Comings and Goings, Minis

Karen A. Johnson: U of U professor studies successful African American women educators

By Katherine Pioli

With a persistent national achievement gap between black and white students, questions about how to improve the quality of education for African Americans continue to pester educators like Karen A. Johnson, Associate Professor of African American Studies at the University of Utah. Johnson attempted to address the achievement gap question by looking at successful African American women educators throughout our country’s history and the methods they used in the classroom and in their schools.

The resulting book, African American Women Educators: A Critical Examination of their Pedagogies, Educational Ideas, and Activism (a collaboration of essays co-edited by Johnson, Abul Pitre and Kenneth L. Johnson) tells stories about women like Lucy Craft Laney (1854-1933), founder of the Augusta, Georgia chapter of the NAACP and founder and principal of the Haines Institute, an African American women’s school. Under Laney’s guidance the school followed the philosophy “no part of the child be left untouched, mind, spirit and body.” At Laney’s school young women learned just about everything: practical domestic arts, carpentry, printing, cosmetology, bookkeeping, public speaking, math, history, religious education, rhetoric, composition, grammar, algebra, Latin, Greek, political science, philosophy, logic, debate and athletics.

Since the book’s publication, in 2014, Johnson has been pleased to note from fellow professors that African American Women Educators is indeed in use in classrooms around the country and in Europe as well as, of course, in Johnson’s own classroom at the U of U.

In an email response to CATALYST, Johnson wrote, “I felt compelled to work on the book because there was a scarcity of knowledge about these 19th century and early to mid-20th century black women educators. We must know more about who they were and what they did as well as the issues and movements that characterized the different periods of time in which they lived. We must analyze and understand their overall experiences as educators and black women in order to know more fully their impact and their distinctive contribution to American education. In the field of educational history, the stories of African American educators, in particular black women educators, are rarely included. Yet, African American women have played vital roles in American society and in the field of education their contributions have been most salient.” u

—Katherine Pioli

This article was originally published on November 9, 2016.