The plot of The Great Debaters revolves around the efforts of debate coach Melvin B. Tolson at a historically black Wiley College to place his team on equal footing with whites in the American South during the 1930s. The movie explores the social fabric of Texas during the Great Depression, for which as long as schools are segregated for whites and blacks, the quality of education will be vastly unequal.
Dre gives an overview of the history of the United States public education system as it relates to segregation and opportunity for black students. He highlights the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and how it forced schools to integrate. He also mentions the positive impact of integration on academic achievement and expresses disappointment that schools have become more segregated than ever since the overturn of the mandatory integration ruling.
Ben proves to Harper that his children learn effectively through his own education system when she claims they don't learn about the world, as they would in traditional education. Ben asks Harper's children to define the Bill of Rights, to which they provide lackluster and simple responses. Ben then asks his eight-year old daughter about the Bill of Rights, and she cites verbatim part of the First Amendment as well as articulates in her own words the importance of the document, drawing a contrast to China.
A short biography of Booker T. Washington, an influential African-American educator and leader. He called for education and skill development for African-Americans, eyeing economic improvement as a means to equality.