On Education and African American Intellectual History

By Derrick P. Alridge, Black Perspectives

As a scholar in African American education and intellectual history, I’m often asked what one has to do with the other. In some ways, this question baffles me, because I see both ideas and history as the foundation of the educational enterprise, particularly as they relate to curricula, pedagogy, and educational reform. Nevertheless, I understand the basis for the question. Ideas seem abstract, whereas education and schooling seem real and concrete. Yet, this is an artificial divide, failing to recognize how ideas of the past influence the problems of today—and highlighting a frequent misperception of a discipline where historians forthrightly study ideas. Over the past two decades, I have sought a definitive answer to this question, focusing my research on the ideas and thought of African American educators and the education of Black people, influenced on this journey by old and new generations of historians in this area.1 And as a result of my intellectual travails, I have honed in on three areas of African American intellectual and educational history that can help bridge the gap between abstract ideas and concrete education policies. 

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