Education for Some, But Not for All

We want one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

—Woodrow Wilson, from an address to the New York City High School Teachers Association
Jan. 9th, 1909

The above quotation, from an Ivy League University president who went on to become the Governor of New Jersey and then the President of the United States, is simply shocking. Read it carefully and think about what it means. Whom did he mean by “we”? What kind of person would want “one class of persons” to have a liberal education and find it necessary for “a very much larger class” to “forgo the privileges” (i.e., be deprived of) of a liberal education? Why would it be necessary for “a very much larger class” to forgo the kind of education that is appropriate for free people, as opposed to slaves? Did the “we” to whom Wilson referred include the people whose children were “by necessity” being deprived? In this context, do you find it surprising that Wilson wasn’t particularly nice to African-Americans?

Here’s an open letter to President Wilson that W.E.B. Dubois published in The Crisis, which was the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Photo by Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Archives

1 thought on “Education for Some, But Not for All”

  1. A friend of mine wrote: 

    Great blog. I always thought Wilson was one of the most overrated Presidents (and that is a large club). I used to delight in telling my students how he segregated all federal offices, and how hard he opposed woman suffrage. Then there was his showing of “Birth of a Nation” at the White House, after which he marveled at how true the movie was in depicting life after the Civil War. Then he botched one foreign crisis after another. The only reason he did not bungle his way into a long war with Mexico is that he wound up fighting with the Allies in World War I. What a scholar, definitely deserving of the Presidency of Princeton University.

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