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 harassment—kicking 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*