American Portraits

To Accomplish the Most Good: Booker T. Washington’s Education

In this lesson, students will read about and discuss how Booker T. Washington remained diligent about obtaining an education. They will draft an illustrated “map” of Booker T. Washington’s journey toward an education, and they will discuss how they can be diligent in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

In the fall of 1865, when he was nine years old, Booker met a stranger who arrived at the farm where he lived. An officer of some sort, the man gave a short speech and read a large paper. Booker later understood the paper to have been the Emancipation Proclamation. “For some minutes,” he recalled, “there was rejoicing, and thanksgiving.” Then, the atmosphere changed as the older slaves absorbed “the great responsibility of being free, of having charge of themselves.” Young Booker was perceptive and, throughout his life, his careful observations and resourcefulness fed his diligent pursuit of goals, the most significant of which was his powerful desire for an education….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How did Booker T. Washington’s diligence help him to achieve his goal of getting an education?

Virtue Defined

Diligence is intrinsic energy for completing good work.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will read about and discuss how Booker T. Washington remained diligent about obtaining an education. They will draft an illustrated “map” of Booker T. Washington’s journey toward an education, and they will discuss how they can be diligent in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Identify and discuss the circumstances that made it difficult for Washington to achieve his goals
  • Analyze and discuss the character traits that enabled Washington to overcome the obstacles that he encountered
  • Create a map that demonstrates an understanding of the relationship between Washington’s diligence, his accomplishment of his goals, and his contribution toward his own freedom and that of others
  • Students will compare themselves and their individual circumstances to Washington and his circumstances
  • Students will evaluate their own degree of diligence and the ways that they can apply this character trait more deliberately in their own lives

Background

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery in 1856 on a Virginia farm and was five years old when the Civil War began. In his lifetime he experienced slavery, emancipation, and a massive movement among former slaves, to acquire a formal education. After encountering countless hardships and potential impediments to his goal of formal schooling, he graduated from the Hampton Institute in Virginia. Washington also attended seminary, later founded the Tuskegee Institute, and helped to establish numerous other schools for African-American students. His legacy is one of responsibility, hard work, and the value of an education. He is an example of the lasting impact a person can have who works diligently toward clear goals and contributes meaningfully to society.

Vocabulary

  • Impediments
  • Decipher
  • Tenaciously
  • Undaunted
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Resourcefulness
  • Plantation
  • Compulsion
  • Fastidiousness

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

Visit Their Website

Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • How did Washington’s beliefs about himself influence his diligent pursuit of an education? How did both lead him to contribute to his community?
  • How is struggle related to confidence? How did Booker T. Washington’s struggle and his race relate to his identity and his purpose?
  • How did Washington’s identity affect his actions?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

Give Feedback

Send us your comments or questions using the form below.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Close