W.E.B. DuBois, in his speech, “Galileo Galilei” encourages the graduates of Fisk University to consider more intellectual/academic schooling as opposed to the vocational training encouraged by Booker T. Washington. He used Galileo as an example of what is possible for persons, black or white, to accomplish if they simply open their minds to wonder. He said:
But it is in such half-finished biography that men do mischief in the world and blind the eyes of young men and women like these graduates here. It sweeps dust in their eyes and discord in their ears, and to the eternal thunder of questioning, “How?” it returns only the answer to the answered question, “What?” Easy it is to tell what men have done in this world—Lincoln, and Hamilton made us a nation. But—How? Ask the men who will do. Stars there are; them we see and know, but—How do men reach them?—What of the Way, the Power, and the Opposition?
…From the time of Dante in the thirteenth up to the blossoming of Petrarch in the fifteenth century, Italy had been seeing life anew.Galileo was a child of this awakening.The impulse behind him was the Wonder of an open mind at the mechanism of the universe. (DuBois, 1908, p. 37)
DuBois implored the graduates to choose this path of wonder, and the possibilities of what they might discover and accomplish could be limitless, just like it was for Galileo. I read this and I imagine that DuBois is talking to me—he is talking to my students and my son! In an age where one could only look at the sky above to see a star, Galileo’s impulse to wonder gave him the wisdom to invent the telescope, discover the law of falling bodies, discover the moons of Jupiter, explain the reflected lights of the planets, set the laws of cohesion, apply the law of the pendulum to the creation of the clock, and most of all revealed that the sun was the center of the universe (Dubois, 1908). With wonder anything is possible. With freedom wonder becomes possible for anyone. Through the Great Books we are incited to wonder more about our shared humanity and to share that experience together. My journey into the Great Books has incited me to wonder about my identity as an African American woman, as a teacher and as a facilitator of engaging others in the Great Books.