Richwood is balancing a historical mind, hand battle among black scholars

    The achievements of Richwood High School’s vocational components are being recognized by the State Department of Education. The success of schools such as Richwood across the country mark a turning point in the educational struggle of our people.
    The expansive vocational components at Richwood are designed to prepare its graduates for the job market. It offers job preparation courses in dentistry, hair styling, Emergency Medical Responder, Sports Medicine, Nursing assistant, patient care technicians and about a dozen more market friendly assistant type jobs.
    There has been a reluctance on the part of the black community to incorporate vocational education as a primary component of education for black youth that has sparked bitter debates in our community that reach back to the turn of the 20th century.
    The great leaders of our people have been torn between educating a workforce for the larger corporate community and educating our young to produce leaders of our people capable of thinking, leading and taking charge of our destiny as a people.
     For nearly 150 years the debate has been whether we should educate the Black child’s “mind” or his “hands.”
     The two proponents of each idea were W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington. Their ideas clashed so fiercely that there were even riots after rallies where our leaders battled over whether to give up the minds of our children to a culture that focused on their hands.
     Washington saw millions of former slaves with no skills, sitting idle, getting in trouble and making no contribution to society. He promoted vocational education first (hand) and intellectual studies (mind) later. Dubois said there is a talented 10th among our youth who must be trained to lead our people. It required instruction in arts, sciences, languages and high order thinking. He did not oppose vocational education, but warned that possibly the talented tenth would slip through and have their hands educated without the mind training.
     Washington’s ideas caught on. Through Tuskegee Institute he prepared graduates to go back across the South and educate the hands of black youth first, of course not at the expense of their collective mind.
     In Monroe, men like the late I.B. January and others who were Tuskegee graduates came home and set up Vocational schools all over Monroe. Behind Carroll High School, under the trees, Delta Vocational School was constructed. It taught auto body mechanics, electricity, business machines, License Practical Nurses and many other trades. There were several tailor schools, and black tailor shops all over Monroe. That was the vocational push of Washington.
    Yet Dubois, had his influence. The vocational schools set up here and other cities for Blacks avoided instruction that would result in a student being an assistant. The training was geared toward being a business owner. They were instructed to be LPN’s with a goal of being a nurse, not an assistant. Owning a body shop was the priority, not simply learning body work.
    In the 1960’s when Louisiana pushed for vocational education emphasis to feed workers to expected corporations coming to the state, the black community resisted because we saw our “talented tenth” being directed toward being mindless line workers instead of the thinkers needed for our future. We were afraid that they would put our children on an education of the “hand” track that would eventually suck in even our best and brightest.
    When the state of Louisiana started the JumpStart vocational education track toward graduation many saw it as a renewed corporate campaign to train hands for corporate work at the expense of minds for leadership and ownership.
     Some schools like Richwood have struck a balance. There is a high level of vocational training, but there is also a high level of academic training as well.
     The fact that Richwood is training both the mind and the hand equally, is why the state is praising its accomplishments as an example of the best merger of Dubois and Washington ideology.
     That’s a piece of black history that’s unfolding in front of our eyes.