©2001 NewFoundations

Cornel West's Educational Theory

Analyst: Patricia C. Lewis-West


edited 8/18/11

1. Theory of Value: What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?

Acquiring the knowledge and skills to combat efforts to dissolve the African American community. Nihilism exist in black communities and causes a loss of love and hope which can be the destruction of individuals. (C p. 15). West expresses nihilism as "the profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair widespread in Black America (B p. 135).

All children should be given an equal education by removing boundaries that limit learning. A child's quality of education should not be determined by the neighborhood they live in. (B p.321)

2. Theory of Knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? What is a lie?

Understanding: Self, World and God (B p.418).

Knowledge is an individual process while belief surrounds a set of agreed upon circumstances among groups who have a shared theory (B p.418).

Mediocrity and silence. The inability to talk candidly (C p.23). A lie can exist in not recognizing "moral reasoning" while struggling for racial freedom (C p.26).

3. Theory of Human Nature: What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?

Humans have the ability to share love, caring, and service to others (C p. 17).

To be human is to suffer, shudder and struggle courageously in the face of inevitable death"(B p. xvi).

The human attribute of processing information, using it to "live wisely" and understanding our own mortality as humans pursue their life's quests (B p. xvi).

Human beings have no boundaries for reaching their potential. Reflecting on the African American struggle gives credence to this claim (B p.101).

4. Theory of Learning: What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired?

Learning in school should give youth the ability to become free people by equiping children with the means to think and to stand on their own feet" (B p.322)

5. Theory of Transmission: Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be?

First and foremost parents, grandparents or caregivers. West speaks of H.F. Harlow's experiment with monkeys who were taken away from their parents. The monkeys were given artificial surrogates, a wire mesh "mommy", and a terrycloth "mommy". The monkeys did try to respond to the terry-cloth "mommy" by cuddling close. But, of course the cuddling was not reciprocated. The monkeys took on a "zombie" like state "they did not seem fully alive," even though they were supplied with all other necessary ingredients (water, food, safe environment) to sustain development (B p.338).

Love, caring and emotional support are the methods needed to sustain development which will set in place the mechanisms too support self love which can propel individuals to grow into contributing members of society.

Pride in who you are as a person. Respect for yourself and others.

6. Theory of Society: What is society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?

A collective effort involving the struggles of everyday life.

Home, church and state are all responsible for providing education. (B p.322, C p.15).

Leaders from the African American community must get involved in programs that guide young black youth away from violence, drugs and self hate (B p. 15).

7. Theory of Opportunity: Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?

A quality public education should be available to all without relationship to class or skin color (B p.321).

Schooling should start early and continue into for a lifetime. Individuals should work at constantly acquiring the schooling needed to move to the next level.

8. Theory of Consensus: Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?

A struggle for power on overlapping terrain (B p.66).

As human beings we must decide to stop degrading each other and develop a tolerance and respect for individual's humanity rather then their skin color. "We either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately" (C p.108).

Opinions need to be shared. "Hence, rhetoric becomes a substitute for analysis, rapping a replacement for serious reading, and uncreative publications an expression of existential catharsis" (C p.43).


A. Dyson, Michael Eric. (1969). Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line. AddisonWesley Publishing Co. Reading.

B. West Cornel. (11999). The Cornel West Reader. Basic Civitas Books. New York, NY.

C. West, Cornel. (1993,2000). Race Matters. Beacon Press. Boston