We hosted a day-long forensic challenge and seminar during Black History Month to continue programming of activities designed to preserve the Terrell legacy. The event was held on Saturday, February 20, 2010, and the theme was centered on the debate prominent in the late 19th, early 20th century between proponents of vocational education, as espoused by Booker T. Washington, and the proponents of college preparatory education, as supported by W.E.B. Dubois. This was a debate that was widespread among educators of African Americans following the Civil War and the emancipation of previously enslaved blacks. It took center stage within educational policy circles of jurisdictions that were developing instructional programs for black children for many of whom formal education had been previously outlawed.
Mary Church Terrell and her husband, Judge Robert Heberton Terrell debated these issues among themselves, and found themselves supporting proponents on different sides of the debate. Had she been alive, Mary Church Terrell would have been fully engaged in this debate, and as the first black female school board member in the U.S., she had the opportunity to weigh in on these issues. This project is designed to give high school and college students an opportunity to explore these issues as they were raised in the historical debates, apply them to their 21st century setting, and reflect upon them as these issues relate to their own lives.
The Terrell House Board chose to sponsor this challenge because it saw this debate’s two approaches to education as having contemporary relevance in Washington, D.C. as well as nationally. Education is a key priority in Washington, and Chancellor Rhee has an ambitious agenda to improve performance at all school levels. The expansion of school choice through D.C.’s voucher program and the proliferation of charter schools underscore the lengths to which the city is willing to go to provide alternative instructional programming for its students. In addition, two schools, one vocational and one technical, have recently been renovated for students who may or may not want to pursue a college preparatory path.
This event provided scholars and educators with an opportunity to reflect upon the various approaches to instructional programming, while high school and college students debated these approaches, learned more about the Terrells and their legacy, and honed their writing and oratorical skills as well. The day included a short theatrical performance, a panel discussion, and a poetry slam that invited participants to craft spur-of-the-moment poetry based on the discussion. The goal was to encourage scholars and students to consider a broad range of ways our youth can stay competitive in the U.S. and global communities.
Oral History Celebration