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(1886) Alexander Crummell, “Common Sense in Common Schooling”

On September 13, 1886, Alexander Crummell preached a sermon at his church,  St. Luke’s Church in Washington, D.C. where he challenged many of the prevailing ideas about the importance of classical education.  His sermon is reprinted below.

That the soul should be without knowledge is not good.—Prov. 9: 12.

Tomorrow morning we shall witness the reopening of the public schools and the beginning of another year"s school session. As the training and instruction of our children is a matter of very great interest and importance, I am glad of the opportunity to say a few words upon the whole subject of Common School education.

I need not pause to explain the special significance of the text. It is so plain and apparent that even the youngest can readily take it in, and you, who are their elders, have years ago become familiar with its point and power.

It has had during the last few years a special and peculiar influence upon us as a people. Rarely in the history of man has any people, "sitting in the region and shadow of death" a people almost literally enveloped in darkness   rarely, I say, has any such people risen up from their Egyptian darkness with such a craving for light as the black race in this country.

It has been almost the repetition of the Homeric incident:

Dispel this gloom—the light of heaven restore—

Give me to see, and Ajax asks no more.        

Almost universal ignorance was the mental condition of the race previous to emancipation. Out of millions of people, not more than 30,000 were allowed an acquaintance with letters. To day, hundreds of schools are in existence, and over a million of our children are receiving the elements of common school education.

The point of interest in this grand fact is that this intellectual receptivity was no tardy and reluctant faculty. Albeit an ignorant people, yet we did not need either to be goaded or even stimulated to intellectual desire. There was no need of any compulsory laws to force our children into the schools. No; the mental appetite of the Negro was like

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