though literacy and adult education has played a major part in the struggle for equality and social change, there has been a dearth of historical research in this area. In addition, the historic roles that female adult educators, particularly African American women, have played in this field are rarely illuminated. Indeed, the history of adult education suffers from not only a race bias but also a "gender bias" (Hugo 1). However, within the last decade, works such as Freedom Road: Adult Education of African Americans edited by Elizabeth Peterson, Education of the African American Adult: A Historical Overview edited by Harvey Neufeldt and Leo McGee, and Education of the Black Adult in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography, compiled by Leo McGee and Harvey G. Neufeldt, have attempted to fill the gap in adult education literature.
Cooper's educational ideas and programmatic strategies in adult education were grounded in her educational and social beliefs that the role of education was to be a tool for self-improvement, racial advancement and societal reform. As I argue in my previous work on Cooper, she "firmly believed that education was the fulcrum for social change and the role of the educator was one of social ... change agent" (Johnson 160). In the era in which she came of age, the social, educational and theological beliefs to which she adhered, as well as her experience with the dominant matrix of class, gender and racial oppression awakened in Cooper a sense of responsibility to utilize her knowledge and skills for the enhancement of future possibilities for African American people. For that reason, she played a key part in bringing awareness to the necessity for literacy, college extension, and adult education services for poor and working-class African American adults in the District of Columbia during the early to mid-1900s. But while literature relating specifically to Cooper's contributions to adult education remain limited, there nevertheless have been a number of works that have discussed Cooper's work at Frelinghuysen University; these works include Louise Daniel Hutchinson's Anna J. Cooper: A Voice from the South; Melinda Chateauvert's "The Third Step: Anna Julia Cooper and Black Education in the District of Columbia, 1910-1960," in Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in United States History; and Karen A. Johnson's Uplifting the Women and the Race: The Educational Philosophies and Social Activism of Anna Julia Cooper and Nannie Helen Burroughs.
It is important to note that Cooper embraced aspects of late Victorianism with regards to ideas about "superior" feminine morality, social uplift, self-respect, and refinement. Some of these ideas influenced her thoughts about education and her teaching practices. (4) However, as I argue in this essay, when Cooper began teaching adult education at Frelinghuysen University during the 1930s and 1940s, she embraced two of the three adult educational themes and methods that were prevalent during that time--that being adult education as liberal education combined with adult education as social action. Taken as a whole, Cooper's overall educational philosophy, together with her social critiques of U. S. civil society, informed her approach to the education of black adults.
Thus in this paper I examine the central points of Cooper's ideas as well as her programmatic strategies. Using primary and secondary materials, I draw on a wide range of social and educational issues about which Cooper wrote, paying particular attention to those ideas that are pertinent to adult education, specifically examining Cooper's work at Frelinghuysen University for Employed Colored Persons (later renamed the Frelinghuysen Group of Schools). The questions this paper addresses are: (1) what were the prevailing views about adult education in the modern era (i.e., the 1920s to the 1960s) and how did those concepts influence the development of Cooper's ideas about adult education? (2) What were the central themes of Cooper's adult educational ideas, and how did these ideas have an impact upon the pedagogy and curriculum content at Frelinghuysen University? Utilizing an historical methodology, I draw upon the archival collections of Cooper's writings, as well as secondary sources that illustrate Cooper's significant contribution to adult education. To fully understand the development of Cooper's ideas about adult education and her involvement in the field, a brief exploration of the broader context of adult education is required.
The Development of Adult Education: A Context for Cooper's Ideas
At last, in the early 1920s, the flame of America's adult education burst forth as a conscious national movement. It had been a long time in coming.--David W. Stewart (Adult Learning in America 14)
The whole [adult education] movement was a titanic push to lift ... men [and women] ... from the ignominy and shame of ignorance and degradation.--Anna Julia Cooper ("College Extension" 37)
Cooper actually began teaching literacy to adult students in 1868 when she was an eight-year-old pupil at St. Augustine Normal School and Collegiate Institute. At this school, the newly freed men, women, and children "of every age [were] studying [how to read and write] together" (Delaney, Delaney, and Hearth 50-51). Cooper did not become professionally engaged in adult education work, however, until ten years after adult education became a distinctive field of research and a major movement. Cooper began working with adults in 1930, when she became the second president of Frelinghuysen University in the District of Columbia. Frelinghuysen was not a university in the traditional sense because it did not confer degrees. It instead provided "certified credit for standard work completed" (Decennial 3). This school offered a complete high school education for adults as well as academic studies on the undergraduate and graduate levels (Decennial). (5)
Ten years prior to Cooper's presidency at Frelinghuysen, the movement for the education of adults began following World War I. Although there was a proliferation of a national system of adult education activities taking place before 1920 in the U. S. (such as lyceum lectures, the Chautauqua Institution, university extension, and correspondence schools, just to name a few), the adult education movement did not fully take off until the 1920s. (6) The era from the 1920s to the 1960s was one of major turmoil and dramatic social transformation. During this time, the economy was shifting from a rural to an industrial and urbanized one (Stubblefield and Keane 135; Houle 5; Knowles 76, 77). There was a large influx of poor immigrant Europeans into the U. S. and a massive migration of African Americans from the South to the North.
In addition to these major demographic changes, the level of education of the overall population was on the rise. Cooper notes that in the District of Columbia, the illiteracy rate among African Americans was reduced by more than 50% between the 1920s to the 1930s. "In 1920," she writes, "there were, in a population of 93,782
Negroes, 8,053 who could not read or write. In 1930, out of a population of 111,224, there are only 4,591 reported illiterate. [T]hat is a reduction from 8.6 in 1920 to 4.1 at present accounting" ("College Extension" 38). There were major economic transformations also. Adult education historian Malcolm Knowles notes that between 1920 and 1960, the estimated national wealth more than quadrupled (Knowles 76). The labor force moved from unskilled occupations to more skilled ones. This change resulted in the work force's greater production, especially in the manufacturing industry. The labor force also became "highly organized into powerful trade unions" (Knowles 77). For those reasons, the urgent concern during this period was in preparing U. S. adults to deal with the newly transformed social order as well as in supporting their adjustment to the "new economic conditions created by the impact of urbanization and industrialization," among other things (Stubblefield iv-v). This concern led to the organized expansion of adult education, including the development of numerous scholarly studies that attempted to address not only what would be the purpose of adult education in a newly transformed society, but also what type of institutional sponsorship would be appropriate for the dissemination of new knowledge to adults in the new social order. As Harold Stubblefield contends, "in the 1920s and 1930s, adult education emerged as a social practice focused around the problematic of adult learning" (vi).
The early scholars in the field of adult education defined the nature and scope of problems that came under the realm of this subject matter, the aims that needed to be accomplished, as well as the type of methods that would be appropriate for the problems in the field. In his historical study of the early scholars in the field of adult education, Stubblefield identified three core themes and methods that were utilized in adult education. They were (1) adult education as diffusion of knowledge, (2) adult education as liberal education and (3) adult education as social education. In addition to these core themes, for African Americans, adult education was also about self-improvement, self-help, racial empowerment, morality, and social transformation. (7)
From the 1920s to the 1960s, there was massive growth in the institutional development of adult educational agencies. These agencies included adult educational services at college and universities, community colleges and technical schools and in the business and industry sectors. Foundations such as the Kellogg Foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, and the Carnegie Corporation sponsored several adult educational programs, and governmental agencies such as the Cooperative Extension Service, Works Progress Administration, Manpower Development Act, Comprehensive Employment Training Act and Adult Basic Education provided a variety of services (Knowles 79, 83, 90). Many religious institutions and voluntary agencies also offered educational opportunities for adults.
Due to the social inequitable divisions and discriminatory laws and practices in the U. S., especially during the 1920s to the 1930s, African Americans "created alternative knowledge and educative organizations to break free" from race and class restraints that barred them from local, state, or federally sponsored adult educational activities (Stubblefield and Keane 152). "Black churches, public and private schools, and local branches of the NAACP, National Urban League, fraternal organizations and women's groups provided the greater part of adult educational programs for [B]lacks ... before the 1930s" (Franklin 129). By the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs contributed crucial support to black education after African American educators and professionals lobbied for financial support for black educational programs that were established by blacks. They also lobbied for the creation of state and federally supported adult education programs for African American adults (Franklin 130). As explained by historian Vincent P. Franklin, African Americans "recognized that if they were to advance themselves in American society, they would have to take responsibility for their own lives and educational destiny, and take advantage of the educational opportunities provided by the state and organized philanthropy" (130). Franklin notes that the favorable response of African Americans to the adult educational programs "represented a strong cultural commitment to self-improvement and social advancement in an oftentimes hostile [racially charged and economically deprived] environment" (130). Without a doubt, the black-initiated adult education programs as well as the local, state, and federally sponsored adult educational programs greatly "influenced the lives of millions of Black adults" (McGee and Neufeldt xi). It was in this racially segregated and economically repressive era of approximately 1920 through 1960, combined with the proliferation of adult education activities, that shaped Cooper's perspectives and dedication to adult education. The next section examines Cooper's adult educational ideas, particularly at Frelinghuysen University Group of Schools for Colored Persons. First, I briefly discuss Frelinghuysen University as a way of establishing the context in which Cooper worked. This is followed by an examination of Cooper's adult educational ideas and an examination of Cooper's approach to adult education.
Cooper's Adult Educational Thought and Work
We modestly bur confidently proffer the Frelinghuysen ideal of mutual respect, honest cooperation and undiscriminating fair play as a sound and rational basis for national and racial adjustments....--Anna Julia Cooper (Second Decennial 1)
Cooper's perspectives about adult education from the 1930s to the 1940s emerged from a long life intertwined with the historical, social, and cultural turbulent events that shaped her awareness of who she was as a highly educated black, female, and formerly enslaved person. It was in this world of race, class, and gender inequalities that Cooper made her mark and had her say about the educational experiences and the social conditions of African Americans. For Cooper, adult education, specifically at Frelinghuysen University, was the realm of action in which she worked out her adult educational ideas and social and civic advocacies. As Cooper explained in a letter to her good friend Reverend Francis Grimke, "The ideals & purpose of a life struggle take concrete form & substance in the foundation [at] ... Frelinghuysen University for Employed Colored Persons" (Letter to rimke). Cooper viewed adult education not only as a tool for self-improvement, but also a tool that would serve to undermine the system of social inequalities.
Cooper's work in adult education was not self-initiated. Her career in this field come after she had been "elected to succeed" the founder and first president, Jesse Lawson, at Frelinghuysen University of the Group of Schools for Employed Colored Persons (Cooper, Decennial 15). Cooper was in her seventies when she became president of this school. Twenty-four years prior to Cooper becoming president at Frelinghuysen, the school was established in the home of Jesse Lawson in 1906. However, years later, the school moved to the home of Cooper due to financial problems. Frelinghuysen, which was named in honor of the late Senator Frederick T. Frelinghuysen (1881-1885), was created for working-class, nontraditional African American adult students who had limited or no basic literacy skills. According to the Frelinghuysen's Decennial Catalogue, the aim of the school included the following: "[to] enable men and women who cannot make their leisure time fit into the schedule of a ... college or university to pursue ... higher and broader education ... as seem suited to their ... capacities and aspirations" (Cooper, Decennial 3). The establishment of this school was crucial because in the Jim Crow era in the District of Columbia there were "[three-hundred] extension or evening schools for government employees and others," but none of these adult educational schools admitted African Americans (Cooper, Decennial 13). As Cooper states in a letter to the District of Columbia's Board of Education: "While there are for white adults in Washington several universities and colleges for men and women of means, some five or six night schools ... to meet the needs of ... those who are otherwise workers by day, there is absolutely no door open to the struggling colored man or woman, aspiring for the privileges of advanced education and not able to make the hours scheduled at Howard.... We are poor, our constituency is poor, and it is hard ... to realize what this means" (Cooper qtd. in Chateauvert 266). Thus Frelinghuysen became an alternative site for adult educational learning for African Americans. It filled a void in that it provided the space and resources (though limited) for blacks to have the opportunity for self-improvement and academic advancement in the racially charged nation's capital. For Lawson, "the basic principle underlying the educational scheme of Frelinghuysen" was that it was a school that offered "practical education for efficient service" in the area of "moral, social, religious, mental, and artistic [training]" (Decennial 15).
Cooper brought to this institution many years of successful teaching, organizational and administrational skills and a strong sense of commitment to her students. She passionately believed in the school's goals. Cooper states, "Frelinghuysen represent[s] the ideais I ... stood for & worked for & I plan to devote it to the education of Colored people ..." (Letter to Grimke). For those reasons, when Cooper took the helm of this institution, she not only continued this legacy that Lawson began bur also developed her own concepts about educating adults at Frelinghuysen and in society in general during the period she worked at the school. Cooper strongly believed that in order to ameliorate the conditions of the black masses and put forth a social agenda that would help the spread of social justice and change, society had to educate unlettered black adults, who continued to be denied access to an education. Hence, it was through her work at Frelinghuysen, in part, that Cooper sought to reform the social conditions of discrimination.
Cooper retired from teaching at Frelinghuysen in 1940 but worked as the registrar from 1940 to 1950 (Second Decennial). Frelinghuysen closed its doors in 1964, the year of Cooper's death.
An Emergence of Ideas and Pedagogy
Harvey Neufeldt and Leo McGee note that many scholars have relied on the adult education definition offered by Cyril Houle, which states that "Adult education is the process by which men and women (alone in groups or in the institutional settings) seek to improve themselves or their society by increasing their skill, their knowledge, or their sensitiveness; or it is any process by which individuals, groups, or institutions try to help men and women improve in these ways" (32).
Although Cooper did not publish her own definitions of adult education or write extensively on adult education, the essays she did produce on the subject, such as the "College Extension for Working People" and the short articles in the Decennial Catalogue of Frelinghuysen University and Second Decennial Catalogue of Frelinghuysen University, addressed how the changing society of the mid-1900s beckoned a different kind of adult education that would deal with the urgent needs of poor and working-class black women and men. She also wrote about the goals that should be realized, as well as what subject matter or teaching practices would be appropriate for carrying out the goals of adult education for the aforementioned social groups. Cooper also wrote about the importance of the educated of the race to commit their talents and skills to the education of the African American working poor. For Cooper, adult education should alleviate illiteracy, provide a liberal arts education for the working poor, and provide a vocational education combined with liberal arts course of study for the unskilled laborer. Most importantly, for Cooper, adult education should enable and inspire the African American adult learner to link up with others in social and civic programs as a way of promoting social change (Decennial; Second Decennial). With these issues at hand, Cooper made her analysis of the unfulfilled adult education desires and needs of the African American community. From there she was able to put forth a schema that offered solutions to these issues. In particular, Cooper approached adult education from a tradition of liberal and social action with the specific goal of achieving self-improvement, human betterment, and social change.
A Liberal and Social Action Tradition of Cooper's Ideas and Pedagogy
Adult Education for Self-Improvement and Human Betterment
Cooper adhered to a combination of a liberal and social-action view of adult education, believing firmly that the education of black adults at Frelinghuysen would remedy the educational disadvantages that they may have encountered earlier in their lives due to poverty, racism, and sexism. From Cooper's perspective, adult education at Frelinghuysen offered her students an opportunity to improve their social and economic conditions. One of the ideas that consistently emerges in the "liberal" approach to education was that adult education for the "less privileged" of the race should give rise to self-improvement. Within the context of Cooper's social-action framework, however, self-improvement for the individual sake alone was not enough. In fact, for Cooper, adult education for self-improvement was to be "a high responsibility for thoughtful investments in service for the common good," and not for "childish glorification" (Decennial 5). Cooper was deeply conscious of the fact that adult education and schooling were not isolated or separate from the realities of U. S. society. Instead, she believed and hoped that the black adult learner would realize that self-improvement by itself would be insufficient--apart from the purpose and duty of the "betterment and constructive initiative for the general good ... and ... service" to the human race (Decennial 6). From Cooper's perspective, it was crucial that the learning adult would take his or her knowledge and skills and in turn use these to improve the life chances of the other members of their community and overall society. As Cooper explains, the adult education mission at Frelinghuysen was one that "subscribe[d] wholeheartedly ... to the doctrine that the only solution of our interracial [and other social] problems [was] honest cooperation for community betterment" (Decennial 9). As a result of such mission, Cooper posited that after graduation, the adult learners of Frelinghuysen "as a whole ... carry the mark of sane and sober Americans, who in every case is ready to put shoulder to wheel for human betterment where ever they are. They have learned in school to put character and service before degrees.... And their fruitage in social and religious helpfulness bears living testimony to the worthwhileness [sic] of our work [at Frelinghuysen]" (Decennial 8-9). For Cooper, "the ultimate test and unerring measurement in the success" of her adult educational "projects ... rest[ed] upon the [learning adult] character of ... serving" [humankind] (Decennial 9). From Cooper's viewpoint, the preparation of the learning adult to serve as a torch-bearer for human betterment was so crucial that any teacher who wavered in his or her duties of preparing the learners for such a mission was a hindrance to the progress of Frelinghuysen's aims. Cooper argues that "no teacher of whatever degrees is worth his salt who can not or does not loyally and intelligently 'pass' [the] test" of preparing their learners for purposes of service to human betterment (Decennial 9). The "aims and ideals" of adult education would become a tool of advancement only if its immediate objective of self-improvement could be linked with an enduring struggle for overall real change in society. As Cooper articulates, "no education by whomsoever offered is worth what it costs if it does not fairly and squarely embrace [the] objectives in its alms and ideals" [of self-improvement for all in society] (Decennial 9).
Adult Education for Social Change
Unquestionably, Cooper's experiences with enslavement, racism, sexism, and classism shaped her philosophical perspectives about equality, self-improvement for human betterment, and social change. Drawing on her experiences of living in the oppressive hierarchy of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Cooper's writings challenge the ways in which society is rooted in relations of power and domination. Over the course of her life, Cooper was caustic in her analysis of the educational, economic, social, and political disparities that characterized the lives of many poor and unlettered blacks in the U. S. As an activist adult educator concerned about justice and democracy, Cooper vigorously advanced her crusade for equitable adult educational access for members of her race and gender. She "did more than theorize changes in the abstract," argues feminist scholar Vivian May; "she was dedicated to linking dissident thought with transformative practice" (45).
From Cooper's perspective, the promise and possibility of education as a process of advancement, freedom, and civil rights for the black adult masses was a universal right that she believed would be a means of strengthening and elevating this marginalized group. As Cooper fervently argued, "The Colored people of the United States ... want for themselves and their descendants ... all the advantages and opportunities of an education as the term is interpreted and understood in the most favored groups in our American civilization" (Cooper, untitled document). Yet the realization of this goal, would only come to fruition when the unlettered and neglected linked dissident thought with the recognition of these rights (the right to an education and civil liberalities). The linking of adult education with social action would generations later become what Brazilian adult educator and critical pedagogue Paulo Freire proposed as a practice of freedom. Cooper felt that equitable educational opportunities in their greater context operated as a vital part in her overall fight for societal change. Her work with Washington, D.C.'s working-class African American adults was thus important to her as it represented a "humble" symbol of the "ideals of social justice and Christian brotherhood" for the "service for the common good" (Cooper, Decennial 5).
If education was the vehicle for acquiring social change, then it was the learning adult who became instrumental in driving that transformation. In Cooper's belief, the unlettered masses offered the appropriate remedy to the social upheavals and inequities of the U. S. during the early to mid-twentieth century in that they not only embraced "enlightened patriotism," but were also readied to participate in the fight for authentic social reform. "When [World] War [II] threatens the peace of the world," Cooper wrote, "... when racial intolerance assaults the foundation principles of human brotherhood, and the basic axioms of democracy are hard pressed to defend themselves.... I say [you will find] ... enlightened patriotism ... among the lowly and unprivileged ... [who seek] ... human betterment ... and [whose] unfeigned desire [is] to be of service in their day and generation" (Decennial 6). For Cooper the "lowly," "unprivileged" and the "neglected" adult masses were key agents of change in the struggle for social reform because as dehumanized and discriminated individuals they "ha[d] a resistant, insistent singing something," within which symbolized for Cooper, an "ontology of freedom and equality" (May 99; Baker-Fletcher 162). In Cooper's understanding of the world, interracial harmony, freedom and equality were the "final test of our civilization," and adult education for social change had an important role in that final test ("Equality of Races" 298).
Cooper's Approach to Adult Education: Content and Pedagogy
While Cooper wrote more about her approach to education in general rather than adult education more specifically, one nevertheless finds that adult education is closely connected to her wider critiques of oppression. Cooper's approach to adult education was one in which she consciously refused to reinforce the practice of inequality through the curriculum or through teaching materials and methods. As May posits, Cooper practiced a "decolonizing pedagogy" in which the "internal and external world can be changed through praxis, and the social reality is malleable, and all humans have the potential to be agents of change" (51). For Cooper, then, adult education for social action had the potential not only to undermine the repressive and oppressive "white power" structure in the Jim Crow South; it also had the possibility, through its pedagogy and content, to rupture the "legitimacy of dominant ideas and promote an alternative system of ideas and values ..." (Youngman 158; Bailey 4).
Unlike pre-adult education or education for youth, the notion of the curriculum is not necessarily used in the context of adult education. Instead, the content of adult education is usually based on the needs of individuals or communities. As Frank Youngman writes, "adult education as a form of planned learning is based on choices about aims, contents, and methods" (159). At Frelinghuysen, the content revolved around the needs, "capacities, and aspirations" of the adult learner (Decennial 3). Yet, the courses that were offered at this school included liberal arts curricula, religion, and law, even though no degrees were conferred due to accreditation problems (Decennial 3; Dabney 184). Still, it was Cooper's hope, as well as that of the founders of the school that such a curriculum would reach the "lowest down, the intentionally forgotten man, untaught and unprovided [sic] for either in public schools ... or the colleges and universities" (qtd. in Johnson 88), for the aim of allowing them to pursue the "higher and broader [level of] education" (Cooper, Decennial 3) that was found at good accredited schools. For Cooper, a liberal arts curriculum for adult learners as opposed to strictly low-level industrial arts curricula effectively avoided reproducing patterns of race, class, and gender inequality. Cooper criticized industrial, low-level curricula because she felt that an "enlightened industrialism does not mean that the body who plows cotton must study nothing but cotton" (qtd. in Lemert and Bhan 257); she instead believed ardently that education should focus on the development of critical thinking, full human development, and intellectual freedom. Such a curriculum "gives direction of thought-power, power of appreciation, power of willing the right ... and to the divine possibilities in all human development" (qtd. in Lemert and Bhan 252).
At Frelinghuysen, Cooper used or created teaching materials that allowed students to interrogate their assigned readings. For example, in an essay titled "Equality of Races and the Democratic Movement" written by Cooper in 1925 and later used in one of the Frelinghuysen classes, Cooper counters an argument about the superiority of Anglo-Saxons and Western civilizations put forth by the French scholar (and Cooper's dissertation advisor) Celestin Bougle in his essay, "Les Idees Egalitaires." Cooper clearly understood that the prevailing discourses about race in the U. S. and Europe were not only profoundly steeped in notions of anti-black sentiments, but were also ideas that contributed to, justified, and sustained black subordination, particularly the subordination of her adult learners. Cooper believed that the essential purpose for a "decolonizing" approach to adult education content was to assist her students in developing their abilities to question dominant thought and to "critically reflect upon their [own experiences] and social relationships within the larger social context [in order] that they may come to understand how power moves and shapes the condition in their communities" (Darder 135). Cooper's ultimate goal for her learning adults was their preparation for intellectual enlightenment as well as to equip them to battle for a better society at large. As Antonia Darder writes, such "educational practices are recognized as political and cultural acts." "Decolonized" content material "enhances the educational process of oppressed populations by focusing on the students becoming literate about their ... lived experiences" (135). Hence, the curriculum at Frelinghuysen was one that Cooper utilized in her efforts to meditate social inequalities and generating new possibilities for a genuinely democratic social order.
Cooper was very critical of teaching methods that contribute to both the thwarting of growth and intellectual enlightenment. She also disapproved of ideologies that suggest that a masculinist, Eurocentric social order is "normal and appropriate" (Youngman 160). For Cooper, such assumptions were detrimental to the cultural beliefs and morality of African Americans. She also repudiated teaching methods that contributed to what she called the "mass production and factory methods in education," as well as those methods that relied heavily on "lock-step ... tests and measurements ... [and] of homogeneous groups" (Decennial 7, 8). Such methods, Cooper believed "work[ed] disastrously for any segregated people who" experienced "intellectual isolation" due to their segregation (Decennial 7). The teaching methods at Frelinghuysen reflected a "congenial family [wherein] the strong ... help[ed] the weak [and] the teacher ... encourage[d] initiative and foster[ed] leadership" (Cooper, Decennial 8). It was also a type of teaching method wherein the "teacher ... know[s] them [his or her students] as individuals, not mere names on rotating cards to be dismissed with a percentage mark at the end of each semester" (Cooper, Decennial 7). Most important for Cooper was that the teachers at Frelinghuysen exhibit "keen insight and sympathetic understanding" toward their students because the ultimate goal was "the making of Men [and women] plus the building of a [democratic] civilization" (Decennial 10; original emphasis).
In sum, the content and pedagogy that Cooper used with her adult learners was one that defied the reproductions of denigrating racial ideologies, worked in the interest of the students, and provided tools for them to "appropriate the codes of power within [the content and pedagogy] for the purpose of transforming their world" (Darder 135).
Summary and Conclusion
For African Americans, education has been perceived as a tool for emancipation, self-improvement, race and class and gender equality, and overall social transformation. All of these elements have been the "essential precondition for the development of an individual's full potential" (Neverdon-Morton 163). From the African American's standpoint, education in the racially segregated South from the 1920s to the 1960s was a means of "uplifting" and improving the life conditions and circumstances of black communities. Without the capacity to read, write, and think critically, the oppressed African American individual would remain forever bound to and dependent upon the will of the oppressor. Hence, "no aspect of the black liberation struggle in this nation," explains bell hooks, "has been as charged with revolutionary fervor as the effort to gain access to an education at all levels" (98). In the struggle for a chance to learn, adult education functioned as a crucial element in the fight for racial advancement and social change, and African American adult educators such as Cooper played a significant role in providing educational opportunities for the neglected adult learners of the race. In this essay; I sought to reveal that Cooper viewed adult education not only as a vehicle for self-improvement for African Americans, but also as a way of empowering unlettered and working-poor adults to take a direct role in the fight for "national and racial adjustment ... the principles of ... democracy [and] to the perpetuation of faith in human brotherhood [and sisterhood]" (Second Decennial 1).
In this current age of globalization, the overall framework for adult education caters to the exploitative needs of the market economy rather than to the human demands for social justice, democracy, and freedom. Consequently, there is at present a severe departure from the type of adult education that functions as an instrument for social action and transformation. Cooper's ideas and approaches to adult education for the masses can contribute to our understanding that adult education for self-improvement and human betterment, as well as for social transformation, are relevant and significant issues today. In our attempts to alleviate adult illiteracy, poverty, and oppression, Cooper's ideals and approaches to teaching the poor and disenfranchised provide a blueprint of how to move toward the goal of making this nation more socially just and democratic via the instrument of education. Cooper's battle to transform society and to educate unlettered African American adults not only provides us with an inspiring story, but also an important model of adult education that contemporary, progressive adult educator-activists can emulate.
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Cooper, Anna Julia. "College Extension for Working People." The Journal of the Alumnae Club (1930?): 34-38.
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--. "Has America a Race Problem? If So, How Can It Best Be Solved?" 1892. Lemert and Bhan 121-33.
--. Letter to Francis Grimke. 19 Mar. 1932. Anna Julia Cooper Papers. Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC.
--. "My Racial Philosophy." 1930. Lemert and Bhan 236-37.
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--. "What Are We Worth?" 1892. Lemert and Bhan 161-87.
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(1.) For an examination of Cooper's feminist thinking, see Beverly Guy-Sheftall, ed. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought (New York: New P, 1995) and May. Also see Mark S. Giles, "Dr. Anna Julia Cooper, 1858-1964: Teacher, Scholar, and Timeless Womanist," Journal of Negro Education 75.4 (Fall 2006): 621-34.
(2.) For the contributions of other African American educators' struggles for schooling, literacy, and education, see Baker; also see Evans. Additionally, there are Adam Fairclough's Black Teachers in the Segregated South: A Class of Their Own (Cambridge, MA: Belknap P, 2007), Derrick P. Alridge's The Educational Thought of W. E. B. Du Bois (New York: Teachers College P, 2008), and Johnson.
(3.) For a more in-depth reading of African Americans and adult literacy work, please see Heather A. Williams's Self-taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2005); Elizabeth L. Ihle's "Education of the Free Blacks before the Civil War," in Neufeldt and McGee 11-24; and Butchart.
(4.) For an understanding on Cooper's Victorian ideas on education and other social issues, see Johnson; also see Mark S. Giles, "Dr. Anna Julia Cooper, 1858-1964: Teacher, Scholar, and Timeless Womanist," Journal of Negro Education 75.4 (Fall 2006): 621-34. Alridge argues that Cooper not only embraced Victorianism, Civilizationism, and Progressivism as her key strands of intellectual thought but she also reconciled these paradigms in her efforts to create an educational viewpoint that stressed racial parity and social reform.
(5.) See Lillian G. Dabney's in-depth work on public education for blacks in the District of Columbia, which includes Frelinghuysen University in her monograph titled The History Of Schools For Negroes In The District Of Columbia, 1807-1947 (Washington, DC: U of America P, 1949); also see Chateauvert.
(6.) For more in-depth reading on the adult education movement in the U. S., see Stubblefield and Keane; Cyril Houle's The Literature of Adult Education: A Bibliographic Essay (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992); and Knowles.
(7.) For an understanding of what literacy and education meant to African Americans, see Alain Locke's "Adult Education: Safeguard and Democracy," a speech delivered at the Southern Regional Conference of the American Association for Adult Education (Alain Locke Papers, Moorland-Spingam Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC, n.d.); Vincent P. Franklin's Black Self-Determination: A Cultural History of the Faith of the Fathers (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1984); and Donald DeVore and Joseph Logdson's Crescent City Schools: Public Education in New Orleans, 1841-1991 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1990).
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|Author:||Johnson, Karen A. (American educator)|
|Publication:||African American Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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