New Year’s Day marked the 156th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which guaranteed:

That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…

On this day, Booker T. Washington serves as a shining example of the importance of freedom and education. As Pepperdine University Economics Professor Gary M. Galles explained in a recent Foundation for Economic Education article:

Booker T. Washington…sought ‘the most complete freedom compatible with the freedom of others,’…born a slave, [Washington] was seven when the Emancipation Proclamation was announced. At 11, he got his first book and taught himself to read. He thought to ‘get into a schoolhouse and study…would be about the same as getting into paradise.’ At 16, he went 500 miles to the Hampton Institute, where he attended classes by day and worked nights to earn his room and board. After graduation, Hampton made him an instructor. In 1881, he founded the Tuskegee Institute. …Washington recognized that for blacks’ advancement, starting from the legacy of government-enforced slavery, coercion of others was not the answer.

Today, a majority of African-Americans, as well as Americans in general, embrace Washington’s legacy of liberty as opposed to coercion regarding the education of their children.

Assigned public schooling has been on the decline since 1999 for students overall, but the decline is twice as high for African-American students compared to the general student population, down by 10 percentage points versus 5 percentage points.

Yet the proportion of African-Americans reporting that their children’s school was their first choice has remained stuck at around 10 percentage points below the overall population since 2012, the earliest year available from the U.S. Department of Education (here and here).

Not surprisingly, African-Americans want more educational options that better meet their children’s needs.

According to the most recent EdChoice national survey, a majority of African-Americans believe American K-12 education is on the wrong track, 55 percent, the same percentage as the general population (p. 63). However, support for a variety of parental choice programs is noticeably higher among African-Americans compared to the general population:

-Compared to 74 percent of the general population, 79 percent of African-Americans support universal education savings accounts (ESAs), which are programs that put parents in charge of their children’s education funding so they can buy the services and products that best meet their children’s unique needs, including private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, and special education therapies (pp. 47 and 64).

-While 64 percent of the general population support government-funded voucher scholarships, 70 percent of African-Americans support them (pp. 51 and 65).

-Likewise, two-thirds of the general population support donor-funded tax-credit scholarships, compared to 70 percent of African-Americans who do (p. 66).

-Finally, 61 percent of the general population support public charter schools, jumping to 71 percent among African-Americans (pp. 52 and 67).

These results mirror findings from several other surveys, including those conducted by Education Next, Beck Research for the American Federation for Children, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Gallup, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and even PDK’s annual survey of Americans’ attitudes toward public schools (in spite of their pollsters’ dubious framing of educational choice-related questions. See here, here, here, and here.)

“The most complete development of each human being,” according to Washington, “can come only through his being permitted to exercise the most complete freedom compatible with the freedom of others.”

Full and unfettered parental control over the education and bringing up of their children is the ultimate exercise of freedom and perhaps the best way to fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation that “all persons held as slaves…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”