Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 13 Education That Educates

Perhaps I am safe in saying that during the last ten days you have not given much systematic effort to book study in the usual sense. When interruptions come such as we have just had, taking you away from your regular routine work and study, and the preparation of routine lessons is interrupted, the first thought to some may be that this time is lost, in so far as it relates to education in the ordinary sense; that it is so," much time taken away from that part of one's life that should be devoted to acquiring education. I suppose that during the last few days the questions have come to many of you: "What are we gaining? What are we getting from the irregularity that has characterized the school grounds within the last week that will in any degree compensate for the amount of book study that we have lost?"

To my mind I do not believe that you have lost anything by the interruption. On the other hand, I am convinced that you have got the best kind of education. I do not mean to say that we can depend upon it for all time to come for systematic training of the mind, but so far as real education, so far as development of the mind and heart and body are concerned, I do not believe that a single student has lost anything by the irregularity of the last week or more.

You have gained in this respect: in preparing for the reception and entertainment of the President of the United States and his Cabinet, and the distinguished persons who accompanied the party you have had to do an amount of original thinking which you, perhaps, have never had to do before in your lives. You have been compelled to think; you have been compelled to put more than your bodily strength into what you have been doing.

* Note: This talk was given soon after the visit of President McKinley to Tuskegee Institute in the fall of 1898.

You could not have made the magnificent exhibition of our work which you have made if you had not been compelled to do original thinking and execution. Most of you never saw such an exhibition before; I never did. Those of you who had to construct floats that would illustrate our agricultural work and our mechanical and academic work, had to put a certain amount of original thought into the planning of these floats, in order to make them show the work to the best advantage; and two-thirds of you-yes, practically all of you-had never seen anything of the kind before. For this reason it was a matter that had to be thought out by you and planned out by you, and then put into visible shape.

Now compare that kind of education with the mere committing to memory of certain rules, or something which some one else thought out and executed a thousand years ago perhaps-and that is what a large part of our education really is... Education in the usual sense of the word is the mere committing to memory of something which has been known before us. Now during the last ten days we have had to solve problems of our own, not problems and puzzles that some one else originated for us. I do not believe that there is a person connected with the institution who is not stronger in mind, who is not more self-confident and self-reliant, so far as the qualities relate to what he is able to do with his mind or his hands, than he was ten or twelve days ago.

There is the benefit that came to all of us. It put us to thinking and planning; it brought us in to contact with things that are out of the ordinary; and there is no education that surpasses this. I see more and more every year that the world is to be brought to the study of men and of things, rather than to the study of mere books. You will find more and more as the years go by, that people will gradually lay aside books, and study the nature of man in a way they have never done as yet. I tell you, then, that in this interruption of the regular schoolwork you have not lost anything – you have gained; you have had your minds awakened, your faculties strengthened, and your hands guided.

I do not wish to speak of this matter egotistically, but it is true that I have heard a great many persons from elsewhere mention the pleasure which they have received in meeting Tuskegee students, because when they come in contact with a student who has been here, they are impressed with the fact that he or she does not seem to be dead or sleepy. They say that when they meet a Tuskegee boy or girl they find a person who has had contact with real life. The education that you have been getting during the last few days, you will find, as the years go by, has been of a kind that will serve you in good stead all through your lives.

Just in proportion as we learn to execute something, to put our education into tangible form – as we have been doing during the last few days-in just the same proportion will we find ourselves of value as individuals and as a race. Those people who came here to visit us knew perfectly well that we could commit to memory certain lines of poetry, they knew we were able to solve certain problems in algebra and geometry, they understood that we could learn certain rules in chemistry and agriculture; but what interested them most was~ to see us put into visible form the results of our education. Just in proportion as an individual is able to do that, he is of value to the world. That is the object of the work which we are trying to do here. We are trying to turn out men and women who are able to do something that the world wants done, that the world needs to have done. Just in proportion as you can comply with that demand you will find that there is a place for you there is going to be standing room. By the training we are giving you here we are preparing you for a place in the world. We are going to train you so that when you get to that place, if you fail in it, the failure will not be our fault.

It is a great satisfaction to have connected with a race men and women who are able to do something, not merely to talk about doing it, not to the study of men and of things, rather than to the study of mere books. You will find more and more as the years go by, that people will gradually lay aside books, and study the nature of man in a way they have never done as yet. I tell you, then, that in this interruption of the regular school work you have not lost anything you have gained; you have had your minds awakened, your faculties strengthened, and your hands guided.

I do not wish to speak of this matter egotistically, but it is true that I have heard a great many persons from elsewhere mention the pleasure which they have received in meeting Tuskegee students, because when they come in contact with a student who has been here, they are impressed with the fact that he or she does not seem to be dead or sleepy. They say that when they meet a Tuskegee boy or girl they find a person who has had contact with real life. The education that you have been getting during the last few days, you will find, as the years go by, has been of a kind that will serve you in good stead all through your lives.

Just in proportion as we learn to execute something, to put our education into tangible form-as we have been doing during the last few days-in. just the same proportion will we find ourselves of value as individuals and as a race. Those people who came here to visit us knew perfectly well that we could commit to memory certain lines of poetry, they knew we were able to solve certain problems in algebra and geometry, they understood that we could learn certain rules in chemistry and agriculture; but what interested them most was to see us put into visible form the results of our education.

Just in proportion as an individual is able to do that, he is of value to the world. That is the object of the work which we are trying to do here. We are trying to turn out men and women who are able to do something that the world wants done, that the world needs to have done. Just in proportion as you can comply with that demand you will find that there is a place for you there is going to be standing room. By the, training we are giving you here we are preparing you for a place in the world. We are going to train you so that when you get to that place, if you fail in it, the failure will not be our fault.

It is a great satisfaction to have connected with a race of men and women who are able to do something, not merely to talk about doing it, not merely to theorize about doing it, but actually to do something that makes the world better to live in, something that enhances the comforts and conveniences of life. I had a good example of this last week. I wanted something done in my office which required a practical knowledge of electricity. It was a great satisfaction when I called upon one of the teachers, to have him do the work in a careful, praiseworthy manner. It is very well to talk or lecture about electricity, but it is better to be able to do something of value with one's knowledge of electricity.

And so, as you go on, increasing your ability to do things of value, you will find that the problem which often now-a-days looks more and more difficult of solution will gradually become easier. One of the Cabinet members who were here a few days ago said, after witnessing the exhibition which you made here, that the islands which this country had taken into its possession during the recent war are soon going to require the service of every man and woman we can turn out from this institution. You will find it true, not only in this country but in other countries, that the demand will be more and more for people who can do something. Just in proportion as we can, as a race, get the reputation which I spoke to you about a few days ago, you will find there will be places for us. Regardless of color or condition, the world is going to give the places of trust and remuneration to the men and women who can do a certain thing as well as anybody else or better. This is the whole problem. Shall we prepare ourselves to do something as well as anybody else or better? Just in proportion as we do this, you will find that nothing under the sun will keep us back.