Historically, Black women have endeavored to educate, not just their classroom, but their people. V. P. Franklin contends that Black teachers are leaders in the Black community (Franklin 1990). Linda M. Perkins reminds us that Black women became teachers because teaching was the only profession open to them prior to desegregation (Perkins 1989). Jacqueline Jordan Irvine argues that Black teachers were more than just role models; they were significant in the Black community (Irvine 1989). Cooper understood Black teachers’ special place in the community which charged them, regardless of whether teaching was their choice, to uplift the race through education. Consequently, Cooper, Fannie Jackson Coppin, Mary Church Terrell, and many others, were engaged in the "gospel of intelligence" (Duster 1980, Giddings 1984, Perkins 1987, Sterling 1988). But, in her essay Cooper alludes to another purpose of the Black teacher in addition to uplifting the race through occupational education.

     Cooper contends that the aim of education "for the human soul is to train aright, to give power and right direction to the intellect, the sensibilities, and the will" (Lemert and Bhan, 252). Consequently, the role of teachers was to teach students to have the "power to think, the power to appreciate, and the power to will the right and make it prevail"  (Lemert and Bhan 251). Cooper’s treatise "On Education" best represents her theoretical and practical understanding of the purpose of education for Blacks. This purpose is part of the personal, political, and communal knowledge of Black women. We bring this understanding of teaching with us to the university. However, within academia, our teaching, so connected to us as Black women, is not as valued as it is in the Black community.

     Black female professors are asked not to be so demanding of their students. We are perceived as too authoritative. We are not nurturing. We are not kind. Consequently, our legacy of demanding excellence as an advantage against the racism of the world is viewed negatively. Too few of our students understand our legacy that values so highly the power of students as critical thinkers. Nevertheless, with many of my colleagues, I remain faithful to this ideological tradition of educating students to survive in racist America. Often, however, we forget that they are primarily white.


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May 2000