Washington, DC—The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announced today the winner of the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching, published by Harvard University Press. The Ness award is given annually to the book that best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education, and will be formally presented to the author, Jarvis R. Givens, at AAC&U’s annual meeting, on January 19, 2023, in San Francisco, California. Givens is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a faculty affiliate in the Department of African & African American Studies at Harvard University.

Through clandestine means, often in defiance of law and custom, even under threat of violence, African Americans developed what Givens calls a tradition of “fugitive pedagogy”—a theory and practice of Black education in America. There is perhaps no better exemplar of this tradition than Carter G. Woodson—groundbreaking historian, founder of Black History Month, and legendary educator under Jim Crow. Fugitive Pedagogy chronicles Woodson’s efforts to fight against the “mis-education of the Negro” by helping teachers and students see themselves and their mission as set apart from an anti-Black world. Teachers, students, families, and communities worked together, using Woodson’s materials and methods as they fought for power in schools and continued the work of fugitive pedagogy. Forged in slavery and embodied by Woodson, this tradition of escape remains essential for teachers and students today.

“I’m so pleased that AAC&U recognizes, through my book, the important lessons Black educators of the past can teach us about pursuing meaningful education in the face of tyranny and willful ignorance,” Givens said. “I trace Black people’s particular experiences of navigating race and power in American schools, but at a fundamental level, I’m also concerned with the universal story about an enduring human struggle over our approach to knowledge, what constitutes its parameter, and who gets to have a say in that process. Fugitive Pedagogy uses the African American experience, and the story of Carter G. Woodson, to get at that perennial issue in human life. I’m inspired by Black teachers’ commitment to pursuing educational justice in this country—despite being met by violent resistance and deemed intellectually inferior every step of the way. I hope that others will study and be inspired by their heroism.”

This year’s Ness award winner was selected by a committee of higher education leaders: Kathleen Woodward (committee chair), Lockwood Professor in the Humanities, professor of English, and director of the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington; Andrea Chapdelaine, president of Hood College; Yves Salomon-Fernandez, senior vice president for operations planning at Southern New Hampshire University; and Lynn Pasquerella, president of AAC&U.

“Out of a robust pool of nominations, the selection committee noted that Fugitive Pedagogy is timely, compelling, and emotional—and that it carries an important message for the current moment, as democracy is fraying and we have failed to learn from the experiences of the past,” said Pasquerella. “The book’s consideration of education as a subversive activity is particularly important as AAC&U promotes scholarly activism against anti-intellectualism. We have much to learn about the purposes of higher education from the efforts of Carter G. Woodson.”

Established in 1979 to honor AAC&U’s ninth president, the Frederic W. Ness Book Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the understanding and improvement of liberal education. Recent award winners include The Campus Color Line: College Presidents and the Struggle for Black Freedom by Eddie R. Cole; Jim Crow Campus: Higher Education and the Struggle for a New Southern Social Order by Joy Ann Williamson-Lott; The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux by Cathy N. Davidson; Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing College Students for Life and Work by Matthew T. Hora with Ross J. Benbow and Amanda K. Oleson; and The Aims of Higher Education: Problems of Morality and Justice, edited by Harry Brighouse and Michael McPherson.

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