Carter G. Woodson: Father of Black History Month & Progressive Educator

“We need to consider that there was a distinctive strand of black progressive education in the 1930s.”

Jeffrey Aaron Snyder

from “Progressive Education in Black and White: Rereading Carter G. Woodson’s Miseducation of the Negro


Educators may know Carter G. Woodson as the “Father of Black History Month”; the historian, who in 1912 earned his PhD from Harvard, created “Negro History Week” in 1926.  Did you know, however, that Dr. Woodson was also a staunch advocate for progressive pedagogy?

In his article, entitled “Progressive Education in Black and White, Rereading Carter G. Woodson’s Miseducation of the Negro,”  (History of Education Quarterly, 21 July 2015) Jeffrey Aaron Snyder shows us that not only was Carter G. Woodson an amazing historian, but a progressive educator whose work on behalf of  relevant and meaningful education for black students ran parallel to the work of  “The Big Four” of the Progressive Era: “George Counts, John Dewey, William Heard Kilpatrick, and Harold Rugg.”

Snyder’s article reminds us that progressive education has been “marked” as the purview of white educators, and illuminates the plain fact that such a narrow focus is an incomplete picture of progressive education in the 1930s (and since). For example,  no mention of Carter Woodson appears in Lawrence Cremin’s history of progressive education (The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in Education, 1876-1957) (ibid).  Snyder writes, “I maintain that Miseducation deserves a place in the progressive education canon, alongside texts such as Educational Frontier, Dewey’s The School and Society (1900), and Ann Shumaker’s The Child- Centered School (1928) .

Woodson railed against the “machine method” under which most blacks were schooled, and advocated for an approach to education that made it relevant and based in real life needs of folks in black communities in America.  His book, The Miseducation of the Negro “has sold millions of copies and has never gone out of print.”

“To read Miseducation as a progressive text is to recover a richer, more expansive history of progressive education, one that addresses the color line in addition to the ‘social frontier.'”

~Jeffrey Aaron Snyder

Interested? The History of Education Quarterly is the original site of publication, and the abstract for Snyder’s article can be found here.

Want to read the whole book? Find it here; keep Dr. Woodson’s history and vision in print!


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