How To Kill A Child’s Critical Thinking

This past weekend an article was retweeted into my timeline and I was completely taken aback. Ever so often there comes a story that demands my attention due to its infelicitous, destitue nature. I have included a portion of the article below.

In a bold comparative analysis of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Jada Williams, a 13-year old eighth grader at School #3 in Rochester, New York, asserted that in her experience, today’s education system is a modern-day version of slavery. According to the Fredrick Douglass Foundation of New York, the schools’ teachers and administrators were so offended by Williams’ essay that they began a campaign of harassmentkicking her out of class and trying to suspend her—that ultimately forced her parents to withdraw her from the school.

In her essay, which was written for a contest, Williams reflected on what Douglass heard his slave master, Mr. Auld, telling his wife after catching her teaching Douglass how to read. “If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him,” Auld says. “It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.”

Williams wrote that overcrowded, poorly managed classrooms prevent real learning from happening and thus produces the same results as Mr. Auld’s outright ban. She wrote that her white teachers—the vast majority of Rochester students are black and Hispanic, but very few teachers are people of color—are in a “position of power to dictate what I can, cannot, and will learn, only desiring that I may get bored because of the inconsistency and the mismanagement of the classroom.” …. click here to read the article in full.

The thing that bothers me the most about the actions taken by the school district in which Jada attends is that the point of her essay is proven one hundred times over. Educators are charged with the task of making their students think critically and take some responsibility for their education. By trying to suspend Jada, they are consciously or subconsciously deploying a level of subjugation that has long been used to systematically emasculate any person of color who would outright question the status quo. In the 50s and 60s methods such as murder, imprisonment and forced exile were used. In this case the school board used a type of character assassination.

I honestly don’t see anything wrong with what Jada wrote. Based on the statistics, I found that she made an accurate assessment of her learning environment. When forced to confront the reality of what was actually occurs in their schools, the school district honestly couldn’t handle the perceived external as well as self-imposed criticism. I don’t know if these teachers actually thought they were doing a good job (I realize that the onus should not just be placed on teachers but on parents as well as students themselves) or if they feel they are above criticism but I think Eldridge Cleaver said it best:

For all these years whites have been taught to believe in the myth they preached, while Negroes have had to face the bitter reality of what America practiced.

A thirteen year old is basically being punished for practicing her right to the first amendment. I guess you really can’t ruffle feathers and think you be unscathed. She learned a harsh lesson about politics in this country. Sad as it may seem I don’t know many adults who would have taken such a leap in order to express their views. Personally I’m proud of her. She stood up for her beliefs and didn’t conform to societal norms which would have everyone play get along and behave as if nothing is wrong with our society’s structure.

Kudos Jada, kudos. *tip of my hat*


15 thoughts on “How To Kill A Child’s Critical Thinking

  1. nowsayitwithme

    ” Sad as it may seem I don’t know many adults who would have taken such a leap in order to express their views. Personally I’m proud of her. She stood up for her beliefs and didn’t conform to societal norms which would have everyone play get along and behave as if nothing is wrong with our society’s structure.”

    You said it all here. I don’t know anyone that would be so bold. This whole thing is a shocker but at the same time, can you really be so surprised?

  2. Jubilance

    The modern education system isn’t meant to develop critical thinking; its meant to teach people how to retain information & then recite it on demand, and to follow instructions. Even most postsecondary education doesn’t teach those skills. That school district saw that poor child as a threat to their entire system, which is unfortunate. I commend her parents for being involved, and NOT blaming their child – too many parents aren’t involved or simply take the school’s side instead of advocating for their child.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      you’re right. its wasn’t until i got to grad school and i was told i wouldn’t be using textbooks that i realized that i was really expected to develop critical thinking skills. i really wish more would have been demanded of me at an earlier age.

    2. Satya

      You are so right. In October I came to realize that most of my high school seniors can’t read. I say they can’t read because they don’t have reading comprehension skills, no deductive reasoning skills, nor analytical thinking abilities. When did things change so much? I graduated HS in 2005, I just don’t understand how students level of comprehension is so drastically different. Perhaps it was when Bush passed the NCLB laws

  3. gemmieboo

    wow. what a heartbreaking story. this 13yo is basically being banned from learning (in a particular place). wtf is wrong with people?!?!? smdh.

    i think her assessment was spot on and im very impressed at such a young age she was brave enough to articulate herself in such a way. i hope this does not discourage her. she can be an advocate and revolutionary if she continues to question and expose the bullshit that lies in front of her.

    great post. thanks for sharing.

  4. Wu Young, Agent of M.E.

    This sh*t is sad. In reality Jada should have been tested for Gifted & Talented for even tackling such a topic in conjunction with an A. Her teacher and her school district are too closed-minded and intellectually lazy to see what a bright student they have. Any teacher, who actually loved his or her job should be excited as hell to have a student like her.

    When things like this happens Rick Santorum wins.

    1. Lioness Rising

      yeah when I read that quote of her piece I was confused as to how the first thought was to ban her from the classroom. As a teacher my first would be questions where she learned such advanced writing skills. Did her parents help her? If not she needs to be in a more challenging environment because the girl is bright to say the least.

  5. Lioness Rising

    ditto on what everyone said.

    I think this proves that as a parent you must always provide supplemental learning for your children because the current system is not equipped to teach children all they need to know. Furthermore, your child basically needs to keep this learning to herself because when she does bring that learning into the classroom she will be seen as a threat. Jada either heard conversations about education from her parents or from some other source (media?) that allowed her to draw these conclusions. She basically proved FD’s point. She has a true education that allows her to free herself from the BS that this school system was giving her.

    I hope she does well at her new school smh.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      the thing is there are bright children in classrooms across america who are perceived as threats because they don’t conform. it’s sad really. i for one will be teaching my children everything that their teachers fail to show them.

  6. P.O.C. d.k.a. Analyze This!

    What is most impressive about Jada is that she is African American and young. Unfortunately many of our young people are not thinking about such issues in this day and age. Its amazing that she had the wherewithal to even write such a poignant paper. Its a shame that the education system in Rochester had the gall to sensor her. Jada, keep doing you. Obviously there are some feathers that need to be ruffled and you definitely got some hair on your hands.

  7. NicknotNikki

    This story hurt my spirit.. The persecution set down on this little girl is painful to read about.. Not only that, but to trust others with your education comes with a certain level of trust.. School is supposed to be a “safe place”.. A teacher has a responsibility.. To tell a child that they must think, but then slap their hands when they think “too much” is disgusting..

    This whole story has me with a screwface..
    Proud of Jada…

  8. Mr. SD

    Her getting kicked out of school is a blessing in disguise. She just realized the effectiveness of expression. That’s an awesome lesson. Some folks reach that level in college. to a certain extent she’s very blessed. She just may be our future president.



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